Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak funding’

NARP Decries Amtrak, Public Transit Funding Cuts

March 17, 2017

The National Association of Railroad Passengers said Thursday that the Trump administration budget for Amtrak for the fiscal year 2018 appears to have been adopted from a model proposed by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The administration described the budget blueprint as a “skinny budget” and it contains few program details.

NARP contends that while President Donald Trump has talked up the need for transportation infrastructure investment, “his administration’s first budget guts infrastructure spending, slashing $2.4 billion from transportation. This will jeopardize mobility for millions of Americans and endanger tens of thousands of American jobs.”

The budget, which must be approved by Congress, would end all federal funding for Amtrak’s national network trains.

NARP said this would leave 23 states, including Ohio, without rail passenger service.

The Trump budget would also cut $499 million from the TIGER grant program, which has been used to advance passenger rail and transit projects and eliminate $2.3 billion for the Federal Transit Administration’s “New Starts” Capital Investment Program, which is used to fund the launch of transit, commuter rail, and light-rail projects.

Political analysts have noted that no budget proposal sent to Congress has emerged without changes.

It is likely that transportation advocacy groups will lobby Congress hard to restore the funding that Trump wants to cut.

Trump Wants to Cut Amtrak Long-Distance Train Funding, Trim Public Transportation Spending

March 16, 2017

Here we go again. Another president has taken aim at Amtrak’s federal funding.

The proposed fiscal year 2018 budget released by the Trump administration this week calls for eliminating federal funding of Amtrak’s long-distance trains and would impose other steep cuts in transportation spending.

Amtrak would not lose all funding, but the funding it receives would be focused on supporting services within specific regions, specifically the Northeast Corridor and state-funded corridors in the East, Midwest and along the West Coast.

The budget described long-distance trains as inefficient and incurring the vast majority of Amtrak’s operating losses.

Trump is seeking to cut the U.S. Department of Transportation budget by $2.4 billion or 13 percent.

If Congress adopts the Trump budget blueprint, DOT will receive $16.2 billion.

Also slated for deep cuts in the budget are Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants.

Funding of the New Starts program of the Federal Transit Administration will be slashed and limited to projects with existing full funding grant agreements.

In a statement with the budget, Trump said the DOT budget is being revamped to focus on “vital federal safety oversight functions and investing in nationally and regionally significant transportation infrastructure projects.”

A statement with the budget request said that the blueprint seeks to reduce or end “programs that are either inefficient, duplicative of other federal efforts, or that involve activities that are better delivered by states, localities or the private sector.”

In a statement, Amtrak President Charles “Wick” Moorman said that Amtrak’s 15 long-distance trains offer the only service in 23 of the 46 states that the carrier .

“Eliminating funding for long-distance routes could impact many of the 500 communities served by Amtrak,” Moorman said.

“These trains connect our major regions, provide vital transportation to residents in rural communities and generate connecting passengers and revenue for our Northeast Corridor and state-supported services. Amtrak is very focused on running efficiently  — we covered 94 percent of our total network operating costs through ticket sales and other revenues in FY16 — but these services all require federal investment.”

Moorman pledged to work with the Trump administration, including U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Congress to “understand the value of Amtrak’s long-distance trains and what these proposed cuts would mean to this important part of the nation’s transportation system.”

As for transit funding, the budget blueprint says that curtailing federal funding leaves funding up to “localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.”
The American Public Transportation Association issues a statement saying it was surprised and disappointed with the budget details so far.

APTA noted that the administration has been touting a broad plan to spend $1 trillion for infrastructure investment, but “the White House is recommending cutting billions of dollars from existing transportation and public transit infrastructure programs.”

The trade group said the budget cuts would affect projects underway in Kansas City; Dallas; Fort Worth, Texas; Indianapolis; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Fort Lauderdale, and Jacksonville, Florida.

The cuts to the TIGER program is aimed at what the budget described as “unauthorized” projects. In January before Trump was inaugurated , DOT had announced that $500 million was available. The TIGER grants were first awarded in 2009.

Among the 2016 grant recipients are San Bernardino County, California., which received $8.6 million for passenger rail service; Mississippi’s 65-mile long Natchez Railway, which received $10 million for rehabilitation and upgrades for five bridges; and Springfield, Illinois, which received $14 million to build two underpasses for proposed high-speed service between St. Louis and Chicago.

Amtrak Reports ‘Exceptional’ FY 2016

November 17, 2016

Amtrak said on Thursday that unaudited financial records show that it ended fiscal year 2016 in an exceptional financial position.

Amtrak logoTicket revenue was a record $2.14 billion, a $12 million increase over FY 2015. The carrier served 31.3 million passengers, nearly 400,000 more than the previous year.

It was the sixth consecutive year that Amtrak has carried more than 30 million customers.

Amtrak said it covered 94 percent of its operating costs with ticket sales and other revenues, up from 92 percent in the previous fiscal year.

The unaudited total revenue was a record $3.2 billion for FY 2016. Amtrak reported an unaudited operating loss of $227 million, a reduction of $78 million over last year, and the lowest operating loss since 1973.

This helped the passenger carrier make a net reduction in long-term debt of $71.4 million.

“The results demonstrate the value we deliver to our customers and the vital role Amtrak plays in our nation’s transportation system,” said Amtrak Chairman of the Board Anthony Coscia in a statement. “We are off to another strong start for the new fiscal year and will provide a great travel experience for customers who choose Amtrak in the upcoming holiday season.”

Several Amtrak services had record years in ridership and revenue including the Northeast Regional (Boston-New York-Washington/Virginia), Pacific Surfliner (San Luis Obispo-San Diego), Capitol Corridor (San Jose-Sacramento/Auburn), Keystone (New York-Philadelphia-Harrisburg) and Hiawatha (Milwaukee-Chicago) state-sponsored corridors, along with the California Zephyr (Chicago-San Francisco Bay).

To boost ridership, Amtrak added cars to high-demand or sold-out trains. On time performance of trains and customer satisfaction scores both improved.

The 2016 fiscal year ended on Sept. 30.

Amtrak Funded for FY 2017

October 6, 2016

Amtrak funding for fiscal year 2017 has been assured as a result of President Barack Obama signing a continuing resolution that will keep the federal government in business through Dec. 9.

Amtrak logoFY 2017 began on Oct. 1 and Amtrak will receive $235 million for the Northeast Corridor and $1.155 billion for the national network for a total of $1.39 billion,

It is the same amount that Amtrak received in FY 2016, but Amtrak is being directed to spend any profits generated by the NEC only on the NEC. Observers say this will result in Amtrak’s total funding being higher.

Amtrak was funded for all of FY 2017 in the continuing resolution because of a provision in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act that requires Amtrak to implement new accounting procedures in 2017.

If Amtrak had been funded for a portion of 2017 but under 2016 funding policies, it would have had to maintain separate but parallel accounting systems in 2017, causing wasted hours of work and millions of dollars in added costs.

Other programs named in the FAST Act that affect intercity passenger rail will need to be funded by the 2017 Transportation-Housing Urban Development appropriations bill that Congress may approve after the November elections.

White House Seeks Amtrak ‘Anomaly’ Funding

September 6, 2016

President Obama is requesting a full year of government funding for Amtrak in fiscal year 2017 as part of a list of “anomalies” proposed for a continuing resolution to keep the federal government operating after the 2016 fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

Amtrak logoThe Obama Administration is seeking $1.39 billion for Amtrak.

The reason for the request is due to Amtrak’s planned transition to a new accounting structure that is required by the 2015 FAST Act.

Rail passenger advocates say that if the Amtrak funding is approved it would put Amtrak on more solid financial ground but delay by a year any funding of the FAST Act’s passenger rail grant programs.

Passenger train advocates are seeking approval for funding of the new programs that have already been agreed to by House and Senate appropriations committees.

Federal Transportation Bill Wins Congressional OK

December 4, 2015

The $305 billion federal transportation bill won widespread approval in the House and Senate on Thursday and was expected to be signed by President Obama.

The legislation is an authorization of spending and actual spending measures must still be approved by the next Congress.

The 1,300-page bill authorizes $281 billion through the Highway Trust Fund and $24 billion through annual appropriations.

The bill increases highway spending by 15 percent by its final year and transit spending by 18 percent.

This includes $12 billion for mass transit, $10 billion for Amtrak and $1 billion for National Highway Traffic Safety Administration programs.

The bill was approved 359-65 in the House and 83-16 in the Senate.

The legislation includes policy provisions related to highway safety, railroads and road programs.

One provision changes a federal law limiting how much railroads can be forced to pay those hurt and families of those killed in rail accidents. The liability cap would increase to $295 million, up from $200 million.

The bill also includes $199 million to help commuter railroads install positive train control

Commuter railroads have said they have been unable to install PTC systems thus far due to tight budgets.

The money in the bill marks the first time the federal government has set money aside for PTC installation. However, that funding is a fraction of the expected total cost of $12 billion to install PTC.

Passenger railroads will be required to install inward-facing cameras to monitor crews.

Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor’s budget will be split from that of its national network. The two would receive $2.6 billion and $5.5 billion respectively.

Congress chose not to increase the federal gas tax, which is now 18.4 cents per gallon.

It instead elected to take $19 billion from the Federal Reserve’s surplus funds and lower the dividend payments large banks receive from the Fed from 6 percent to 1.5 percent.

Another revenue source will come from private tax collection services being used to collect back payments on federal taxes under the legislation.

The bill authorizes the federal government to revoke the passports of those owing more than $50,000 in back taxes to the IRS.

The bill authorizes transportation spending for five years. The last time Congress passed a transportation funding bill lasting more than two years was in 2005.

Amtrak Operating Loss Widened in FY 2015

December 2, 2015

Amtrak said on Wednesday that it had an operating loss of $306.5 million in fiscal year 2015, which is an increase over the FY 2014 $230 million loss that had been the lowest in four decades.

Lost revenue stemming from a May derailment in Philadelphia, including the payment of $50 million in damages, played a major role in the operating losses.

During FY 2015, which ended on Sept. 30, Amtrak said it was able to largely hold the line on revenue and expenses while ridership remained steady during a time of lower gasoline prices.

“Ridership has developed a strong affinity in passenger rail,” said Anthony Coscia, Amtrak’s chairman. “We think that riders will stay with trains even as gasoline prices drop.”

Ticket revenue was $2.2 billion and ridership was 30.9 million, which was a 0.1 decline from the previous year.

Total revenue fell 0.8 percent to $3.2 billion while expenses rose 1.4 percent to $4.3 billion.

NEC ridership rose 0.5 percent fiscal 2015 to 11.7 million, while ridership on long-distance routes slid 1.2 percent to 4.5 million.

Amtrak’s measure of adjusted operating losses doesn’t conform to generally accepted U.S. accounting standards, and excludes such costs as depreciation.

Eight died and NEC service was suspended for several days following the derailment in which a train was going too fast into a curve in North Philadelphia.

Amtrak also cited losses of at least $10 million related to repairs to an electrical system in the Hudson River tunnels between New Jersey and New York City. The tunnel problems disrupted travel last summer.

Amtrak expects insurance to pay for most of the estimated $164 million passenger-claim liability stemming from the Philadelphia crash.

Illinois Amtrak Trains Continue to Operate Despite Lack of Budget Agreement for FY 2016

July 7, 2015

Illinois still doesn’t have a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 and the governor has threatened to cut Amtrak funding by 40 percent.

But for now Amtrak’s state-funded trains in Illinois continue to run as before. Amtrak officials have indicated that that will be the case for at least several weeks.

Gov. Bruce Rauner announced in mid-June plans to slash funding for Amtrak service in Illinois from $42 million to $26 million.

The governor took the action after he vetoed a budget approved by the Illinois General Assembly that Rauner said was out of balance.

Amtrak has seen these type of budget fights before. Rauner is a Republican in his first term in office while the legislature is controlled by Democrats.

“It’s not unusual for us to begin a fiscal year without a contract or a budget in place, in this state and others,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. “There’s a continuation clause in the current contract so it continues on. We’ll continue to provide service while we await a conclusion.”

Magliari said that the continuation clause says that “the contract continues in force for several months. I don’t expect this will take several months.”

Nonetheless, Magliari said Amtrak is “discussing with (the Illinois Department of Transportation) what the service will look like going forward.”

Should Amtrak service on Illinois state-funded routes need to be reduced, Magliari said there will be several weeks notice of those cuts.

Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly confirmed that IDOT is talking with Amtrak about future service.

“IDOT is proceeding as quickly as possible to make decisions about the frequency and level of service that the state can afford. Despite weeks of conversations, Amtrak has not yet provided IDOT with the complete financial information necessary to reduce service,” Kelly said.

Illinois funds two roundtrips daily between Chicago and Carbondale, and between Chicago and Quincy. It also funds four roundtrips between Chicago and St. Louis and helps underwrite service between Chicago and Milwaukee. The latter service is also funded by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

The Illinois-funded trains have been particularly popular with college students.

In Carbondale, home of Southern Illinois University, students were lined up on the last day of the most recent school term, huddling under an awning as it began raining.

Most of the students were headed for Chicago, but some would be getting off at a station in central Illinois.

Although Carbondale is served by the Chicago-bound City of New Orleans in the middle of the night, the early morning state-funded Saluki is more popular.

The next train from Carbondale to Chicago is the late afternoon Illini.

“I probably wouldn’t take the train because I can’t get up at 3:30 in the morning because I’m a sleeper,” said Justin Edelheit of Buffalo Grove as he waited to board the Saluki. “Well, I don’t really have a car down here so I have to take the train to get home and that’s the only way I have to see my family. ”

Pareth Patel can understand Justin’s reliance on Amtrak. “I don’t actually have a car here so it’s easier for me to take the train because I take the train from here to Chicago and then I take the [Metra] train from Union Station to Naperville which is closer to my house.”

Joe Tumminaro likes the train ride home to the suburbs. “I actually take the train a lot. I got rid of my car his year to take the train because it’s just easier,” he said.

John O’Shea said he rides the train every couple of months. “I live right by [Chicago] Union Station so this takes me right to there and I live two blocks away from here so it’s just easy; it’s just a hassle driving 6 hours to and from.”

O’Shea said he often rides the City of New Orleans, but on this day he needed another option, so he rode the Saluki.

“That’s usually the one I take, but that’s just because it’s more convenient for me, I’m taking this because I have to be here somewhere tonight.”

Keelia Hamdan connects in Chicago with a train for Detroit. Losing options could lead to headaches getting home, especially after exams.

“It would be much more difficult to get around and as you can see a ton of people come like the end of the semester so it would effect a lot of people,” she said.

Rauner Threatens 40% Amtrak Funding Cut

June 27, 2015

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has indicated that he plans to slash funding for Amtrak service in the state by 40 percent on July 1.

The governor’s plan is to cut the funding from $42 million to $26 million as part of some $820 million in spending cuts that he plans to impose if there is not budget agreement by the time the 2016 fiscal year begins on July 1.

Rauner, a Republican, vetoed an earlier budget sent to him by the Illinois General Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats.

The governor said that budget was nearly $4 billion out of balance. The legislature earlier passed a school funding bill that Rauner signed.

Although Amtrak has said it is unclear what effect the wrangling over the budget will have on its state-supported, Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, said in a statement that the cuts would result in fewer trains and higher fares.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said Amtrak is awaiting official word as to how funding Illinois will provide for the service it helps underwrite on routes linking Chicago with Milwaukee, St. Louis, Quincy and Carbondale.

“We’ve not had any formal word from Illinois DOT,” Magliari said. “We’re still accepting bookings for current levels of service.”

Some observers have seen Rauner’s announcement of a new series of cuts to state programs as a strategy to prod Democratic leaders to include some of the governor’s pro-business proposals in a compromise budget deal.

In particular, Democrats have balked at Rauner’s attempts to alter worker compensation laws and have voted down his push for a property tax freeze.

Democrats have proposed extending an income tax hike that is scheduled to expire, but Rauner said he won’t support that without the legislature adopting at least five of his initiatives.

In a spending proposal made in February, Rauner said he wanted to reduce Amtrak funding subsidy by 40 percent, a move that Amtrak said would result in cuts to Illinois Amtrak service. The specter of Amtrak cuts prompted statements of concern from lawmakers and university town officials, who say the reductions would hurt students, business and tourism.

The budget bill approved by the General Assembly would keep Amtrak funding at its current $42 million level.

For now, Amtrak is continuing to operate under its current schedule. “We don’t anticipate any July 1 change,” Magliari said.

SW Chief Battle May Have National Consequences

February 9, 2014

A battle being waged over an Amtrak route in the mountains and high plains of the West could hold implications for the future of Amtrak service from coast to coast.

That’s because Some rail passenger service watchers believe that Amtrak is using the Southwest Chief routing issue to sidestep its congressional mandate to subsidize long-distance trains — those traveling more than 750 miles — with federal funds.

Ostensibly, the fight for the Southwest Chief seems unrelated to that. It would seem to be a simple matter of a railroad not wishing to maintain a lightly-used route to passenger trains speeds and telling Amtrak to pony up the money if it wants to continue to operate at 79 miles per hour on the route.

This story has played out before in several places, including in Ohio when Conrail said in the 1980s that it didn’t wish to maintain the Fort Wayne Line to passenger trains speeds. At the time, the former Pennsylvania Railroad route hosted the Chicago-New York Broadway Limited and the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited.

The end result was that Amtrak rerouted the Capitol Limited to its current route via Cleveland and the Broadway Limited to a CSX route via Akron and Youngstown that had been freight only since Amtrak’s beginning in 1971.

But the Southwest Chief route battle may be different.

Amtrak has proposed that it along with BNSF and the states of Colorado, New Mexico and Kansas form a partnership to fund track maintenance of the former Santa Fe mainline in western Kansas, southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico. Each would pay more than $40 million a year for a decade.

Legislators and local officials in towns and districts served by the Southwest Chief have introduced legislation or pressured for state funding of the track maintenance needed to keep the Chief on its present route.

But New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has sounded the alarm about how the federal government is abrogating its legal responsibility to fund a national rail network.

The Republican governor has said in recent months that Amtrak is funded by Congress and any agreement should not leave New Mexico taxpayers with a large bill.

“According to the New Mexico [Department of Transportation], the state has never provided state funds for Amtrak service,” Martinez’s office said last month. “We’re willing to work together on this issue, but any agreement needs to take that reality into account.”

In 2013, Congress appropriated $1.5 billion to Amtrak with $71 million of that amount clawed back due to sequestration, a Nov. 13 Congressional Budget Office memo said.

“All told, the government covers almost all of Amtrak’s capital costs as well as more than 10 percent of its operating costs,” the memo said. “In 1970, when the Congress established Amtrak, it anticipated subsidizing the railroad for only a short time, until it became self-supporting. Since then, however, the federal subsidies to Amtrak have totaled about $45 billion.”

The year 2013 also saw a series of battles in statehouses over funding of Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles.

A law adopted by Congress in 2008 pressured Amtrak to reduce its dependence on federal funding by reaching agreements with states for money for short-haul trains by Oct. 1, 2013. Amtrak announced on Oct. 15 that it had successfully negotiated contracts with 19 states to increase state control and funding of 28 passenger rail routes.

In July 2013, Amtrak announced a $151 billion plan for improvements to routes in its Northeast Corridor, where it owns the tracks.

“I believe what they’re trying to do is set precedent to have the long-distance routes subject to state supplemental payments, because they cannot get enough money out of Congress to continue long-distance trains,” said Evan Stair, president of Passenger Rail Oklahoma.

Amtrak’s long-distance trains are its biggest money-losers some reports say.

The Southwest Chief had operating costs of $114.5 million in 2012 that resulted in a $62.6 million shortfall, according to a Brookings Institute analysis of Amtrak data. It’s a performance on par with most Amtrak long-distance routes.

Yet the long-distance routes are popular and continue to see increased ridership. From 1997 to 2012, patronage of the Southwest Chief increased by almost 100,000 passengers from 1997 to 2012, or 38 percent, according to the report.

Stair pondered for a minute the odds that governments along the route of the Chief will ante up the money needed to fix the tracks that is now uses.

“Is Amtrak sincere in wanting to keep the Southwest Chief, or is this simply this decade’s sacrificial train to Congress?” he asked.

Amtrak has “had no discussions about discontinuing the service between Chicago and Los Angeles,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said. “The options on the table are between staying where we are, which is our preference, or rerouting, which is not our preference.”

There are other options that few have talked about openly and Amtrak has not acknowledged. The Southwest Chief could be truncated to a Chicago-Kansas City train or it could be discontinued altogether. In that case, Amtrak might bring back the Desert Wind, a section of the Chicago-San Francisco Bay California Zephyr that carried through cars for Los Angeles and operated via Las Vegas.

The Desert Wind was discontinued in a 1995 service cutback that also saw the end of the Broadway Limited although a replacement train, the Three Rivers operated for a few years via Akron in the early 2000s between Chicago and New York before it ended when Amtrak got out of the mail and express business.

It is too soon to say what the outcome will be of the Southwest Chief battle. Amtrak’s contract to use the BNSF route in question via Albuquerque continues until Jan. 1, 2016.  After that date, BNSF has said that it will only maintain the track to a top speed of 30 miles per hour.

In theory, Amtrak could continue to use the route, but it has indicated it would not.

Amtrak has indicated that funding from New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas needs to be approved by the end of 2014 even though it won’t be needed for another year.

That’s because Amtrak said it could take at least a year to plan a new route for the Southwest Chief.

At this point, the battle of the Southwest Chief is about track maintenance fees. Amtrak hasn’t said that it wants any of the eight states served by the Chief to help pay the train’s operating costs. At least not yet.

But could it be a precedent for asking states to pay infrastructure costs of long-distance trains?

One key difference between the Southwest Chief route battle and the situation with the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited is that the latter trains use well-traveled and maintained Norfolk Southern and CSX freight routes.

Ross Capon, the executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers has said that he suspects that neither Amtrak or BNSF wants to see the Southwest Chief move off its current route.

Putting the Chief on the Transcon route via Amarillo, Texas, would mean seeing yet another train on a route that is already one of BNSF’s busiest and one where the railroad has sunk millions of dollars to expand its capacity. True, the Southwest Chief uses the Transcon west of Albuquerque and everything seems to move just fine.

But in the BNSF executive suite, the current Southwest Chief route is a matter of simple economics and politics. The railroad doesn’t need the ex-Santa Fe route in western Kansas except for local freight service.

BNSF officials no doubt have asked why they should continue to pay to maintain track that it doesn’t use all that much to passenger train speeds. Hence, the decision was made to put the squeeze on the states for money to fix the tracks.

Amtrak has been the front man during the fight over public funding of the track maintenance of the Southwest Chief  route. BNSF has deliberately stayed in the background and said very little when asked about the situation. It would prefer that the narrative remain focused on this being an Amtrak issue.

Still, in railroad executive suites and state departments of transportation across the country, officials are probably watching the Southwest Chief funding fight with some interest because it could become a precursor of things to come.

Rail passenger advocates elsewhere should be watching it, too.