Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak funding’

Amtrak VP Thinks Status Quo Will Prevail

April 4, 2017

An Amtrak executive believes that once the dust settles in Congress the status quo will prevail at Amtrak, meaning that the long-distance trains the Trump administration wants to stop funding will continue to operate.

Amtrak Executive Vice President Stephen Gardner told the Future Railway Organisation seminar on March 29 that he had little immediate cause for concern over the future of its network.

Gardner noted that previous administrations has proposed zeroing out Amtrak, but Congress has never gone along with those plans.

The Trump “skinny budget” would continue to fund Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and state corridor trains paid for largely by states that they serve. But funding of long-distance passenger trains would end.

“The cost and logistical complexity of removing these trains would be prohibitive, we feel,” he said. “There is a reason that they have survived through recent decades.”

Gardner said the long-distance trains play an important role in serving intermediate markets and said any attempt to “go back in” in the future would cost at least $1 billion.

Noting that in 2015 Amtrak was included in the FAST surface transportation bill approved by legislation passed in Congress, that gives the national rail passenger carrier a greater degree of
institutional stability.

“The most likely outcome is that the status quo will prevail,” Gardner said.

Gardner said Amtrak is supportive of a private sector inter-city  passenger services in Florida known as Brightline and the planned Texas Central high speed project.

“Naturally , we see that as an endorsement of the rail mode, and we welcome the addition of services able to showcase the latest in rail technology,” he said.

Let the Posturing Begin: Trade Groups Jockey for Influence in Wake of New Regime in Washington

March 31, 2017

With a new administration in Washington promising a renewed focus on transportation infrastructure the posturing from trade groups representing various segments of the railroad industry is in full swing.

The American Public Transportation Association is seeking to lobby Congress to fully fund the FAST Act for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 as well as include public transit in any infrastructure development plan.

The Association of American Railroads is seeking to caution the administration against taking too hostile of a stance on foreign trade by pointing out that at least 42 percent of rail traffic and more than 35 percent of annual rail revenue are directly tied to international trade.

APTA is reacting to the “skinny budget” proposed by President Donald Trump earlier this year that slashed funding for capital grants used by public transit.

In particular the Trump budget would greatly reduce the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants, TIGER grants and Amtrak funding.

APTA said it has conducted more than 60 meetings with congressional staff, focusing on those that serve on budget, appropriations, tax and authorization committees, and taken other proactive steps to engage with members of Congress.

It also has called on its members to meet with their members of Congress when they are on spring break in their home districts April 8-23.

As for the AAR, it released a report saying that 50,000 domestic rail jobs accounting for more than $5.5 billion in annual wages and benefits depend directly on international trade. Those numbers would be higher if rail traffic indirectly associated with trade is included.

AAR fears that the Trump administration might make policy changes that would adversely affect the global economy.

“Efforts that curtail overall trade would threaten thousands of U.S. freight-rail jobs that depend on it and limit essential railroad revenues used to modernize railroad infrastructure throughout North America,” said AAR President and CEO Edward Hamberger.

The AAR report examined rail movements using data from the 2014 Surface Transportation Board Waybill Sample, other government data and information from U.S. ports and Google Earth.

This included movements of coal for export from ports in Maryland, Virginia, the Gulf Coast and the Great Lakes; paper and forest products imported from Canada into the Midwest, as well as paper products exported from the southern United States; imports and exports of Canadian and Mexican automotive products to and from auto factories in dozens of U.S. states; containers of consumer goods from Asia coming ashore in California, Washington, Georgia, Virginia and New Jersey; plastics shipped by rail from Texas and Louisiana to the East and West coasts for export to Europe and Asia; iron ore mined in Minnesota and shipped by rail to Great Lakes ports; and Midwest-grown grain carried by rail to the Pacific Northwest and the Gulf Coast for export.

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.