Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak funding’

Amtrak Sends Its FY2021 Funding Wish List to Congress

February 22, 2020

Amtrak has submitted its wish list to Congress, which includes funding in fiscal year 2021 of $1.33 billion for the National Network and $714 million.

The passenger carrier also is seeking $300 million to develop new corridors and contains various capital requests to cover the costs of replacing diesel locomotives and rebuilding passenger cars used on long-distance trains.

The carrier said it is “on track to achieve operational breakeven in FY2020.”

What Amtrak is seeking is far below what the Trump administration has proposed that it receive.

The administration’s budget request for FY2021 seeks $936 million for Amtrak, which the carrier notes is a 53 percent cut in the $2 billion funding it received from Congress for FY2020.

Amtrak said it appreciated the Trump administration’s focus on expanding intercity rail passenger service to underserved cities and corridors, but the carrier said that if its funding falls to what has been proposed by the administration that would “have significant negative impacts on vital capital projects and initiatives across Amtrak’s network and put at jeopardy the Corporation’s continued strong financial and operating performance.”

The budget request contains $4.9 million for Amtrak’s share of the rebuilding of the track used in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico by the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

The Rail Passengers Association said its review of the Amtrak’s budget request found that the carrier is seeking $2 billion toward replacement of Superliner and Amfleet II equipment, which is used most of the time for long-distance trains, and $1.5 billion for the replacement of locomotives used in the national network.

Amtrak is also seeking $510 million for equipment that would be used in new corridors.

Although the budget request does not name any specific new corridors that Amtrak wishes to develop, it gives some detail about how the carrier proposes to fund those services.

Amtrak would fund up to 100 percent of the initial capital costs to develop new corridor services.

Operating and ongoing capital costs would be funded on a sliding scale over the next five years ranging from 100 percent by Amtrak in the first two years to 50 percent in the fifth year.

State support would begin in the third year at 10 percent, increase to 20 percent in the fourth year and 50 percent in the fifth year.

The budget document said these shares are of fully-allocated operating losses and capital costs.

After the fifth year of operation the expenses of a corridor would become subject to the terms of Section 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act which requires that routes of 750 miles or less must be state-supported routes.

As for when Amtrak will begin to identify the emerging corridors, the budget request said that process will begin within one year after the date of enactment of Amtrak’s reauthorization.

The FAST Act that authorizes Amtrak expires on Sept. 30. Although Congress may adopt a new surface transportation authorization law by that date, some observers have suggested lawmakers may extend the existing authorization via a continuing resolution as they continue to hammer out the contentious political issues surrounding a new transportation authorization law.

That means a new authorization could be pushed into 2021.

Amtrak said in its budget request that once it has been reauthorized, it will consult with state departments of transportation, local municipalities, host railroads, and other stakeholders.

Those conversations will lead to the development of plans that Amtrak will submit to the U.S. Department of Transportation as well as the House and Senate authorizing committees for high-potential corridors.

Amtrak said that at that time it will show proposed routes, schedules and frequency of service information. It will also provide estimates of ridership, revenue and capital investment requirements.

“Amtrak shall consider market conditions, stakeholder funding commitments, public subsidy per passenger, and host railroad cooperation when selecting routes,” it said.

It is noteworthy that the budget request said Amtrak may (emphasis added) cover up to 100 percent of the capital costs needed to launch a route.

It will negotiate memorandums of understanding with state sponsors and, presumably, those negotiations will involve capital costs to be contributed by the states.

“As the nation’s passenger rail provider, Amtrak takes a system-wide lens to these investments to ensure efficiencies in operations, procurement, and supporting services,” the budget document said.

It is likewise noteworthy that the budget request in describing the new corridors program does not say per se that these corridors are intended to replace the long-distance trains.

At the same time, the budget request does not specifically say, as does the Trump administration FY2021 budget request does, that long-distance trains should be phased out in favor of new corridor services.

It does say that the funding being requested for new corridors is intended to supplement the funding requests for the Northeast Corridor and national network in FY2021.

That appears to be a way of saying that Amtrak will put off for at least another fiscal year the matter of carving up the long-distance routes into a series of corridor services.

The Amtrak budget request seeks to frame the new corridors program as an expansion of the Amtrak network and uses such language as the need to provide efficient and effective service.

It also repeats the boilerplate language that Amtrak President Richard Anderson has been espousing about the need to keep up with a changing and evolving transformation of population, demographic and travel needs.

Amtrak’s budget request can be found at https://www.amtrak.com/content/dam/projects/dotcom/english/public/documents/corporate/reports/Amtrak-General-Legislative-Annual-Report-FY2021-Grant-Request.pdf

Budget Proposal Gets Little Reaction on Capitol Hill

February 15, 2020

A Trump administration proposal to more than halve Amtrak funding in federal fiscal year 2021 received a muted response on Capitol Hill.

The Rail Passengers Association wrote on its blog that congressional leaders in both parties are noting that there is a two-year budget agreement in effect and they expect that will guide the appropriations process.

“We’ve got the caps deal in place,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “We negotiated it last year. It’s good for the second year, and we’ll comply with that.”

Nonetheless, RPA is trying to activate its members to contact Congress in opposition to the Amtrak funding cuts.

The administration’s budget proposal calls for slashing Amtrak funding from the $2 billion appropriated for FY2020, which ends on Sept. 30, to $936 million.

The budget proposal would reduce funding for the Northeast Corridor from $700 million to $325 million.

Funding of the national network would fall from $1.3 million to $611 million.

The budget document calls for the elimination of Amtrak’s long-distance passengers trains over the next five years.

Specifically, that would be accomplished through implementation of a new grant program whose objective is to encourage state and local governments to fund Amtrak service in corridors of 100 to 500 miles.

The budget document gave few details about the grant program other than it would only last through FY2015.

However, the administration made clear that it sees no future for long-distance trains.

“Amtrak trains inadequately serve many rural markets while not serving many growing metropolitan areas at all,” the budget document said. “The Administration believes that restructuring the Amtrak system can result in better service at a lower cost, by focusing trains on better-performing routes, while providing robust intercity bus service connections.”

RPA said the proposed $550 million in National Network “transformational grants” appears to be designed to help Amtrak cover the costs of multi-year labor agreements and contracts.

The rail passenger advocacy group argues that those agreements in tandem with the lost revenue from the eliminated trains and lost connections will make ending Amtrak’s long-distance network an expensive proposition.

Last year the Trump administration proposed a similar funding program that would have given states money to implement intercity bus services in lieu of passenger trains.

That idea went nowhere in Congress and the long-distance network survived intact.

The FY2021 budget proposal promised to provide details at an unspecified later date as part of the administration’s proposal for renewing the surface transportation act that expires on Sept. 30.

That document will, presumably, also provide a more complete picture of what corridor services Amtrak and the U.S. Department of Transportation have in mind for funding with the federal transformation grants.

For more than a year Amtrak President Richard Anderson has talked up the concept of corridor services between urban centers, particularly in the South and West.

Anderson’s concept is to provide multiple daily frequencies on those routes.

In his public comments and congressional testimony, Anderson has said many cities served by long-distance routes are served poorly either through scheduling or lack of service frequency.

Amtrak executives have also in recent weeks visited state legislative transportation committee hearings to talk up the corridors concept.

An Amtrak public affairs manager spoke in Tennessee in favor of a new route between Nashville and Atlanta.

The same official also spoke in Kansas about an extension of the Heartland Flyer to the Sunflower State via Wichita.

In both instances, the Amtrak executive made clear that state and local governments will be expected to underwrite the operating losses of the routes.

During the Kansas hearing, the Amtrak executive referred to a yet to be enacted fund to help states fund new service.

The Trump administration budget proposal appears to be the framework for that fund.

Last year in response to questions raised during a congressional hearing Amtrak in a letter to senators declined to list the proposed corridors that it is studying, but indicated that it would continue to work with states that have expressed an interest in new Amtrak service.

Among the routes in states that have worked with Amtrak in recent years on service expansions are a route between Duluth, Minnesota, and the Twin Cities; an extension of Northeast Regional service to Bistol, Virginia; and a train between Chicago and the Twin Cities on the route of the Empire Builder.

There are no shortage of potential new Amtrak routes including some that have been discussed for years but failed to gain political traction.

That would include the 3C corridor in Ohio between Cleveland and Cincinnati via Columbus and Dayton.

Amtrak has never served that route, although it does provide service currently to Cleveland and Cincinnati with long-distance trains.

Columbus and Dayton lost Amtrak service on Oct. 1, 1979, with the discontinuance of the New York-Kansas City National Limited.

If Congress does, indeed, follow the budget deal reached last year, it seems likely that Amtrak’s services in the next fiscal year will be the same as those now operating.

Budget proposals are more policy statements and aspirational statements than they are blueprints.

The Trump administration is not the first to call for elimination of Amtrak’s long-distance passenger trains.

The real action is likely to be in the political wrangling over the surface transportation renewal bill and even action on that is not guaranteed despite the looming Sept. 30 expiration of the current FAST Act.

Congress might seek to extend the current FAST act through a continuing resolution just as it does the federal budget when it fails to reach agreement on a appropriations as the current fiscal year is coming to a close.

Budget Proposal Slashes Amtrak by More than 50%

February 13, 2020

The Trump administration this week released its federal fiscal year budget proposal and to no one’s surprise it has proposed slashing Amtrak funding by more than half.

The budget proposal also recommends funding cuts to rail-related transportation of nearly $900 million when compared with the last two budget cycles, most of which would be achieved by appropriating less money for federal agencies that oversee rail transportation activities.

For Amtrak, the administration has proposed cutting spending on the Northeast Corridor from $700 million to $325 million.

Support for the long-distance service would fall from $1.3 billion to $611 million with those trains being phased over in the next few years.

The budget document released by the U.S. Department of Transportation calls for funding of a vaguely defined account that is meant to transition long-distance routes into corridor services of between 100 to 500 miles that would be funded in part by state and local governments.

These grants would be known as “National Network Transformation Grants — Long Distance Routes” and would receive $550 million.

Amtrak’s overall funding will decline from $2 billion in the 2020 budget to $1.5 billion in 2021.

The focus on corridor services would be in line with the vision for Amtrak that the carrier’s president, Richard Anderson, and its senior executive vice president, Stephen Gardner, have been talking up for more than a year.

Indeed the DOT budget document uses language similar to that used by Anderson and Gardner in saying that long-distance routes have outlived their usefulness and Amtrak needs to transform into a corridor-oriented operation linking urban centers.

“Long-distance routes continually underperform, suffering from low ridership and large operating losses of roughly half a billion dollars annually,” the DOT budget document states. “Amtrak trains inadequately serve many rural markets while not serving many growing metropolitan areas at all.”

This of course raises the question of whether DOT is parroting Anderson and Gardner or whether the Amtrak executives are mouthing what DOT has told them to say.

DOT said it would release later this year details about the long-distance route transformation program as part of its recommendation for a re-authorization of the FAST Act.

The administration’s budget proposal also recommends $13.2 billion for public transportation, a $303 million increase from the FY2020 enacted level, but would reduce passenger-rail grant programs by $712 million for a total of $1.8 billion.

The budget proposes a 10-year, $810 billion plan for surface transportation reauthorization to replace the FAST Act, which expires Sept. 30. That is $75 billion above the current authorized level.

Public transit would receive $155.4 billion over the next 10 years. The administration stated that it would submit a comprehensive surface transportation reauthorization proposal in the coming months, APTA officials said in a legislative update.

The Federal Railroad Administration would receive just under $2 billion compared with nearly $2.8 billion budgeted in 2020.

FY2020 Budget Boosts Amtrak, Cuts Public Transit Grants

December 22, 2019

The $1.4 trillion federal fiscal year 2020 spending bill contains a boost in Amtrak funding, but also slashes some spending for public transit and railroad grant programs.

President Donald J. Trump signed the two budget bills late Friday that were adopted by Congress earlier in the week.

The budget appropriates $2 billion for Amtrak, an increase of $58 million over the FY2019 budget.

However, the budget cut rail and transit programs by 3.6 percent, a drop of $586 million, below FY2019 levels.

The Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Grants received $325 million, an increase of $70 million over FY2019.

However, the Federal State of Good Repair program was cut in half compared to FY2019 levels to $200 million for FY2020. It had received $400 million last year.

Public transportation received $12.9 billion in total. Although the transit formula grants increased from $9.9 billion in FY2019 to $10.1 billion in FY2020, the Capital Investment Grants program saw its funding plunge from $2.5 billion in FY2019 to $1.9 billion in FY2020.

The investment grants program is used to launch new rail services.

Amtrak funding will be broken down to $1.2 billion for the national network and $650 million for the Northeast Corridor.

The bill earmarks $100 million for help pay for the acquisition of new single-level passenger equipment to replace aging Amfleet equipment used in Amtrak’s NEC, state-supported and long-distance services.

The Rail Passengers Associated noted in an analysis posted on its website that the budget bill contains a number of policy statements favorable to intercity passenger rail.

That includes a statement of the sense of Congress that long-distance passenger rail routes and services should be sustained to ensure connectivity throughout the National Network.

The bill also directed the Federal Railroad Administration to count state acquisition costs and ongoing capital charges related to Amtrak’s new fleet to as a local match for any future applications to the CRISI or SOGR grant programs.

Amtrak was directed to provide a station agent in each Amtrak station that had a ticket agent position eliminated in fiscal year 2018 and was told to provide a report to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, no later than 120 days after enactment of the budget describing the changes initiated or implemented to Food and Beverage services in FY2019 and comparing those savings with Amtrak projections.

The spending bill directed Amtrak to submit a comprehensive workforce analysis for the Amtrak Police Department.

The passenger carrier was prohibited from using funds from the bill to reduce the total number of Amtrak Police Department uniformed officers patrolling on board passenger trains or at stations, facilities or rights-of-way below the staffing level on May 1, 2019.

Progress Reported on FY2020 Transportation Funding Bill

December 10, 2019

The Rail Passengers Association reported last week that Congress is making progress toward reaching an agreement for fiscal year 2020 transportation appropriations.

Congress faces a Dec. 20 deadline to get budgets for FY2020 approved. A continuing resolution funding the federal government in the absence of approved appropriations expires on that date.

RPA did not provide many details about the transportation budget deal other than to say that leaders of the appropriations committees in the House and Senate have agree on top-line numbers for transportation spending.

That funding includes a boost for Amtrak spending.

Reportedly, the transportation spending bill will be among the earliest budget bills to be voted on by Congress.

Congressional leaders were said to be working on 12 separate appropriations bills that need to be passed before the continuing resolution expires.

Senate May Act on Transportation Spending Next Week

October 26, 2019

Senate approval of funding for Amtrak and other transportation agencies in fiscal year 2020 may come next week.

Leaders in the Senate are seeking to move a four-bill appropriations package that will increase Amtrak funding as approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in September.

In the process, the Senate leadership is seeking to limit the number of controversial amendments that could bog down passage of the spending bills.

Once the Senate passes the spending bills, a conference committee with the House will need to agree to changes acceptable to both chambers.

The proposed federal spending on transportation in the Senate bills is comparable to that of a House bill passed earlier.

But sticking points could occur over policy riders that were attached to the spending bills in both chambers.

The Rail Passengers Association reported that among these policy riders are provisions regarding replacement of Amtrak station agent positions that the carrier has already eliminated and improved relationships with private rail car owners.

Funding for FY2020 is currently authorized under a continuing resolution that will expire on Nov. 21.

Although Senate leaders say they might be able to win approval of spending bills before then, Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) said that “unless a miracle happens around here with the House and the Senate, we will have to come forth with another CR.”

House leadership is pushing to keep any additional continuing resolution of short duration as a strategy to keep pressure on legislators to approve permanent appropriations bills.

Political Infighting May Doom Infrastructure Bill

October 8, 2019

Political fighting over the possible impeachment of President Donald Trump is likely to doom any chances for an infrastructure bill in the next year and may hinder passage of federal transportation funding for fiscal year 2020.

Some congressional leaders say that an infrastructure bill is unlikely to win approval let alone get much attention from Congress until after the 2020 presidential election.

However some believe Congress is still likely to act on a surface transportation authorization next year.

That includes Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell who said last week that the reauthorization would move through the Senate next year and perhaps later this year.

“It probably won’t be as bold as the president was talking about because it would inevitably, if it were that bold, involve a whopping gasoline tax increase, which is very regressive, hits medium and low income people very hard,” McConnell said. “But we will do a transportation bill. It will be more along the size of a traditional every four or five year transportation bill.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters there is still hope for an infrastructure bill, saying the impeachment inquiry need not stall bipartisan work on an infrastructure package.

The current surface transportation authorization expires on Sept. 30, 2020, which means that without a new authorization the federal government will no longer be able to collect the gasoline tax.

That would end funding of highways and mass transit until the tax is reauthorized.

One congressional observer said the impeachment inquiry is not necessarily the major stumbling block to a transportation bill.

Marcia Hale, president of the bipartisan Building America’s Future said a more formidable barrier is the issue of raising the gasoline tax.

“The more plausible thing to expect is that there will be a series of extensions like we’ve been through before,” she said. “But, I don’t think it’s impossible to get this done.”

As for transportation funding, the impeachment fight some believe might limit the ability of the Senate to give final approval to a series of spending bills, including the transportation funding bill that has cleared a Senate committee.

That bill includes an increase in Amtrak funding as well as policy riders pertaining to the Hudson River rail tunnel Gateway project and other issues related to intercity passenger rail.

Some think that the FY2020 spending will be addressed through a series of continuing resolutions such as the one now in effect through Nov. 21.

There is even the prospect of a one-year continuing resolution.

The Rail Passengers Association said the latter would provide slightly lower levels for Amtrak but slightly higher levels for rail passenger transportation grants.

Senate Committee OKs $2B for Amtrak in FY2020

September 26, 2019

Amtrak would receive $2 billion under a federal fiscal year 2020 transportation funding bill recently adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

That would be a $58 million increase over FY 2019 funding. The bill, which provides $86.6 billion in transportation related funding, was approved on a 31-0 vote.

Amtrak’s appropriation would include $1.32 billion for the national network and $638 million for the Northeast Corridor.

The latter includes $100 million for Amfleet I equipment replacement and $255 million for Consolidated Rail Improvement and Safety Investment grants: $255 million

The passenger carrier would also allocated $300 million for state of good repair grants and $2 million for restoration and enhancement grants.

House Approves Transportation Funding Bill

June 29, 2019

The House this week approved a $137.1 billion appropriation bill that includes funding for Amtrak and other transportation programs.

Amtrak would receive $700 million for its Northeast Corridor, $1.3 billion for the national network, $350 million for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grants, and $350 million for Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair grants.

The Federal Railroad Administration would receive $3 billion and the Federal Transit Administration would get $13.5 billion.

The bill also states that Congress views the Gateway Project in the Northeast Corridor as a priority for federal investment, particularly the Hudson River rail tunnels and the Portal Bridge replacement.

Language was also placed in the bill requiring Capital Investment Grants for rail transit to be spent within a set time frame.

This mirrors language included in last year’s bill and reflects discontent with how the FTA has responded.

The latest language requires that if if transit grant funds aren’t distributed to new projects by Dec. 31, 2021, the FTA will be forced to redistribute that money to projects already in the engineering phase or face consequences.

Veto Threatened Over Transportation Funding

June 22, 2019

The Trump administration is threatening to veto a spending bill that contains an increase in Amtrak funding.

The Rail Passengers Association said the administration cited many disappointments about the bill, including its failure to eliminate Amtrak’s national network as the administration had proposed earlier this year.

The bill in question would fund programs for federal fiscal year 2020 which begins Oct. 1.

It increased funding for other transportation programs as well as Amtrak.

The administration also expressed displeasure with the funding bill for continuing to fund the California high-speed rail project and the Essential Air Service program.

RPA said the House is likely to approve the bill anyway because Democrats are in control.

The rail passenger advocacy group said that before a final House vote on the funding bill, a number of amendments are likely to be taken up including some that would slash transportation funding generally and Amtrak funding in particular.

More than 500 amendments have been submitted to the funding package.

Among them is a bid to cut transportation funding across the board by 14 percent, while another would direct U.S. DOT to adhere to a Congressional mandates that the federal government pay for 50 percent of costs in rail transit projects (compared to the 80 percent share it pays on highway projects).

The latter amendment was introduced after the administration began seeking to pay less than 50 percent on rail transit projects funded by the Capital Investment Grant program.

Another amendment would require Amtrak to follow the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act by giving advance notice when it intends to lay off employees.

Some Republican House members fell short in their effort to remove language preventing DOT from seeking to claw back federal funding from the California high-speed rail project when their amendments were ruled out of order.