Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak funding’

Amtrak Sends Congress its Wish List

April 30, 2021

Amtrak sent Congress its wish list this week for fiscal year 2022 funding and it is quite ambitious, seeking to nearly double what Amtrak received before 2020.

The requests include funding for new corridor services, hints at expanding the frequency of operation of the Cardinal and Sunset Limited, and seeks “bold” funding for Northeast Corridor and other capital projects.

The intercity passengers carrier wants a FY2022 grant of $3.88 billion for base needs and funding to offset the pandemic’s impacts on Amtrak and its state and commuter partners.

Also requested was $1.55 billion for Northeast Corridor infrastructure projects and development of new corridor routes across the nation.

In a statement, Amtrak CEO William Flynn noted that Amtrak will soon place into service new Acela equipment and locomotives for long distance trains.

Flynn said that granting Amtrak the funding it seeks would enable it to “play a central role” in helping the nation’s economy recover from the pandemic.

The funding requests are contained in a 77-page General and Legislative Annual Report and Fiscal Year 2022 Grant Request.

As reported earlier, Amtrak proposes to pick up all of the capital and operating costs for the first two years of operation of any new multi-frequency corridor.

But state and local governments would be expected to pay at least 10 percent of costs in the third year, 20 percent in the fourth, and 50 percent in the fifth.

In the sixth year state and local governments would be responsible for all costs as allocated uniformly under Section 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act.

However, Amtrak believes that the corridor operations will earn enough revenue after five years to make continued operation attractive.

The funding for new corridor services could also be used to support increases in service frequency for less-than-daily long distance routes and certain specific investments in corridor service at no long-term cost to Amtrak’s state partners.

The latter could include service to Canada and Mexico. All of Amtrak’s service to Canada is currently suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The request mentions that Amtrak’s funding request also reflects funding needed to buy replacement equipment for Amtrak’s Superliner and Amfleet II fleet.

Amtrak earlier this month named Siemens to build 83 transets to replace Amfleet equipment but that is not thought to include Amfleet II cars.

Elsewhere on Amtrak’s wish list is federal legislation to give it a right to sue its host railroads for failure to provide dispatching preference for passenger trains and give the Surface Transportation Board authority to determine whether additional trains on a given route “would unreasonably impair freight transportation.”

The passenger carrier also reprised an idea from the 1980s that was never adopted of establishing an Intercity Passenger Rail Trust Fund.

If Amtrak gets its way, Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Program loans would be easier to obtain and states would be allowed to spend a portion of their Highway Trust Fund money on passenger rail.

Stimulus Money Conveyed to Amtrak

April 28, 2021

The U.S. Department of Transportation said this week that it has conveyed to Amtrak $1.69 billion in economic stimulus funds authorized by the American Rescue Act of 2021.

The funding includes $728.6 million for Amtrak’s long distance and regional trains outside the Northeast Corridor.

Amtrak was directed by Congress to allocate $174 million of that total to offset what the carrier charges states for corridor services.

However, the law does not require states to restore their Amtrak corridor services to pre-pandemic levels.

Most states reduced their corridor services during the COVID-19 pandemic due to a plunge in ridership.

Several states have begun restoring suspended services but others have yet to announce their plans.

Among the routes yet to be fully restored is the Wolverine Service between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

The route had three roundtrips pre-pandemic, but since March 2020 the level of service has been a single daily roundtrip.

Some Illinois and Missouri routes also continued to operate below pre-pandemic levels.

The directive also mandated that Amtrak return long-distance service to daily operation if they operated as such before last year.

Amtrak has said daily operation will be phased in over a three-weekly period beginning May 24.

The Northeast Corridor will receive $969.4 million of which $109.8 million will go to states and commuter railroads to cover their share of capital costs Amtrak charges them for using the Northeast Corridor.

Another $100.8 million will be used for debt relief that Amtrak incurred before the legislation was adopted on March 11.

Biden Administration Releases Rail Funding Details

April 12, 2021

The Biden administration has released further information about how money it has proposed to spend on transportation infrastructure will be allocated in his American Jobs Plan.

The plan has earmarked $571 billion in transportation funding including $80 billion for intercity rail passenger service.

The Rail Passengers Association said that funding would be broken down to $39 billion to modernize the Northeast Corridor; $16 billion for Amtrak’s national network; $20 billion for intercity passenger grants; and $5 billion for freight rail and safety grants.

Mass transit would receive $85 billion proposal to be divided by $55 billion for returning existing public transportation systems to a state of good repair; $25 billion to expand transit systems; and $5 billion dedicated to helping implement the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

RPA said that aside from the Northeast Corridor funding, it is not clear how the other funding for passenger rail would be used.

However, the passenger advocacy group said that taking into account White House statements on the matter none of the funding is expected to be used for existing operating costs.

It would instead be used to replace existing rail cars, upgrade existing corridors with additional trains operating at higher speeds, and launching new corridors to cities without service.

RPA said the recently released Amtrak 2035 vision map is not part of the Biden administration plan but does give an indication of what new routes might be developed.

The Biden administration also indicated it will seek $25.6 billion in discretionary transportation funding during the fiscal year 2022 federal budget. That would be a 3.2 percent increase compared with FY 2021.

Amtrak would receive $2.7 billion, a 35 percent increase, while $625 million would be set aside for a new intercity passenger rail grant program.

Missouri Legislative Committee Cuts Funding For Amtrak Service

April 1, 2021

A Missouri legislative committee has approved reducing the state’s funding of Amtrak service between St. Louis and Kansas City.

The action by the Missouri House of Representatives’ Budget Committee approved $9.85 million to support one daily roundtrip. Two daily roundtrips would cost at least $12.65 million.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began last spring service on the route has been one daily roundtrip.

Even before the pandemic, some Missouri lawmakers had been pushing to cut funding to support just one roundtrip a day.

Missouri Department of Transportation officials have said the route carried more than 170,000 passengers a year before the pandemic.

Ridership began falling in 2019 after service was suspended due to flooding.

Financial problems have long shadowed the service, known as the Missouri River Runner.

In 2017, former Gov. Eric Greitens cut $500,000 in funding for the service and since 2010 the state has failed to pay Amtrak its share of the bill and owes an estimated $3 million.

There has been some discussion about not operating the trains on Mondays and Tuesdays so that service could be two roundtrips on weekends.

A MoDOT economic impact study released recently found the trains annually generate more than $208 million in economic activity statewide and create 1,250 jobs.

The study said passengers spend an estimated $12.8 million in hotels and an additional $25.3 million in food and sightseeing costs each year.

This economic activity contributes to an estimated $11 million in federal, state and local tax revenue, according to the study.

More than half (56 percent) of passengers answering a survey said they used Amtrak as a way to visit friends or family.

Thirteen percent of passengers said they were traveling for recreation or leisure travel, and 11 percent say they were using the trains for work or business-related travel.

Other reasons given included vacations (8 percent), personal or family events (6 percent), traveling to or from college or school (5 percent) and shopping, 1 percent.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said Amtrak plans to introduce new Venture coaches to the St. Louis-Kansas City corridor later this year.

He said that if service falls to one daily roundtrip it would six to 12 weeks to work out the logistics of increased service if the state were to decide to fund two daily roundtrips.

Amtrak Releases Corridor Development Proposal

April 1, 2021

Amtrak on Thursday revealed its long awaited corridor development plan, which the passenger carrier is seeking to tie in with President Joseph Biden’s infrastructure plan.

Dubbed “Amtrak Connect US,” the corridor plan includes the Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati corridor as well as corridor service linking Cleveland with Buffalo, New York, Detroit and Pittsburgh.

Other Midwest corridors include Chicago-Indianapolis-Cincinnati; Indianapolis-Louisville, Kentucky; Chicago-Iowa City, Iowa; Chicago-Rockford, Illinois; Chicago-Green Bay, Wisconsin; Chicago-Milwaukee-Twin Cities via Madison and Eau Claire, Wisconsin; and Detroit-Toronto.

In a statement, Amtrak noted that the Biden administration plan also would enable Amtrak to begin resolving a multi-billion dollar backlog of century-old Northeast Corridor bridge and tunnel replacements.

“President Biden’s infrastructure plan is what this nation has been waiting for,” said Amtrak Chairman William Flynn in a statement.

 “Amtrak must rebuild and improve the Northeast Corridor, our National Network and expand our service to more of America,” Flynn said.

The corridors would be developed with federal funding of capital projects. However, in time states served by those corridors would be expected to pay for the operating costs of the new service.

A fact sheet released by Amtrak includes a map that shows the routes the carrier wants to operate by 2035.

The fact sheet said the added benefits of its plan include “up to 160 more communities served; multiple daily trips in 15 more states; up to 30+ potential new routes; and up to 20+ existing routes with more trips.”

Other new corridors shown on the map include extensions to Las Vegas from California, and between Dallas and Houston.

Missing from the plan is a proposal to revive service in Montana along the route once used by Amtrak’s North Coast Hiawatha.

The routed used by the Sunset Limited until August 2005 between New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida, is shown as “suspended.”

The fact sheet indicated that the route expansions hinge on Congress increasing Amtrak’s funding “to support operating and capital costs for new and improved corridor routes.”

Amtrak also wants Congress to create “a streamlined and expeditious process for accessing freight lines and determining reasonable capacity improvements,” and to help the passenger carrier develop “new enforcement tools for Amtrak’s existing right to preference over freight trains to ensure our riders arrive on-time.”

Amtrak Begins Recalling Furloughed Workers

March 16, 2021

Amtrak was to begin the process of recalling furlough employees on this week.

An internal memo said 1,250 furloughed workers would be recalled between March 16 and 29 while noting that it would take 90 days to get all of them back to work.

During that 90-day period the furloughed workers will be tested and requalified as needed in their respective positions.

The recalls were mandated in the recent $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that was approved by Congress and signed by President Joseph Biden.

The legislation appropriated $1.7 billion in supplemental funding for Amtrak to, among other things, restore daily service to 16 long distance trains that operated daily until last year.

The restoration of daily service is to take place on a rolling schedule on May 24, May 31 and June 7.

The Amtrak memo indicated that the first employees to be recalled would be those in train and engine service followed by onboard service personnel.

The affected workers will be contacted by a phone call that will be followed up with a certified letter.

In the memo Amtrak indicated that although workers are expected to respond to the recalls within the time frame outlined in their craft’s collective bargaining agreement, the carrier is seeking to provide some flexibility so workers can take care of personal matters before reporting back to work at Amtrak.

Amtrak Long-Distance Trains to Resume Daily Service

March 11, 2021

Amtrak said Wednesday it will reinstate daily service on 12 long-distance routes starting in late May.

Trains on those routes shifted last year to tri-weekly or quad-weekly service in the wake of steep ridership declines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The announcement of expanded service came hours after the U.S. House of Representatives approved a pandemic relief package that contains increased funding for Amtrak.

The legislation also contains a mandate that routes that had daily service until last year resume daily operation and that furloughed employees be recalled.

President Joseph Biden is expected to sign the $1.9 trillion bill on Friday.

Two routes, the Chicago-New York Cardinal and New Orleans-Los Angeles Sunset Limited will be unaffected by the changes because those routes have operated on tri-weekly schedules for years.

Amtrak has already resumed selling tickets for the expanded days of operation on the 12 routes.

Trains returning to daily service on May 24 include the Chicago-Emeryville, California, California Zephyr; Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight; Chicago-Portland/Seattle Empire Builder, and the Chicago-San Antonio-Los Angeles Texas Eagle.

Daily operation returns May 31 for the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited; Chicago-New Orleans City of New Orleans, Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited, and the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Resuming daily operation on June 7 will be the New York-New Orleans Crescent, New York-Savannah Palmetto, and the New York-Miami Silver Meteor (via Savannah) and Silver Star (via Raleigh).

In a news release, Amtrak said new Viewliner II sleeping cars will be making their debut on the Silver Service trains.

The Auto Train had continued to operate daily and its operations will remain unchanged.

Amtrak will receive $1.7 billion in emergency pandemic aid, which will help fund restoration of daily service on long-distance routes.

Senate Increases Aid for Amtrak, Public Transit

March 9, 2021

The U.S. Senate last Saturday increased COVID-19 relief funding for Amtrak and public transit.

The changes were made during consideration of H.R. 1319, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which was approved by the Senate by a vote of 50-49.

The Senate increased by $1.25 billion the funding for public transit over what the House approved on Feb. 27 and also increased the funding for Amtrak over the House-passed levels.

The bill now goes back to the House for further consideration. The House passed a modified version of the legislation providing $1.9 trillion in COVID-19 emergency funding.

Although some senators proposed amendments that would have cut, transferred or removed the aid to public transit, few of those amendments received a roll call vote and note were approved.

However, the Senate did approve an amendment to make 23 public transit programs eligible for federal Capital Investment Grants.

The House is expected to take up the amended version of the bill today and if approved it would go to President Joseph Biden for his signature.

The American Rescue Plan Act includes $1.7 billion for Amtrak. That is a $200 million increase in funding from what the House approved last month.

Under the Senate version of the legislation $970 million will go toward the Northeast Corridor while the national network will receive $730 million.

The bill also provides $285 million to Amtrak “in lieu of commuter rail and state-supported route payments.”

The bill includes $166 million “to restore service on long-distance routes and to recall and manage furloughed employees.”

The breakdown of other public transit funding in the bill includes $26.09 billion for transit systems in urban areas and $317 million for grants in rural areas.

Also approved was $50 million in grants to benefit services for seniors and those with disabilities, $2.21 billion for operating assistance grants  pertaining to addressing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and $250 million for Small Start projects that are recipients of a CIG allocation or an applicant in the project development phase.

Bill Would Mandate Daily Service for Amtrak Long-Distance Trains

February 26, 2021

A Montana senator has introduced legislation to require Amtrak to reinstate daily service to most of its 15-long distance routes.

The bill sponsored by Jon Tester (D-Montana) also would require the passenger carrier to reinstate furloughed workers.

Last October, Amtrak reduced the frequency of most long-distance trains from daily to tri-weekly.

Less than daily operations of two New York-Miami routes began last July while two other routes, the Sunset Limited (New Orleans-Los Angeles) and Cardinal (Chicago-New York) have operated tri-weekly for several years.

Only the Auto Train between Lorton, Virginia, and Florida has continued to run daily.

Amtrak cited steep ridership and revenue declines triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic for reducing the frequency of its long-distance trains.

In introducing his bill, Tester said in a statement that Amtrak’s service reductions “were an unacceptable attack on rural America.”

Tester’s bill would authorize and appropriate federal grants to Amtrak to pay for reviving daily service and recalling furloughed workers.

In a statement, Amtrak said it wants to resume daily service on route that had it before the pandemic and to recall furloughed workers.

The statement noted that a pandemic relief bill approved by a congressional committee contains funding to do that.

That bill is pending before the full House of Representatives.

Tester said he hopes that daily service on Amtrak long-distance routes can be achieved before the start of the summer travel season.

House Committee OKs Pandemic Aid for Amtrak

February 14, 2021

A congressional committee on Wednesday approved transportation funding for a COVID-19 relief bill.

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure approved a plan put forth by committee Democrats to provide $1.5 billion for Amtrak and $30 billion for public transit.

The committee also approved a policy rider directing Amtrak to restore without 90 days daily service for long-distance trains that operated daily before last fall.

The Amtrak funding had to survive two efforts by committee Republicans to eliminate it.

The committee defeated a motion by Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pennsylvania) to cut the Amtrak funding from the bill.

Another committee member, Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Arkansas) withdrew an amendment to transfer the Amtrak emergency funding to a highway-rail grade crossing program.

Crawford withdrew his amendment after Committee Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) agreed to work with Crawford on the grade crossing issue in the upcoming surface transportation reauthorization bill.

The bill now advances to the full House. The Senate is expected to consider a counterpart COVID-19 pandemic relief bill.

Amtrak funding as approved by the House committee would be broken down to $820,388,160 for the Northeast Corridor and $679,622,840 for the national network.

The bill directs that not less than $165,926,000 of the combined amounts of the NEC and national network is to be used to restore all long-distance service in effect as of July 1, 2020, and to recall all workers put on furlough on or after Oct. 1, 2020.

Another clause provides that not less than $109,805,000 from the combined amounts of the NEC and national network shall be used in lieu of capital payments that the state-supported routes and commuter authorities were required to pay.

Amtrak is to use $174,850,000 from the national network funds to offset amounts required to be paid by states for covered state-supported routes.

The $30 billion earmarked for public transit is to be used to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus pandemic and includes eligibility for operating expenses to prevent layoffs and avoid cuts to service.

The legislation includes mandates for how the funding it to be allocated among urbanized areas, rural areas and for services for seniors and those with disabilities.

Some of the public transit emergency aid can also be used for planning purposes.