Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak funding’

House Aid Bill Has Some Transit Funding, But Omits Amtrak Funding, Infrastructure Boost

May 16, 2020

A $3 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that passed the House on a largely party line vote on Friday contained some funding for public transit systems but fell well short of what those agencies were seeking.

The legislation, which is opposed by Senate Republicans, also declined to include additional funding for Amtrak that the carrier had sought.

The American Public Transit Association had been seeking $23.8 billion but the House bill allocated just $15.75 billion for transit.

Amtrak had sought $1.63 billion but was shut out. That funding was in addition to the $2.04 billion Amtrak is seeking in its regular grant request for federal fiscal year 2021.

Also omitted from the bill was an infrastructure program that some have been seeking as a pay to kick start the economy.

The House bill, which was named the HEROES Act, is the fourth emergency pandemic funding bill taken up in Congress.

Amtrak Set to Get $1B in Pandemic Aid

April 13, 2020

The U.S. Department of Transportation said late last week that it will be conveying $1 billion to Amtrak that was appropriated as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

The funding was approved by Congress after the passenger carrier reported that it was expected to lose that amount of money due to a 90 percent plunge in bookings and a wave of cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a news release, DOT said the emergency aid will help Amtrak maintain service when the economy recovers.

DOT said the CARES funding is intended to offset the loss of ticket revenue, enable the carrier to continue to pay its employees, buy fuel for its operations and construction materials for its projects.

The CARES Act funding will grant Amtrak $492 million for the Northeast Corridor and $526 million for its national network.

At $239 million of the funding will be used in lieu of any increase in states payments for Amtrak corridor service.

Infrastructure Funding Might be in Next Legislation to Address COVID-19 Pandemic

April 2, 2020

Congress is eyeing a fourth bill to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and it might address infrastructure funding.

President Donald Trump has signaled that he would support a $2 trillion infrastructure package as part of that legislation.

Other congressional leaders have also identified areas they would like to see funded but some observers think that whatever bill makes it through the House and Senate will be limited to health care matters.

Congress most recently approved a stimulus bill providing $2.2 trillion in funding, which is several hundred billion dollars more than the federal budget for one fiscal year.

Lawmakers are hoping that the stimulus bill will benefit the economy by as much as an additional $4 trillion.

The $1.018 billion that the stimulus bill provided for Amtrak was intended in part to limit the funding states must pay for services they support.

In an unrelated development, the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners reported that several moves of private cars via Amtrak that had been planned in March were canceled by their owners as a result of the pandemic.

AAPRCO also posted its mid-term meeting from March 23 to late July.

House OKs Emergency Aid for Amtrak, Transit

March 28, 2020

The House of Representatives approved on Friday the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill that contains emergency aid for Amtrak and public transit agencies hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill, which was supported by President Donald Trump and received broad bi-partisan support, contains $25 billion for public transportation agencies, including commuter-rail operators.

That funding will be allocated through formula operating and capital grants.

The stimulus package also contains $1 billion for Amtrak, which has seen steep ridership declines and canceled scores of trains in an effort to stem financial losses.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Amtrak ridership is down 92 percent.

In a unrelated development the Federal Transit Administration said it will extend by 30 days the deadlines for applying for competitive grant program funding.

The extension applies to grant programs now administered by the FTA with active notices of funding opportunities.

FTA also said it is offering flexibility to agencies using existing federal formula funds for emergency-related capital and operating expenses at an increased 80-percent federal share.

Agencies can request relief from federal requirements as needed by making a request through FTA’s emergency relief docket.

The agency cited the pandemic in extending the grant application deadlines.

Amtrak, Transit to Get Aid in Stimulus Package

March 26, 2020

Aid to Amtrak and public transit agencies was part of a $2 trillion stimulus bill approved Wednesday by the U.S. Senate.

The intercity rail passenger carrier is to get $1.018 billion of which $526 million is for the national network, $492 million is for the Northeast Corridor, and $239 million is for state-supported routes.

The amount matches what Amtrak President Richard Anderson has said the carrier expects to lose in the current federal fiscal year due to a dramatic drop in ridership and revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Public transit agencies are slated to receive $25 billion operating expenses. The bill waives a requirement that transit agencies use their own funds to receive federal assistance.

Another $25 billion was awarded for transit infrastructure grants to be doled out based on fiscal 2020 allocations in four areas: Urbanized Area Formula Grants; Nonurbanized Area Formula Grants; State of Good Repair; and High Density and Growing States.

The stimulus bill now moves to the House, which is expected to vote on it on Friday morning.

USA Today reported that House majority leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland expected his chamber to approve the bill on a voice vote before sending it to President Donald Trump.

Stimulus Bill Would Give Amtrak $1B, Transit $20B

March 24, 2020

Amtrak would get $1 billion and public transit agencies would receive $20 billion under a $2 trillion stimulus bill making its way through Congress the Rail Passengers Association reported.

The public transit aid would be broken down to $16 billion for urban transit systems and $4 billion for rural transit agencies.

Amtrak’s funding would be allocated at $492 million for the Northeast Corridor state-supported services and $526 million for the national network.

RPA said news reports indicate that as a condition of receiving aid Amtrak would be required to recognize unions, maintain worker benefits and provide unemployment assistance.

The money is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

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.