Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak funding’

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.

COVID-19 Transportation Aid Levels Proposed

February 9, 2021

Democrats in the House of Representatives have reportedly settled on funding levels for transportation that would be included in a proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.

Under the proposal, transit agencies would receive $30 billion, Amtrak would get $1.5 billion, airlines would receive $14 billion and airports would get $8 billion.

The COVID-19 aid funding for transit falls short of the $39.3 billion that transit systems were seeking.

Amtrak funding would nearly match the $1.541 billion that the intercity passenger carrier is seeking from Congress.

However, it exceeds the $20 million that President Joseph Biden had proposed.

Biden’s initial proposal contained no funding for Amtrak or airlines.

A House committee is expected to begin working this week on the COVID-19 pandemic aid proposal.

Amtrak to Release Corridor Proposal Soon

February 2, 2021

Amtrak said on Monday in a public statement that it plans to release soon its proposal for the development of corridor services.

The statement noted that it has been discussing with state and local officials new opportunities for intercity passenger rail service.

“Frequent and reliable corridor routes of typically less than 500 miles represent the fastest growing segment of Amtrak service,” the statement said. “Population growth, changing demographics, travel preferences and environmental concerns all point to new opportunities for intercity passenger rail.”

Amtrak said its plan seeks to expand rail service across the nation with a focus on providing service to large metropolitan areas that have little or no Amtrak service. 

Its contacts with state and local officials has sought to learn of interests in new and improved Amtrak service.

Although the Amtrak statement had few details on what it will propose, it indicated that its plan will ask Congress to authorize and fund Amtrak’s expansion by allowing the intercity passenger carrier to cover most of the initial capital and operating costs of new or expanded routes.

Amtrak Says Congress Can Mandate Daily Service

January 30, 2021

Amtrak has signaled that if Congress wants long-distance trains to operate daily rather than tri-weekly it can make that happen by mandating it and providing funding.

Since last October all of Amtrak’s long-distance routes have operated on tri-weekly or quad-weekly schedules.

At the time those reduced schedules were implemented Amtrak cited steep ridership declines that followed in the wake of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has since said that daily operation of those trains will be restored once they meet certain public health, ridership and future demand criteria.

However, in a statement Amtrak said Congress could override those standards.

“If Congress provides the direction and the needed funding, we would restore long-distance services to daily,” Amtrak said.

Earlier in the week, Amtrak had asked Congress for $1.5 million in emergency pandemic aid, saying that money is needed to recall workers furloughed last year and avoid future furloughs during the balance of the federal fiscal year that ends on Sept. 30.

Amtrak’s subsequent statement was an elaboration of how the passenger carrier would use the money it has requested.

Aside from reducing the frequency of operation of long-distance trains, Amtrak has suspended operations of some state-funded corridor trains as the states funding those trains have reduced how much they are spending on Amtrak service.

In its statement, Amtrak said employees who worked aboard those suspended trains would still be recalled if Amtrak gets the money it requested.

These recalls will be made even if individual states opt not to increase their funding of Amtrak corridor services and thus the trains they once worked aboard remain suspended.

Those recalled workers “could go wherever their seniority allows them; it might not be on an extra board, but they would be recalled and employed,” Amtrak said in the statement.

Amtrak Sends Wish List to Congress

January 27, 2021

Amtrak this week informed Congress of its wish list of legislative priorities.

Perhaps the top items is an additional $1.541 billion of COVID-19 pandemic emergency relief.

In a letter signed by Amtrak CEO William Flynn, the passenger carrier said the money is needed “to sustain and restore operations and recall employees” through Sept. 30 and into the next federal fiscal year.

The letter did not indicate how much money Amtrak believes it needs to restore daily operation to long-distance trains whose frequency of service was cut to tri-weekly last October.

In response to a query from a Trains magazine reporter, Amtrak said that restoration of service on long-distance routes hinges on certain public health, future demand, and current ridership performance metrics compared with pre-pandemic numbers for those trains.

In the letter Flynn said specific requests for funding in federal fiscal year 2022, which begins Oct. 1, will be sent to Congress later.

In the meantime, Amtrak’s legislative priorities are primarily a repeat of past requests that have yet to be approved by lawmakers.

These include establishing an intercity passenger rail trust fund, legislation designed to overcome resistance by host railroads to service expansion and increased frequency of service, legislation that would give Amtrak a right to sue a host railroad that subjects passenger trains to excessive delays due to freight train interference, and funding for new corridor services

The trust fund proposal is not new. The late W. Graham Claytor Jr. sought such a fund back in the 1980s when he was Amtrak’s president, suggesting the intercity passenger carrier be given funding from the Highway Trust Fund.

In his letter, Flynn said Amtrak needs a predictable source of federal funding for the Northeast Corridor and national network so it can pursue large, multi-year projects and service expansions rather than relying on annual appropriations.

Flynn did not specify what tools Amtrak wants to compel host railroads to approve service expansions, but indicated it needs changes in federal law.

The corridor service Amtrak is seeking would require amending Section 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act so that Amtrak could pay the initial startup costs and operating expenses of those corridors.

Under existing, law, state and local governments are required to underwrite corridor services.

Although Amtrak has told several states that it wants to front the costs to develop corridors between urban centers, it also has made clear that in time the states served by those trains will be expected to pay for them.

Rail Passenger Future Gains Some Clarity

December 29, 2020

With the signing of legislation this week granting another round of federal stimulus funding and giving final approval to federal spending for fiscal year 2021, we now have some clarity on what the nation’s rail passenger system will look like over the next several months.

It is likely to look a lot like it does today, meaning it will be more Spartan that it was a year ago with long-distance trains continuing to operate on less-than-daily schedules and reduced levels of corridor service trains.

Amtrak was granted $1 billion in pandemic emergency funding, which Amtrak CEO William Flynn characterized as a band aid that will get the passenger carrier through to the spring when he said additional funding will be needed.

That’s the same level of emergency funding Amtrak received from the CARES Act adopted last March in the early weeks of the pandemic.

The latest emergency aid given Amtrak bans it from furloughing additional workers or reducing services further, but that is not the same thing as a mandate to restore service that has already been suspended or recalling workers who have been furloughed.

In a statement, Flynn tied service restorations, employee recalls and moving ahead on capital projects to Amtrak receiving additional funding next year.

As for FY 2021, Amtrak received $2.8 billion of which $1.3 billion is for the national network and state-supported corridor services.

That is not much more than the $2 billion the passenger carrier sought back in February before the pandemic began and well short of the $4.9 billion for FY2021 that it sought last October.

The legislation contained a policy rider expressing the sense of Congress that Amtrak is to operate long-distance routes in order to provide connectivity throughout the intercity passenger carrier’s network and provide transportation to rural areas.

That is far from being a mandate to restore daily operation to trains that shifted to less-than-daily operation, primarily tri-weekly, last October and July.

The rail passenger advocacy community may be united in believing that less-than-daily long distance trains are a bad idea, but Amtrak management is doing it anyway.

The downsides of less-than-daily service have received a lot of ink and bandwidth from railroad trade publication and railfan magazines, but that hasn’t moved the needle of Amtrak management’s behavior much if at all.

Amtrak has shown some sensitivity to the accusation that reducing long-distance trains to less-than-daily service is part of a larger plot to eliminate those trains.

In interviews and congressional testimony Flynn has tried to frame the service cuts as a temporary response to plunging ridership triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic that has also devastated ridership of airlines and buses.

He and Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia have sought to underscore that Amtrak is committed to having a national network.

That is not necessarily a commitment to operating that network at the same level of service that existed at the beginning of 2020 or even operating that network in perpetuity.

Flynn’s most recent statement about the latest emergency aid said nothing about when daily service will return to long-distance routes.

He told Congress in October that daily service might be restored in May “when financially possible.” That is hardly an ironclad promise.

In looking back at the fight over the past few months over rail passenger service cuts a couple of conclusions come to mind.

First, without public funding there are not going to be passenger trains of any kind. That particularly has been illustrated by the service cuts in state-supported corridor service.

The Chicago-Detroit corridor went from three trains a day to one, which reduced service to the lowest level it has been in the nearly 50 years of Amtrak operation.

Other corridors that had multiple daily frequencies saw service cuts as well and a few state-supported corridors that were suspended have yet to resume operations.

Second, passenger train advocates continue to lack the political clout needed to realize their visions of an expansive intercity passenger rail network.

Advocates have done well at keeping Amtrak funding at a suitable level to maintain a skeletal level of intercity rail passenger service but have failed to prevent Amtrak and its state partners from making service cuts when ridership and revenue plunged during the pandemic.

Congress has not shown a willingness to unlock the federal piggy bank to open-ended levels of financial support for intercity rail passenger service.

Getting intercity rail passenger service back to where it was in early 2020 is going to be a long, hard slog.

The end of the pandemic may be in sight, but it might take much longer to get there than many want to believe.

Although it seems likely that significant numbers of people will want to travel again, airline industry observers have talked about a four-year time frame to get air service travel back to where it was before the pandemic took hold.

It is not unrealistic to think intercity rail service might be operating under a similar time frame.

It may be that pent up demand will move that up slightly in the next year or two but that is going to hinge on how quickly the economy grows and how soon larger numbers of people feel confident that traveling and unfettered social interaction are safe again.

Pandemic Aid May Maintain Amtrak Status Quo

December 23, 2020

Although a bill adopted by Congress on Monday provides $1 billion in emergency pandemic relief aid to Amtrak, it remains unclear whether that will be enough to restore service suspended due to steep ridership declines.

Amtrak’s $1 billion pandemic relief grant includes $655 for the Northeast Corridor and $345 million for the national network.

Amtrak CEO William Flynn in a statement characterized the aid as a “temporary band-aid that will help Amtrak and our state and commuter partners.”

Flynn’s statement suggested that Amtrak will need additional financial assistance so that it can restore services cut during the pandemic, recall furloughed employees and move ahead on capital projects.

The statement did not indicate if any service restorations are likely between now and March.

The tenor of the statement suggested Amtrak intends to maintain the status quo, which would mean that all but one of its one-distance routes will continue operating on less-than-daily schedules.

Also in doubt is any restoration of state-supported corridor services that have been suspended during the pandemic due to steep ridership declines.

If anything, the statement hints that Amtrak will tie service restorations to receiving future emergency aid in the spring.

Flynn’s statement also resurrected the prospect of network expansion along the lines of that proposed by his predecessor Richard Anderson.

“This near-term support, coupled with significant new investments through our infrastructure or stimulus bill to expand the Amtrak network through new corridor routes, would create thousands of new jobs, reduce our nation’s carbon footprint and help the economy recover and flourish in the years ahead,” the statement said.

The legislation also included $14 million in pandemic emergency funding for public transit. Funding was also provided for bus companies, airlines and airports.

The transportation aid was part of $900 billion in pandemic relief aid.

The Rail Passengers Association on its website reported that the Northeast Corridor funding has a provision that not less than $109.8 million is to be used by Amtrak in lieu of capital payments from states and commuter rail authorities.

The funding for the national network includes $174.9 million to be made available to Amtrak in lieu of Section 209 payments from states to the passenger carrier for state-supported corridors.

The legislation bans Amtrak from making further employee furloughs or further reductions in frequencies on long-distance trains.

Currently furloughed Amtrak workers will be entitled to be recalled to the same seniority and job classification that they held prior to being furloughed when intercity passenger service is restored.

The bill prohibits Amtrak from contracting out any services that were performed by a furloughed worker.

The grant to public transit comes with a stipulation that no recipient may receive more than $4 billion when combined with money received in the CARES Act.

The bill also directs that the pandemic aid be shared with paratransit providers and rural transit providers.

Amtrak Did Well in FY2021 Budget

December 23, 2020

Public Transit and Amtrak did reasonably well in the legislation approved by Congress this week to fund the federal government through the end of the 2021 fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The $1.4 billion omnibus budget bill include $15.5 billion for public transportation and passenger rail, a $10 million increase from the enacted levels of FY 2020.

The funding breaks down to $2.8 billion for passenger rail and $13 billion for the Federal Transit Administration.

Amtrak’s FY2021 funding included $700 million for operating and capital projects in the Northeast Corridor.

Of that $75 million is earmarked for bringing Amtrak-served facilities and stations into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The national network received $1.3 billion for long-distance and state-supported trains, including $50 million for the latter.

Among the policy riders attached to the budget bill was one stating it is the sense of Congress that long-distance passenger rail routes provide much-needed transportation access, particularly in rural areas.

The long-distance passenger rail routes and services should be sustained to ensure connectivity throughout the national network.

Another rider sets aside $100 million to support the acquisition of new single-level passenger equipment in proportion to the use of this equipment for Amtrak’s NEC, state-supported, and long-distance services.

The bill “reminds” Amtrak that Congress removed the prohibition on the use of Federal funds to cover any operating loss associated with providing food and beverage service on Amtrak routes.

That action was part of a one-year extension of federal surface transportation authorization legislation approved last September.

Amtrak also was directed to “continually review and evaluate the locations and trains that may be eligible for private car moves, update the guidelines for private cars on Amtrak if additional locations or trains meet Amtrak’s criteria, and notify private car owners of these changes.”

In other budget provisions, the Consolidated Rail Improvement and Safety Improvements program received $375 million for rail projects of which at least $75 million is to be used for projects that support the development of new intercity passenger rail routes including alignments for existing routes.

Not less than $25 million is to be used for capital projects and engineering solutions targeting trespassing.

The Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair program received $200 million to repair, replace, or rehabilitate qualified railroad assets to reduce the state of good repair backlog and improve intercity passenger rail performance.

The Restoration and Enhancement Grants program received $4.7 million for initiating, restoring, or enhancing intercity passenger rail transportation.

Of the $13 billion appropriated for the Federal Transit Administration, $2 billion is to be used for for Capital Investment Grants and $516 million for Transit Infrastructure Grants.

The bill reestablishes an 80/20 cost share split between the federal government and state government for the CIG program.