Posts Tagged ‘Congress’

Amtrak Seeks $75B for New Service

May 28, 2021

Amtrak elaborated this week on its “Connect US” plan, which calls for a 15-year $75 billion federal investment to add 39 new routes and enhance service on 25 other routes.

Calling the plan “Corridor Vision,” Amtrak said it would lead to the carrier providing intercity rail passenger service in 47 of the 48 contiguous states and new stations in more than half of those states.

If implemented, the network expansion would generate $8 billion in annual economic benefits by 2035 and an additional $195 billion in economic activity resulting from capital projects during the same period.

In a letter to Congress, Amtrak CEO William Flynn outlined details of the plan, many of which have already been reported.

This includes Amtrak paying all initial costs for new or improved service but with states eventually assuming responsibility for those costs.

Amtrak proposed to pay upfront the estimated cost for stations, railcars, locomotives, and infrastructure.

Amtrak also is seeking a dedicated funding source, the Passenger Rail Trust Fund, and called for passage of the Rail Passenger Fairness Act, which would enhance Amtrak’s ability to enforce its right of operating preference over freight trains.

In an effort to prevent host railroads from stalling the launch of new routes, Amtrak wants Congress to clarify existing law that provides Amtrak has access to host railroads.

“Too often host railroads resist and stall any efforts to expand service,” Flynn wrote.

In a statement issued with a news release, Flynn said new and improved rail service has the ability to change how Americans move while providing cleaner air, reducing highway congestion and providing a more connected country.

Details of the Connect US plan are contained in a report Amtrak issued titled  Amtrak’s Vision for Improving Transportation Across America.

Among the cities that would receive new or improved service are Houston, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, Nashville, Columbus, Phoenix, and Wichita.

Amtrak said the added service could increase its ridership by 20 million riders annually.

Amtrak said the plan is not a final proposal and does not lay out a specific order or priority ranking for route development.

It said many factors, including available funding levels, post-pandemic travel demand, state interest, host railroad conditions, and equipment availability, will play a role in determining final implementation plans for the Connect US program.

If a corridor is not mentioned in the plan, Amtrak said that doesn’t mean it opposes development of that service.

The passenger carrier cautioned that just because a corridor is shown in its plan doesn’t mean it is certain to be implemented.

“The corridors proposed here are intended to be additive to Amtrak’s pre-COVID-19 route network,” Amtrak said.

Amtrak expects to implement its corridor services over a 15-year period.

The Amtrak report also sought to downplay the idea that these will be high-speed routes.

“While high speed rail service may be right for certain corridors, current state-supported Amtrak services such as the Pacific Surfliner and the Hiawatha show that intercity passenger rail can be successful with conventional operating speeds,” Amtrak said.

“As corridors which begin at conventional speeds build ridership and demand, they can be considered for future conversion to high speed service.”

Funding for Connect US would come from a variety of sources, including direct federal funding to Amtrak for corridor development and operation, and discretionary grants available to states, Amtrak and others for corridor development, the report said.

 “This vision does not propose to replace existing grant programs. Rather, it would augment them with dedicated and reliable funding from an intercity passenger rail trust fund … or other source needed to execute on a long-term vision.”

Tags: Amtrak, Amtrak Connect US, Amtrak funding, Amtrak funding request, Congress, William Flynn

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.

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.

FTA Changes Matching Fund Rule

February 19, 2021

The Federal Transit Administration has made a significant rule change for projects seeking to receive Capital Investment Grant funding.

The agency no longer will prohibit grant recipients from using CIG grants as part of their local funding match when applying for grants.

That prohibition, which had been imposed during the Trump administration, has been criticized for establishing barriers to certain public transit projects.

In a letter sent this past week the FTA said it will now “rely on the CIG statutory framework”to ensure that projects have met federal transportation law, the Major Capital Investment Projects Final rule, and the CIG Final Interim Policy Guidance published in June 2016.

Some congressional Democrats had accused the Trump administration of using funding policies to delay or thwart such Northeast Corridor rail infrastructure projects as replacing the century old Portal Bridge and constructing a new tunnel linking New York City and New Jersey under the Hudson River, also known as the Gateway project.

Under the new FTA policy, states will be allowed to use federal loans to cover their share of a project’s costs, something New York and New Jersey had planned to do with their federal loans in order to meet their 50 percent match of funding for the Gateway project.

Former Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao had in May 2018 prohibited states from using federal loans as part of their project match funding.

Although Congress a year later prohibited USDOT from doing that, the agency continued to maintain its policy of banning use of loans for state matching funds.

Biden Talks Infrastructure Plan With Senators

February 14, 2021

A recent meeting between President Joseph Biden and four U.S. Senators provided a preview of the challenges that lie ahead for efforts to approve an infrastructure plan this year.

The bi-partisan group of Senators agreed with Biden that improving infrastructure should be framed as a way to improve the competitiveness of the United States in the global economy, particularly in competition with China.

“If we don’t get moving, they’re [China] going to eat our lunch,” Biden told reporters during a post-meeting news conference.

Biden noted that China has made massive investments in its rail network, automobile manufacturing and renewable energy capabilities.

Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) agreed that the U.S. needs to revitalize its economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was very good, very good and one reason is that I’ve known the president forever, and we’ve worked together before,” Inhofe said.

At the same time, Inhofe said he would not support a plan that is a vehicle to reduce carbon emissions, something that Biden and many Democrats are sure to seek.

“A surface transportation reauthorization bill can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create jobs to strengthen our economy, and move us to a cleaner, safer future,” said Senator Tom Carper (D-Delaware) in a statement after the meeting.

Carper, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said he was optimistic about reaching a bi-partisan consensus on an infrastructure bill. He said the current surface transportation authorization law expires on Sept. 30 and Congress doesn’t have time to waste.

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.