Posts Tagged ‘Congress’

House Democrats May be Planning Infrastructure Bill

January 18, 2020

House Democrats have signaled that they plan to release an infrastructure bill next week but it is unclear if they are on the verge of also revealing details about their planned surface transportation proposal.

In a meeting with news reporters, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi avoided providing any details of the bill and what she did say appeared to reference a surface transportation proposal.

It may be that Democrats will package an infrastructure plan with the surface transportation bill but they might also present it as a stand-alone program.

The Rail Passengers Association said Pelosi’s comments could have been referring to as many as three separate pieces of legislation.

Efforts to date by Congress and the Trump administration to reach agreement on an infrastructure program largely have failed.

It may be that the Democratic infrastructure proposal will include transportation among such things as water and sewer projects, power transmission systems and municipal facilities.

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.

Budget Vote Seen Coming Next Week

December 14, 2019

News reports late this week indicated that Congressional leaders have reached agreement on a federal budget for fiscal year 2020.

The Rail Passengers Association said the budget is expected to largely maintain the status quo but contain incremental increases for Amtrak and public transit funding.

The $1.3 trillion budget is expected to be voted on by the House next Tuesday but the Senate has not yet set a date for a vote.

The Trump administration has not yet publicly signaled if the president will sign the budget bill.

Congress faces a Dec. 20 deadline to pass a budget or a continuing resolution in order to avoid a shutdown of the federal government.

Progress Reported on FY2020 Transportation Funding Bill

December 10, 2019

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

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

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

That funding includes a boost for Amtrak spending.

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

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

Political Infighting May Doom Infrastructure Bill

October 8, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Committee Reportedly Agrees on Transportation Funding

September 14, 2019

News reports indicate that the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing has agreed on spending $74.3 billion for transportation and housing in federal fiscal year 2020.

The committee is expected to approve appropriation levels for transportation spending that march well with what the House has approved for spending.

“I’ve worked very closely with our ranking member, our staffs have worked very closely, and I expect at least at the subcommittee level, that everything will go smoothly,” said subcommittee Chairwoman Susan Collins (R-Maine). “You never know what’s going to come out of the full committee.”

She was referring to a mark-up session expected to be held soon at which specific funding levels and policy riders will be revealed.

However, observers expect the committee will seek to avoid controversy.

Congress is also said to be seeking a temporarily fix to avert $1.2 billion in cuts to the mass transit fund triggered by declining fuel tax revenue.

There are just two weeks left before FY2020 begins and Congress is widely expected to approve a continuing resolution to continue funding the federal government through late November.

Lawmakers have said in their public comments that they expect the continuing resolution to be clean, meaning that no riders will be tacked on to create political fights.

Legislators in both parties are suggesting that there is little risk of a government shutdown.

Committee Says Amtrak Ignoring Congressional Intent

June 4, 2019

A House appropriations committee has criticized Amtrak for ignoring congress intent on such matters as long-distance trains and station agents.

The committee overseeing the Fiscal year 2020 bill appropriating money for transportation and housing called on Amtrak to maintain a national long-distance network that improves transportation options for rural areas and serves stations staffed with station agents.

The Rail Passengers Association reported that the language was included in a report in advance of a mark-up session for the bill set for today (June 4).

In the report, the committee also took aim at what it termed foot dragging on grants by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration.

The committee said that contrary to congressional direction DOT has set up new Amtrak grant conditions that would give the FRA too much influence over Amtrak’s capital spending decisions.

“[T]he Committee strongly reminds Amtrak that section 24701 of title 49, United States Code, requires Amtrak to operate a national passenger rail system. Further, the Committee directs Amtrak to seek any potential changes to the National Network through the reauthorization of the FAST Act, and urges Amtrak to ensure any such proposals also increase ridership in rural areas and improve service for long-distance customers.”

The report directs Amtrak to “conduct comprehensive outreach and consultation” with a range of stakeholders.

Lawmakers were apparently acting in response to reports that Amtrak wants to chop up long-distance routes into a series of short-haul corridors and/or discontinue service altogether on some routes.

The Trump administration in a budget proposal released earlier this year called for replacing long-distance trains with bus service.

“The Committee rejects this proposal and provides strong funding for Amtrak to continue to provide service through long-distance and state-supported routes.”

The administration has recommended a Restoration and Enhancement Grants program would be used to gut Amtrak’s national network in such a way as to make states pay for intercity passenger rail.

Amtrak has contended that it wants to increase service to under-served areas and start service in areas that now lack intercity rail passenger trains.

The House committee said this “could have unintended consequences for long-distance customers, especially in rural and small communities where passenger rail serves as an important mobility option and economic driver.”

In calling for Amtrak to do a better job of communicating with stakeholders, the committee raised concerns that the passenger carrier “continues to make and implement changes to operations and services without providing the public or its employees adequate time to understand proposed changes and provide feedback.”

It cited changes in rules pertaining to private railroad cars, station ticket agents, call centers, law enforcement, and food and beverage service.

The report calls for Amtrak to provide a station agent in each station that had a ticket agent position eliminated in fiscal year 2018.

It also expressed concerns with the way Amtrak has handled implementing and communicating its guidelines last year for private rail cars, saying the carrier “does not typically inform private car owners when a private car caused a delay to an Amtrak train.”

House Committee Favors Amtrak Funding Boost

May 27, 2019

A House committee has recommended a slight funding boost for Amtrak in federal fiscal year 2020.

The House Appropriations Committee on Transportation and Housing last week released its transportation budget for FY 2020, which calls for $146 million for passenger rail and $60 million for transit compared with the funding approved for fiscal year 2019.

Amtrak’s national network would receive $1.2 billion, the same as it received in the current fiscal year. The Trump administration had recommended $661 million.

Northeast Corridor funding would rise to $700 million compared to $650 million appropriated in FY2019. The administration had recommended $325 million.

The committee also attached some policy riders in its budget including a provision directing the U.S. Department of Transportation to case seeking to claw back funds already awarded for the California high-speed rail network that is under construction.

U.S. DOT was also directed to stop dragging its feet on certain rail and transit grant programs. A clause was inserted in the legislation directing that if funds for transit grant programs aren’t awarded to new project by the end of 2021 those funds should be channeled to projects already in the engineering phase.

Talks to Resume on Infrastructure Plan

May 19, 2019

Talks between Congress and the Trump administration over a proposed $2 trillion infrastructure plan are expected to resume on May 22.

The session is expected to include President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The trio had announced the infrastructure proposal following an April 30 meeting. However, Republican Congressional leaders have reacted coolly toward the plan with some questioning where the funding would come from.

One proposal has been an increase in the federal gasoline tax, but GOP leaders have signaled they won’t support that.

Some in Congress on sides of the aisle have expressed skepticism that there is enough time to get a bill approved before the end of July.

“It’s premature for me to think we’re going to get something on the floor until we have something to get on the floor, and we haven’t gotten there yet,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said. “It would be unrealistic to expect next week, one meeting everybody agrees.”

91 Congressmen Want Answers From Anderson

March 4, 2019

Ninety-one members of Congress have a few bones to pick with Amtrak.

The representatives recently sent a letter to Amtrak President Richard Anderson posing a series of questions about certain facets of Amtrak service, including changes made in the past year that have triggered protest.

The letter, which was created by House Transportation & Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) and House T&I Railroad Subcommittee Chair Dan Lipinski (D-Illinois) came in response to news reports that Amtrak will propose expanding corridor service in the Southeast and West at the expense of long-distance routes.

Among other things the letter also asks about such moves as removing full-service dining from the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited last June, the closing of numerous ticket offices across the country, and changes to fees and policies pertaining to the carriage of privately-owned rail passenger cars.

The 11-page letter contains three pages of observations and questions with most of it devoted to the signatures of the 91 signers, which included 88 Democrats and three Republicans.

Other matters raised in the letter include changes made at reservation call centers and expected changes to maintenance facilities.

The letter cited a statutory responsibility that Amtrak has to provide a national intercity passenger rail network “that includes state-supported and long-distance routes in addition to the (Northeast Corridor).”

The legislators asked Anderson to respond by March 8.