Posts Tagged ‘Federal transportation funding’

Senate Committee OKs Funding for Amtrak Long-Distance Trains

July 29, 2017

A Senate committee voted this week to provide $1.6 billion in funding for Amtrak and to provide funding for some grant programs that the Trump administration wanted to cut.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development said that the funding would assure that Amtrak’s long-distance trains remain in operation during fiscal year 2018, which begins on Oct. 1.

The Amtrak funding was part of a $1.974 billion package for the Federal Railroad Administration and also included $550 million for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants.

That contrasts with action by a House committee to end TIGER funding. The Trump administration also sought to end the TIGER program.

In other action, the Senate subcommittee agreed to provide $12 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, marking a $285 million decrease from FY2017 enacted levels.

The bill provides $9.7 billion for transit formula grants consistent with the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act and slots $2.1 billion for the FTA’s Capital Investment Grants (also known as New Starts).

That money would fully fund all current Full Funding Grant Agreement transit projects.

“This bipartisan bill is the product of considerable negotiation and compromise, and makes the necessary investments in our nation’s infrastructure, helps to meet the housing needs of the most vulnerable among us, and provides funding for economic development projects that create jobs in our communities,” said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who chairs the subcommittee.

Trump Budget Slashes Amtrak Funding by 45%

May 24, 2017

The Trump administration wants to slash Amtrak funding by 45 percent in fiscal year 2018.

The detailed budget proposed released this week proposed giving Amtrak $744 million.

In the current fiscal year, Amtrak received $1.4 billion. The cuts for next year include ending $289 for Amtrak’s long-distance train routes.

The budget document described long-distance trains as “a vestige of when train service was the only viable transcontinental transportation option. Today, communities are served by an expansive aviation, interstate highway, and intercity bus network.”

The document said Amtrak’s long-distance trains represent the greatest amount of Amtrak’s operating losses, serve relatively small populations, and have the worst on-time record.

The Trump administration would instead appropriate $1.5 billion for the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington.

[The Northeast Corridor] “faces many challenges, and the 2018 Budget proposal would allow Amtrak to right-size itself and more adequately focus on these pressing issues,” the budget document said.

Nonetheless, the Trump administration has proposed cutting funding for the development of New York’s Penn Station by 64 percent from $14 million to $5 million.

The Amtrak funding cuts make up the lion’s share of the 37 percent cut proposed by the Trump administration for the Federal Railroad Administration.

The agency’s parent organization, the U.S. Department of Transportation, would receive $16.2-billion in FY 2018, a decline of 12.7 percent over what it received in FY 2017.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s budget would drop by 37 percent from $1.7 billion to $1.05 billion while Federal Transit Administration will decline by 5 percent from its FY 2017 appropriation of $11.8 billion.

The FTA would receive $11.2 billion, which includes $9.7 billion for transit formula grants. The FTA’s Capital Investment Grant program for new starts would be cut by 43 percent from $2.16 billion to $1.2.

Funding would be continued only for programs that FTA is legally bound to support through full-funding grant agreements.

Funding for the Transportation Generating Economic Recovery grant program would be eliminated.

The budget document said projects that are attempting to receive TIGER funding could still earn grants through the Nationally Significant Freight and Highways Projects fund managed by DOT’s Build America Bureau.

The Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing and Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation programs would remain in place, but receive no additional funding.

The National Transportation Safety Board would receive $106 million, which is no change from FY 2017.

The Surface Transportation Board would receive a $5 million boost to $37 million in order to implement regulatory changes under the STB reauthorization law of 2015.

The Trump administration budget proposal is likely to undergo numerous changes as Congress considers federal funding priorities for FY 2018.

Public Transit Looks to Trump Infrastructure Plan

April 10, 2017

Faced with federal budget cuts, rail and transit agencies are hoping that the Trump administration will be open to helping to fund transit capital projects as part of a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that has been promised.

It is not clear yet when the plan will be rolled out or what it will seek to fund.

President Donald Trump recently said that the infrastructure plan will be for at least $1 trillion and that there may be a 90-day deadline to get started in order to receive funding.

Trump has said the plan will be revealed as early as next month.

That timeline was echoed by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao who said the administration is “working on a legislative package that will probably be in May, or late May.”

Chao said the plan will focus on investments for roads, bridges, airports and potentially broadband access, veteran hospitals, and improvements for the electrical grid and water systems.

She added that the bill containing the infrastructure plan will tackle reducing regulations.

In particular, rail and transit authorities are concerned about how the administration’s “skinny budget” seeks to reduce grant funding from the Federal Transit Authority and the U.S. DOT’s TIGER program. Hence, their interest in obtaining funding for capital projects through the infrastructure plan.

Chao Says Infrastructure Plan Will Reduce Regulations, House Committee Approves Passenger Rail Legislation

March 31, 2017

It’s not the money it’s the red tape. Or so Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao wants everyone to believe is the reason why more isn’t being done to rebuild America’s infrastructure.

Speaking during an open house to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Chao said the Trump Administration’s infrastructure proposal that has yet to be delivered to Congress will include proposals to eliminate regulations.

“Investors say there is ample capital available, waiting to invest in infrastructure projects,” Chao said.” So the problem is not money. It’s the delays caused by government permitting processes that hold up projects for years, even decades, making them risky investments.”

Chao said the Trump infrastructure plan “will include common-sense regulatory, administrative, organizational and policy changes that will encourage investment and speed project delivery.”

Although she did not provide details, that infrastructure proposal will include a “a strategic, targeted program of investment valued at $1 trillion over 10 years,” Chao said.

She said the proposal will cover more than transportation infrastructure. It will also include energy, water and potentially broadband and veterans hospitals.

Public-private partnerships will be a focal point of the plan as a way to avoid “saddling future generations with massive debt.”

In an unrelated development, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure this week approved a bill involving passenger rail.

The committee reported out H.R. 1346, which repeals a rule titled “Metropolitan Planning Organization Coordination and Planning Area Reform.”

In a statement, the committee said the rule exceeds what is required in law, is contrary to congressional intent, and increases burdens on MPOs and states.

The committee said H.R. 1346 maintains MPO and state flexibility in planning and making transportation investments.

Also approved was H.R. 1093, which mandates the Federal Railroad Administration to notify Congress about any initiation and results of passenger and commuter rail comprehensive safety assessments.

NARP Decries Amtrak, Public Transit Funding Cuts

March 17, 2017

The National Association of Railroad Passengers said Thursday that the Trump administration budget for Amtrak for the fiscal year 2018 appears to have been adopted from a model proposed by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The administration described the budget blueprint as a “skinny budget” and it contains few program details.

NARP contends that while President Donald Trump has talked up the need for transportation infrastructure investment, “his administration’s first budget guts infrastructure spending, slashing $2.4 billion from transportation. This will jeopardize mobility for millions of Americans and endanger tens of thousands of American jobs.”

The budget, which must be approved by Congress, would end all federal funding for Amtrak’s national network trains.

NARP said this would leave 23 states, including Ohio, without rail passenger service.

The Trump budget would also cut $499 million from the TIGER grant program, which has been used to advance passenger rail and transit projects and eliminate $2.3 billion for the Federal Transit Administration’s “New Starts” Capital Investment Program, which is used to fund the launch of transit, commuter rail, and light-rail projects.

Political analysts have noted that no budget proposal sent to Congress has emerged without changes.

It is likely that transportation advocacy groups will lobby Congress hard to restore the funding that Trump wants to cut.

Trump Wants to Cut Amtrak Long-Distance Train Funding, Trim Public Transportation Spending

March 16, 2017

Here we go again. Another president has taken aim at Amtrak’s federal funding.

The proposed fiscal year 2018 budget released by the Trump administration this week calls for eliminating federal funding of Amtrak’s long-distance trains and would impose other steep cuts in transportation spending.

Amtrak would not lose all funding, but the funding it receives would be focused on supporting services within specific regions, specifically the Northeast Corridor and state-funded corridors in the East, Midwest and along the West Coast.

The budget described long-distance trains as inefficient and incurring the vast majority of Amtrak’s operating losses.

Trump is seeking to cut the U.S. Department of Transportation budget by $2.4 billion or 13 percent.

If Congress adopts the Trump budget blueprint, DOT will receive $16.2 billion.

Also slated for deep cuts in the budget are Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants.

Funding of the New Starts program of the Federal Transit Administration will be slashed and limited to projects with existing full funding grant agreements.

In a statement with the budget, Trump said the DOT budget is being revamped to focus on “vital federal safety oversight functions and investing in nationally and regionally significant transportation infrastructure projects.”

A statement with the budget request said that the blueprint seeks to reduce or end “programs that are either inefficient, duplicative of other federal efforts, or that involve activities that are better delivered by states, localities or the private sector.”

In a statement, Amtrak President Charles “Wick” Moorman said that Amtrak’s 15 long-distance trains offer the only service in 23 of the 46 states that the carrier .

“Eliminating funding for long-distance routes could impact many of the 500 communities served by Amtrak,” Moorman said.

“These trains connect our major regions, provide vital transportation to residents in rural communities and generate connecting passengers and revenue for our Northeast Corridor and state-supported services. Amtrak is very focused on running efficiently  — we covered 94 percent of our total network operating costs through ticket sales and other revenues in FY16 — but these services all require federal investment.”

Moorman pledged to work with the Trump administration, including U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Congress to “understand the value of Amtrak’s long-distance trains and what these proposed cuts would mean to this important part of the nation’s transportation system.”

As for transit funding, the budget blueprint says that curtailing federal funding leaves funding up to “localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.”
The American Public Transportation Association issues a statement saying it was surprised and disappointed with the budget details so far.

APTA noted that the administration has been touting a broad plan to spend $1 trillion for infrastructure investment, but “the White House is recommending cutting billions of dollars from existing transportation and public transit infrastructure programs.”

The trade group said the budget cuts would affect projects underway in Kansas City; Dallas; Fort Worth, Texas; Indianapolis; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Fort Lauderdale, and Jacksonville, Florida.

The cuts to the TIGER program is aimed at what the budget described as “unauthorized” projects. In January before Trump was inaugurated , DOT had announced that $500 million was available. The TIGER grants were first awarded in 2009.

Among the 2016 grant recipients are San Bernardino County, California., which received $8.6 million for passenger rail service; Mississippi’s 65-mile long Natchez Railway, which received $10 million for rehabilitation and upgrades for five bridges; and Springfield, Illinois, which received $14 million to build two underpasses for proposed high-speed service between St. Louis and Chicago.

Federal Transportation Bill Wins Congressional OK

December 4, 2015

The $305 billion federal transportation bill won widespread approval in the House and Senate on Thursday and was expected to be signed by President Obama.

The legislation is an authorization of spending and actual spending measures must still be approved by the next Congress.

The 1,300-page bill authorizes $281 billion through the Highway Trust Fund and $24 billion through annual appropriations.

The bill increases highway spending by 15 percent by its final year and transit spending by 18 percent.

This includes $12 billion for mass transit, $10 billion for Amtrak and $1 billion for National Highway Traffic Safety Administration programs.

The bill was approved 359-65 in the House and 83-16 in the Senate.

The legislation includes policy provisions related to highway safety, railroads and road programs.

One provision changes a federal law limiting how much railroads can be forced to pay those hurt and families of those killed in rail accidents. The liability cap would increase to $295 million, up from $200 million.

The bill also includes $199 million to help commuter railroads install positive train control

Commuter railroads have said they have been unable to install PTC systems thus far due to tight budgets.

The money in the bill marks the first time the federal government has set money aside for PTC installation. However, that funding is a fraction of the expected total cost of $12 billion to install PTC.

Passenger railroads will be required to install inward-facing cameras to monitor crews.

Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor’s budget will be split from that of its national network. The two would receive $2.6 billion and $5.5 billion respectively.

Congress chose not to increase the federal gas tax, which is now 18.4 cents per gallon.

It instead elected to take $19 billion from the Federal Reserve’s surplus funds and lower the dividend payments large banks receive from the Fed from 6 percent to 1.5 percent.

Another revenue source will come from private tax collection services being used to collect back payments on federal taxes under the legislation.

The bill authorizes the federal government to revoke the passports of those owing more than $50,000 in back taxes to the IRS.

The bill authorizes transportation spending for five years. The last time Congress passed a transportation funding bill lasting more than two years was in 2005.

Transportation Groups Generally Pleased With Proposed Federal Transportation Funding Bill

December 2, 2015

The five-year federal transportation bill that is before Congress affects the railroad industry by strengthening tank-car safety standards, increases funding for transit systems and creates a rail title that authorizes funding for Amtrak and intercity passenger-rail grants.

Known as the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation, the authorizes $305 billion for transportation programs.

Railroad and public transportation trade organizations are still reviewing the legislation, which was agreed upon by a House and Senate conference committee on Tuesday, but initial reactions to the bill are positive.

“As the first long-term surface transportation bill in 10 years, the significance of this legislation cannot be overstated,” said American Public Transportation Association  President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Melaniphy. “A well-funded, long-term surface transportation authorization is critical to the economic competitiveness and prosperity of our nation’s communities.”

Jim Matthews, president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, called the FAST Act a step in the right direction.

“We’ve gone from the House voting on whether to completely eliminate funding to Amtrak in the spring, to the full Congress thinking seriously and thoughtfully about how to improve and expand the passenger rail network in a single calendar year; that is a big achievement for America’s 31 million passengers,” he said.

Association of American Railroads President and CEO Ed Hamberger hailed the bill’s action on  tank-car standards.

In a statement, the AAR also welcomed a provision that streamlines the environmental permitting process for rail infrastructure projects based on previously enacted reforms for highway and transit projects.

Hamberger said these reforms are designed to increase capacity, improve safety, hire new employees and provide more efficient service.

The bill authorizes $61.1 billion over five years for public transportation, according to APTA. Overall, transit funding would increase by more than 10 percent in one year and by almost 18 percent over the five-year bill.

The bill also would provide $199 million in one-time funding for commuter railroads to implement positive train control technology and authorizes $200 million, rising to $650 million in 2020, for three separate rail infrastructure programs.

The current federal surface transportation authorization expires on Dec. 4 and a short-term extension may be needed to give the House and Senate time to approve the final bill.

As for the tank car standards, the bill increases the thermal blanket protection for tank cars and restrictions on the use of older DOT-111 tank cars that move flammable liquids.

The bill also includes a requirement for top fittings protection on tank car retrofits, which addressed what the rail industry said was a shortcoming in the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s tank car rule enacted in May.

Other railroad elements in the bill include:
• Amtrak funding under a new Northeast Corridor account and a separate National Network program, with total funding for both programs set at $1.45 billion in 2016, rising to $1.8 billion by 2020. Competitors will be allowed to operate up to three Amtrak long-distance lines if they could do so at less cost to taxpayers.
• Accelerates the delivery of rail projects by reforming the environmental and historic preservation review processes, applying existing exemptions already used for highways to make critical rail investments go further.

  • Establishes limited authorization with guaranteed funding for grants or loans to commuter railroads and States that can leverage $2 billion in financing for positive train control implementation.
  • Preserves the U.S. Department of Transportation’s final rule requiring ECP brakes on certain trains by 2021 and 2023, while requiring an independent evaluation and real-world derailment test. DOT must evaluate its final rule within the next two years using the results of the evaluation and testing.
  • Increases the passenger rail liability cap to $295 million by adjusting the current $200 million cap for inflation. The provision will be applied to the Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia on May 12, 2015, and adjusts the cap for inflation every five years.
  • Requires passenger railroads to install inward-facing cameras to monitor train crews and outward-facing cameras to monitor track conditions at the time of an accident or incident.
  • Closes a potential loophole in DOT regulations and reduces the risk of thermal tears, which is when a pool fire causes a tank car to rupture and potentially result in greater damage.
  • Improves emergency response by requiring railroads to provide accurate, real-time, and electronic train consist information to first responders on the scene of an accident.
  • Increases safety at highway-rail crossings by requiring action plans to improve engineering, education, and enforcement, evaluating the use of locomotive horns and quiet zones, and examining methods to address blocked crossings.
  • Enhances passenger rail safety by requiring speed limit action plans, redundant signal protection, alerters, and other measures to reduce the risk of over-speed derailments and worker fatalities.
  • Creates a working group and rail restoration program to explore options for resuming service discontinued after Hurricane Katrina.
  • Reforms the $35 billion Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program to increase transparency and flexibility, expand access for limited option freight rail shippers, and provide tools to reduce taxpayer risks.

NARP broke down the authorizing funding for Amtrak and select other rail programs as follows:

  •  Northeast Corridor, $2.596 billion.
  • National network, $5.454 billion.
  • Gulf Coast Working Group, $500,000.
  • Consolidated rail infrastructure and safety improvement, $1.103 billion.
  • Federal-state partnership for state of good repair, $997 million over five years.
  • Restoration and enhancement grants, $100 million.
  • Amtrak Office of Inspector General, $105 million.
  • Authorization of grants for positive train control, $199 million.

The bill boosts highway spending by 15 percent and transit spending by 18 percent while authorizing $10 billion over five years for Amtrak, $12 billion for mass transit and $1 billion for vehicle safety programs.

However, those funding numbers are subject to annual spending decisions by Congress.

Transportation Bill Requires Amtrak to Make Separate NEC Budget, Allow Pets on Trains

December 1, 2015

A compromise $305 billion federal transportation bill was agreed upon by House and Senate negotiators on Tuesday that contains a number of railroad-related measures.

The bill directs Amtrak to separate the budget for the Northeast Corridor from the rest of the railroad’s network budget and to establish a pilot program to allow passengers to bring a dog or cat aboard in much the same manner as carry-on luggage.

The legislation will fund highway and mass-transit projects for the next five years. It also contains a proviso that establishes a grant program for large freight projects.

The bill still needs to win approval from the House and Senate.

The two chambers earlier approved a stop-gap measure that extended the authority for transportation spending through Dec. 4.

In the event that the compromise bill encounters difficulties in either chamber, Congressional leaders have readied another temporary extension of transportation funding authority.

Supporters of the requirement that Amtrak break out a separate budget for the Northeast Corridor say that this will allow the railroad to invest more in the heavily traveled route between Boston and Washington, D.C.

They say that revenue from the NEC has been supporting the nationwide network, which Amtrak says loses money.

News accounts reported that the transportation bill does not name a revenue source for the Highway Trust Fund, whose revenue has eroded due to falling gasoline tax receipts prompted by more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Analysts said the pending transportation funding bill moves Congress further away from the principle that users of transportation systems should pay for their projects, a development that is expected to draw fire from some conservative groups.

Greg Cohen, president and chief executive of the American Highway Users Alliance, said he was troubled by the use of revenue from sources other than user taxes and fees.

“This program traditionally has been a user-pay program,” he said. “But the revenue coming in has not kept pace with inflation and with the cost of construction. So they found something . . .  but it is not a sustainable plan going forward.”

Among the steps that lawmakers are proposing taking to help pay for transportation spending are selling oil from the nation’s emergency stockpile, taking money from a Federal Reserve surplus account and reducing the dividend paid to banks with assets of at least $10 billion.

The bill also proposes to raise money by hiring outside debt collectors to collect unpaid taxes, to raise the fees paid by travelers who go through customs, and paying into the Highway Trust Fund the fines collected for motor-vehicle safety violations.

As for the pilot program to allow pets on board trains, the legislation mandates Amtrak to dedicate at least one car per train “in which a ticketed passenger may transport a domesticated cat or dog in the same manner as a carry-on baggage.”

The animals must be carried in a pet kennel that conforms with Amtrak regulations for carry-on bags. Passengers with pets will also have to pay a fee.

Supporters of the pets aboard the train program said that “no federal funds may be used to implement the pilot program.”

A year after implementing the program, Amtrak is to report to Congress on how the program played out.

Boardman Decries ‘Zero’ Funding of Rail Transportation Infrastructure Projects

October 27, 2015

Amtrak President Joe Boardman has come face to face with a reality that all of his predecessors have faced. Funding for Amtrak is always year to year and that makes long-term planning difficult.

As if that isn’t bad enough, Boardman said the nation faces billions of dollars in infrastructure repairs but has made no progress toward addressing those.

Chief among those infrastructure needs is a plan to resolve railroad congestion in Chicago that delays Amtrak and freight trains alike.

Boardman appeared on Monday on a panel at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Monday to stump for a plan that Amtrak presented recently to fund the $2.6 billion Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency program.

Boardman lamented that Amtrak’s annual funding struggles has made multi-year projects exceedingly difficult to plan and carry out.

Also appearing on the panel were Amtrak board member Thomas Carper, former U.S. Rep. Jack Quinn ( R-New York) and Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center President Howard Lerner.

The panel noted that 29 CREATE projects have been built at a cost of $1 billion.

Boardman said it has been a long time since national leaders approved major projects for the common good.

He said the Chicago projects remain unfunded along with the Gateway project to rebuild century-old infrastructure and increase capacity between New York City and New Jersey.

Boardman said at stake is the day-in, day-out reliability of the rail network as well as the mobility needs of students, residents of remote areas and the physically disadvantaged.

As an example of why operation of the rail system needs to be more reliable, Boardman said that the on-time performance of state-supported Amtrak trains is around 55 percent while that of long-distance trains is below 50 percent.

Carper noted that completion of the Englewood Flyover in Chicago eliminated about six train delays per hour at the busiest times.

That $130 million project elevated Metra’s Rock Island District over the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern. The latter is used by 14 Amtrak trains per day.

Carper said that United Parcel Service loses $1 million for every minute of delay to its shipments and that $7 to $9 billion of the nation’s annual gross domestic product is dependent on the flow of freight through Chicago.

Lerner said the next priorities for Chicago should be the 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project and the Grand Crossing Project.

He also said that Amtrak, Metra and freight railroads need to better coordinate dispatching and that the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loan program must be reformed to make its loans easier to obtain.

However, funding for the rest of CREATE projects as well as the $20 billion Gateway project has yet to be approved.

Lerner said that there are no substitutes for a long-term federal funding program for passenger rail.