Posts Tagged ‘House Appropriations Committee’

House Committee Gives Amtrak Extra Funding

July 18, 2020

The House Appropriations Committee has voted to give Amtrak $10 billion in federal fiscal year 2021 with a mandate that long-distance service continue to operate daily.

By a 30-22 vote the committee approved the $18.9 billion Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies bill, which includes transportation funding for federal fiscal year 2021.

The THUD bill was one of 24 that the committee marked up during the past 10 days and sent to the House floor.

The bill allocates $3 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration, of which more than two-thirds of which will go to Amtrak.

That includes $2 billion for the passenger carrier through the standard budgeting process. Another $3 billion was allocated for the National Network and $5 billion for the Northeast Corridor as part of an economic stimulus title.

The stimulus title contains $75 billion to help the U.S. economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Of that $21 billion will go for rail and transit operations.

“The emergency funding in this bill is pivotal to kick start a strong and equitable recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic collapse,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey.

The committee approved on a voice vote an amendment requiring the use of masks by passenger and employees on airlines, Amtrak, and in large transit agencies, as well as enhanced sanitation measures.

Congressional watchers expect the transportation and other appropriations bills to be passed by the full House but their fate in the Senate is uncertain.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby is resisting demands of Democrats on the committee to be allowed to offer amendments on COVID-19 emergency aid and police reforms.

Shelby said that would violate a previous agreement on how bi-partisan bills are to be considered.

Some believe Congress will wind up passing a series of continuing resolutions to keep federal spending at its current levels into the next fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1.

It remains to be seen if Congress will adopt spending bills for FY2021 in the lame duck session following the November election or leave that business for the next Congress that will be seated in January 2021.

The $2.05 billion in the bill for standard Amtrak funding is $50 million above the enacted appropriation for the passenger carrier in FY2020 and $1.1 billion above the Trump administration’s budget request.

The bill allocates $18.9 billion for the Federal Transit Administration.

Funding Bill Would Require Daily Amtrak Service

July 9, 2020

A draft appropriations bill introduced this week in a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee mandates that Amtrak continue to operate long-distance trains on a daily basis in federal fiscal year 2021.

The bill would increase Amtrak’s federal appropriation and allocate $26 billion in additional emergency grant funds for Amtrak and public transportation.

Amtrak would be directed to not cut staff or routes.

The bill’s language says Amtrak can’t use any of the appropriated funds to “discontinue, reduce the frequency of, suspend, or substantially alter the route of rail service on any portion of such route operated in Fiscal Year 2018.”

Another clause bans furloughs and freezes the route structure at Fiscal 2019 levels.

The passenger carrier would receive $2.05 billion with Northeast Corridor funding increased by $50 million over FY2020 to $750 million. The FY 2020’s National Network level of $1.3 billion would be retained.

The emergency funding for FY2021 includes $5 billion for the Northeast Corridor, $3 billion for the National Network, $5 billion for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements program, $3 billion for BUILD grants, $5 billion for Capital Investment Grants targeting surface transportation and $100 million for Maglev on top of $5 million in Maglev appropriations in the core appropriations measure.

Within the $5 billion NEC appropriation provision, subcommittee members earmarked $1 billion for capital projects, $200 million for upgrades related to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and $172 million to cover 2021 capital payments that would have come from states.

Earmarks on the national network funding states that $424 million of the $3 billion be used for state-related payments, capital projects and positive train control.

The bill must still be approved by the full House before it can be sent to the Senate.

Ultimately, differences between the House and Senate will need to be worked out in a conference committee.

House Committee Boosts Transportation Funding

June 6, 2019

The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that will increase funding for public transportation and passenger in fiscal year 2020 by $16.2 billion.

The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Related Agencies bill provides $137.1 billion in total funding for a $6 billion increase above the 2019 enacted level and $17.3 billion above President Trump’s budget request,

Among the transportation funding highlights of the bill are:

• $1 billion for national infrastructure investments under the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant program, a $100 million increase above the 2019 enacted level and equal to the president’s budget request.

• $3 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), $96 million above the 2019 enacted level and $877 million above the president’s budget request.

• $350 million for Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair, $50 million below the 2019 enacted level. The president’s budget request proposed eliminating this program;

• $2 billion for Amtrak, $50 million above the 2019 enacted level and $1.1 billion above the president’s budget request.

• $700 million for Northeast Corridor Grants, $50 million above the 2019 enacted level and $375 million above the president’s budget request.

• $1.3 billion for National Network Grants, equal to the 2019 enacted level and $681 million above the president’s budget request.

• $13.5 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, $60 million above the 2019 enacted level and $1.1 billion above the president’s budget request.

• $2.3 billion for Capital Investment Grants, equal to the authorized level, $251 million below the 2019 enacted level, and $797 million above the president’s budget request.

• $750 million for Transit Infrastructure Grants, $50 million above the 2019 enacted level and $250 million above the president’s budget request.

The bill also prohibits the Federal Railroad Administration from seeking to recover funds already provided to the California high-speed rail project and allocates the federal funding share for the Gateway tunnel project on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor between New York and New Jersey.

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.”

Amtrak Holding Firm on PTC View

April 12, 2018

Amtrak is doubling down on an assertion made earlier this year to Congress by its CEO Richard Anderson that it will not operate on routes that are required to have positive train control but which fail to make the deadline to installing it.

Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer, Stephen Gardner, told a House Appropriations Committee hearing that Amtrak still has not decided if it will use routes that are not required to have PTC.

Gardner said the passenger carrier continues to study whether it can safely operate on PTC-exempt routes, which tend to be on regional railroads.

He acknowledged during the hearing that Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief might be adversely affected by the PTC issue.

However, Gardner qualified his testimony by suggesting that Amtrak might use routes that receive an extension from the Federal Railroad Administration of the Dec. 31, 2018, PTC deadline that is mandated by federal law.

As did Anderson, Gardner said there will be segments of routes used by Amtrak over which the carrier won’t operate if a PTC waiver has not been obtained by the host railroad.

“ . . . We believe PTC is part of a modern passenger rail system and we want to see PTC levels of safety across our network. We’re going to be analyzing those areas where safety improvements can be made,” Gardner said.

When pressed by Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-California) about the Southwest Chief, Gardner said Amtrak “will provide service on the portions of the route that have PTC, but there may be parts of our network where we believe PTC is required – if that route has high operating speeds – and we want to make sure we have a single level of safety across our network.”

Gardner said Amtrak route safety assessment will conclude this summer.

The Southwest Chief route is required to have PTC between Albuquerque and Lamy, New Mexico, where Amtrak shares tracks with Rail Runner commuter trains.

However, the route between Lamy and Trinidad, Colorado, is exempted. The former Santa Fe route used by the Chief across Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico has an automatic train stop system that dates from the 1920s.

It requires a locomotive engineer to acknowledge any restrictive signal indication or suffer a penalty brake application.

Gardner also took a shot at Amtrak’s host railroads for creating an “existential crisis” by delaying its trains through freight train interference.

He called for legislation allowing Amtrak to sue host railroads over failure to give passenger trains dispatching priority.

Asked why Amtrak is giving up special trains and restricting its carriage of private passenger cars, Gardner said the carrier is restricting the number of places that it operates to its core network.

He noted that some specials and charters have used routes not covered by scheduled Amtrak trains and that any additional revenue it made from those moves caused “a minimum amount of disruption and distraction away from our core business.”

He said going off network exposed Amtrak to new operating challenges and safety risks.

Gardner said Amtrak’s goal is to offer services on its current routes “where we can use equipment that we are confident in and the requirements on our end are manageable, not a distraction, and do not divert our core staff from the job of becoming fully PTC implemented, focusing on improving on-time performance, and providing great customer service.”

House Committee Increases Some Transportation Spending

July 24, 2017

A House appropriations committee has approved a transportation spending bill for fiscal year 2018 that saves funding of Amtrak long-distance trains and increases spending on passenger rail by $360 million.

Much of the funding increase would be channeled toward fixing infrastructure in the Northeast Corridor. The bill allocates $900 million toward the Gateway program in New York and New Jersey.

However, the bill is less favorable toward funding of public transit. It cuts some funding by $662 million even as it keeps a key investment program that has funded rail transit and commuter rail projects. The TIGER grant program would also be cut.

The funding bill was approved primarily along party lines with many committee Democrats voting against it because they want to see more infrastructure spending.

But Republicans countered that adding additional funding would cause the bill to fail on the House floor.

The full House must now act on the bill while the Senate has yet to take up its own transportation spending bill. FY 2018 will begin on Oct. 1.