Posts Tagged ‘Trump administration’

Budget Proposal Slashes Amtrak by More than 50%

February 13, 2020

The Trump administration this week released its federal fiscal year budget proposal and to no one’s surprise it has proposed slashing Amtrak funding by more than half.

The budget proposal also recommends funding cuts to rail-related transportation of nearly $900 million when compared with the last two budget cycles, most of which would be achieved by appropriating less money for federal agencies that oversee rail transportation activities.

For Amtrak, the administration has proposed cutting spending on the Northeast Corridor from $700 million to $325 million.

Support for the long-distance service would fall from $1.3 billion to $611 million with those trains being phased over in the next few years.

The budget document released by the U.S. Department of Transportation calls for funding of a vaguely defined account that is meant to transition long-distance routes into corridor services of between 100 to 500 miles that would be funded in part by state and local governments.

These grants would be known as “National Network Transformation Grants — Long Distance Routes” and would receive $550 million.

Amtrak’s overall funding will decline from $2 billion in the 2020 budget to $1.5 billion in 2021.

The focus on corridor services would be in line with the vision for Amtrak that the carrier’s president, Richard Anderson, and its senior executive vice president, Stephen Gardner, have been talking up for more than a year.

Indeed the DOT budget document uses language similar to that used by Anderson and Gardner in saying that long-distance routes have outlived their usefulness and Amtrak needs to transform into a corridor-oriented operation linking urban centers.

“Long-distance routes continually underperform, suffering from low ridership and large operating losses of roughly half a billion dollars annually,” the DOT budget document states. “Amtrak trains inadequately serve many rural markets while not serving many growing metropolitan areas at all.”

This of course raises the question of whether DOT is parroting Anderson and Gardner or whether the Amtrak executives are mouthing what DOT has told them to say.

DOT said it would release later this year details about the long-distance route transformation program as part of its recommendation for a re-authorization of the FAST Act.

The administration’s budget proposal also recommends $13.2 billion for public transportation, a $303 million increase from the FY2020 enacted level, but would reduce passenger-rail grant programs by $712 million for a total of $1.8 billion.

The budget proposes a 10-year, $810 billion plan for surface transportation reauthorization to replace the FAST Act, which expires Sept. 30. That is $75 billion above the current authorized level.

Public transit would receive $155.4 billion over the next 10 years. The administration stated that it would submit a comprehensive surface transportation reauthorization proposal in the coming months, APTA officials said in a legislative update.

The Federal Railroad Administration would receive just under $2 billion compared with nearly $2.8 billion budgeted in 2020.

FRA Again Seeking to Block California High-Speed Work

December 24, 2019

The Federal Railroad Administration is seeking to block efforts by the California High-Speed Rail Authority to reach an agreement that that would allow for construction of tracks and infrastructure of it 119-mile line between Bakersfield and Merced in the Central Valley.

The FRA wrote to the Authority on Dec. 9 to express its disapproval of a request for proposals.

“It is premature for CHSRA to undertake another major design-build contract,” wrote FRA project manager Juliana Shu Barnes. “The current (construction contracts) continue to face significant and continuing delays building the necessary civil infrastructure.”

The Trump Administration had earlier withheld $929 million in federal grant funding for the high-speed project. That funding had earlier been approved by the FRA.

The administration is also seeking to claw back $2.6 billion in federal funding that has already been distributed for work on the high-speed project.

In response, CAHSRA CEO Brian Kelly blasted the FRA for a faulty analysis and saying it has failed to review materials California has already provided.

“[Your objection] is based on misunderstandings and your agency’s own inaction, which does not provide a good faith basis for interfering in this authority’s efforts to meet the timelines in our federal grant agreements,” Kelly wrote to the FRA. “As you know, or should know, the installation of track on the 119-mile segment is a deliverable under our federal funding agreements with your agency.”

Kelly’s letter said construction agreements need to be completed by Dec. 31, 2022, and the Authuority does not “have the luxury of inaction on this issue.”

The dispute is seen as likely to wind up being resolved in court.

House Democrats Might Push Reauthorization Bill

November 17, 2019

Democratic members of the federal House of Representatives in Washington are talking about going ahead with a surface transportation reauthorization proposal early next year.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) has discussed the idea with Democrats on the committee and hopes to meet with Senate leaders late next spring to resolve differences between the two proposals.

The Senate has already approved a highway proposal but not acted on reauthorizing or funding public transit or rail transportation.

Infrastructure spending has been talked about periodically in recent years including by President Donald Trump.

But talks between the administration and Congress over an infrastructure package have stalled.

With the 2020 election campaign season heating up candidates can be expected to push their own infrastructure proposals in the coming weeks and months.

House Committee Chair Holds Round Table Event to Reiterate His Support for Amtrak’s National Network

August 31, 2019

An Oregon congressman held a round table event in his home state this past week to drum up support for Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

Peter DeFazio, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, reiterated at the event in Eugene, Oregon, his commitment to oppose efforts by the Trump administration to end funding for Amtrak’s national network.

Participants in the event included representatives of Union Pacific, Amtrak, the University of Oregon, the Oregon Department of Transportation, the governor’s office, and two state representatives.

Eugene is served by the state-funded Cascades Service, but also is a stop for the Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight.

“I now chair the transportation committee,” DeFrazio said. “I will have to OK that. I will not be OK’ing the president killing the Coast Starlight.”

States to Form Gateway Commission

June 24, 2019

New Jersey and New York are expected to approve legislation setting up a body that would oversee passenger rail projects affect the two states.

The proposed Gateway Development Commission would be similar in structure and purpose as the existing Port Authority of New York and New Jersey which is the agency currently overseeing planning, financing, and construction of the critical pieces of the Gateway Project.

This included the proposed new Hudson River rail tunnels and the Portal Bridge.

New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg said the new agency will serve as a vehicle to to receive federal funding for the Gateway tunnel.

In the meantime, Federal Railroad Administration head Ronald Batory told a Congressional committee that his agency is continuing its environmental review of the Gateway project.

Testifying before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Batory said the FRA has finished 95 environmental review steps but has 27 yet to be completed.

“Does that mean another year? I don’t know,” Batory said.

Critic have accused the Trump Administration of slow walking the funding proposals for the Gateway project.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has called for the state and local governments to pay more for it because it is largely a “local project.”

Some observers have noted that the Gateway project has become a pawn in a feud between Trump and Senator Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York)

Members of Congress from New York and New Jersey have described Gateway as a critical transportation corridor, saying that if existing antiquated tunnels fail that the reduced rail traffic would have negative repercussions for the U.S. economy.

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.”

A More Creative Way to End Long-Distance Trains

March 23, 2019

The Trump administration is not the first to try to end funding of Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

As far back as the middle 1970s presidents and their secretaries of transportation were using the same playbook of citing low ridership and high financial losses.

But the budget proposal for fiscal year 2020 contains a twist. It doesn’t just call for ending funding of the long-distance trains as other administrations have done, it also seeks to replace them with bus service that would be funded for a time from grant funds that would be doled out at the sole discretion of the administration.

To be sure, the administration’s budget proposal would cut Amtrak funding by $1.06 billion.

However, the funding of long-distance trains would be replaced by grants dispersed from a Restoration and Enhancement Grant program.

The budget proposal contends that rural communities “will be better served by other modes of transportation, like intercity buses.”

The Rail Passengers Association in a blog posted on its website this week noted that the administration’s proposal would pit Amtrak’s national network against the Northeast Corridor.

“And by moving it to a competitive grant program—controlled by the White House—the administration gets to choose the winners and losers,” wrote RPA President Jim Martin.

Previous efforts to eliminate Amtrak’s long-distance trains have fallen short, but there are fewer long-distance routes than there have been in the past.

Among the trains that have fallen in past Amtrak budget fights are the National Limited (New York-Kansas City), Lone Star (Chicago-Houston), North Coast Hiawatha (Chicago-Seattle via southern Montana), Floridian (Chicago-Miami/St. Petersburg), Broadway Limited (Chicago-New York via Akron, Ohio), Desert Wind (Chicago-Los Angeles via Las Vegas), Pioneer (Chicago-Seattle via Boise, Idaho), Mountaineer (Chicago-Norfolk), and Hilltopper (Washington-Catlettsburg, Kentucky).

Will Buses Replace Corridor Trains, Too?

March 17, 2019

The Rail Passengers Association said last week that the proposed Trump administration federal budget would not just eliminate long-distance trains it would also replace some corridor trains with subsidized bus service.

In a blog posting on the RPA website, the rail passenger advocacy group did not provide any details of the bus for train proposal, noting that the full budget will not be available until March 18 and many of the details are still unclear.

However, RPA said that federal transportation officials have signaled that they do not support using federal dollars for what they see as local responsibilities.

This includes the proposed new Hudson River rail tunnels. “Transit projects are local responsibilities, and elected officials from New York and New Jersey are the ones accountable for them,” said DOT Deputy Secretary Jeffrey Rosen.

The budget proposal released last week by the administration suggested that long-distance trains be replaced by buses.

At a House committee hearing last week Amtrak Senior Executive Vice President Stephen Gardner was asked about that and responded that the carrier is itself seeking to better understand the administration’s proposal.

However, Gardner told the committee that Amtrak wants to launch a series of new corridor services, noting that some of those corridors now exist within the confines of Amtrak’s long-distance network.

“There are a core set of long-distance routes which we think make sense in the future of the [national] network and for which federal support will be necessary,” he said.

“There are a number of routes which we do think have opportunity for expanded corridor service, and of course we today have, through the Section 209 of PRIIA, a strong partnership with states to support and fund corridor services.

“Many corridors exist today on long-distance routes, so there are opportunities to have corridors that today are served by long-distance trains served instead by corridor trains.”

One example of that would be Chicago-Twin Cities, which is part of the route of the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Gardner acknowledged that creating these corridors will require a “strong partnership” among the states, the federal government and Amtrak.

Saying it would be a big transition to start adding those services, Gardner said he thought it would be “appropriate for Congress through reauthorization or your committee to look at the right partnership between the federal government and the states as part of the modernization of the network. There are clearly interests that are local, intrastate and national that would be served by such an improvement.”

Amtrak plans to seek the full $1.8 billion that it has been authorized under the FAST Act.

“But we’ll include a long list of things that we think are worthy of additional funding so we see really no shortage of things that require continued federal investment and partnership with our states,” Gardner said.

The budget proposal for fiscal year 2020 that the administration released last week proposed cutting $455.6 million from Amtrak and intercity rail programs.

It proposed allocating “$550 million in transitional grants for states to help pay for a restructuring of the Amtrak network.

The budget proposal includes $936 million in direct grants to Amtrak for the Northeast Corridor and existing State-supported lines.

Trump Budget Would Slash Transportation Funding

March 14, 2019

The Trump administration is seeking a cut of $5.1 billion to the budget of the U.S. Department of Transportation that would also include the elimination Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

The proposed fiscal year 2020 budget would cut DOT funding by 21.5 percent and make major cuts to Amtrak funding.

The passenger carrier would receive $1.49 billion, which is a 22 percent reduction from its fiscal year appropriation of $1.9 billion.

Northeast Corridor funding would be slashed from $650 million to $325.5 million and no funding is recommended for the Gateway Tunnel project in New York and New Jersey.

The budget proposes $550 million in “transitional funding” to help states pay for Amtrak corridor routes, including those not now in operation.

The budget envisions Amtrak contracting with bus operators to provide transportation to rural areas served by long-distance trains.

The budget contended that Amtrak inadequately serves rural areas while not serving many growing metropolitan areas.

The administration cited low ridership and large operating losses of long-distance routes as the driving force for restructuring the national intercity passenger rail system.

“The administration believes that restructuring the Amtrak system can result in better service (at a lower cost) by focusing trains on shorter distance (less than 750 miles) routes, while providing robust intercity bus service to currently underserved rural areas via a partnership between Amtrak and bus operators,” the budget states.

Much of the thrust of the budget is to transfer funding of transportation from the federal government to state governments.

“The 2020 Budget  . . .  recognizes that the federal government is not — and should not be — the primary funder of the nation’s transportation systems,” the budget document said.

The American Public Transportation Association said the budget would fund public transportation at $12.4 billion, a cut of $998 million from the FY2019 enacted level of $13.4 billion.

Most of that decrease comes from cuts in the Capital Investment Grants program, a discretionary and competitive federal grant program that funds projects for light, heavy and commuter rail, as well as streetcars and bus rapid transit services.

The administration proposes spending $1.5 billion for CIG programs, a cut of $1 billion from current funding levels.

The CIG program funding recommendation would make $500 million available for new CIG projects.

However, the budget would fully funds Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act programs authorized from the Highway Trust Fund.

It also would double funding for INFRA grants to $2 billion. These can be used for ports, intermodal, or rail projects including grade crossing separations, in addition to highway projects.

The Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development program would receive $1 billion, a $100 million increase.

The budget contains $200 billion for “other infrastructure projects,” but those are described as “visionary projects” such as 5G cellular communications and artificial intelligence.

California to Fight FRA Grant Clawback Attempt

March 3, 2019

The California High Speed Rail Authority recently said it is working to meet a March 5 deadline to respond to the Federal Railroad Administration plan to cancel a $929 million grant and seek the return of $2.5 billion previously transferred to the CHSRA.

CHSRA head Brian Kelly said the agency has received a letter from the FRA threatening the funds it received.

“We are preparing a comprehensive response by their requested deadline of March 5,” Kelly said. “We remain committed to delivering high-speed rail and its many economic, environmental, and mobility benefits to Californians.”

In a related development, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and President Donald Trump recently briefly discussed the California high-speed rail project, but no meeting of the minds apparently occurred.

The two met at a dinner in Washington last week. Newsom also met with several cabinet officials of the Trump administration, but it is not known if that included officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Newsom recently announced that development of the rail line to Los Angeles and San Francisco would not proceed but the project would continue to be built in the state’s Central Valley.