Posts Tagged ‘Trump adminstration’

Senators Express Dismay Over Proposed DOT Budget Cuts

July 17, 2017

Although members of a Senate committee are displeased with the Trump administration proposed cuts of the U.S. Department of Transportation for fiscal year 2018, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao was unmoved during a hearing held last week.

Trump has proposed slashing the DOT budget by $2.4 million. If Congress adopts the administration’s budget proposal, the DOT budget would fall from $18.6 billion to $16.2 billion with major cuts made from the hide of Amtrak and various transportation grant programs.

The budget proposal received a hearing from the Senate Appropriations Committee where some members spoke out in favor of keeping Amtrak as it is now.

“With regard to Amtrak, I am concerned about the impact that elimination of long-distance service would have on shared infrastructure with state-supported routes, such as the Downeaster in Maine,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairman of the subcommittee on transportation.

“Long distance routes contribute in part to the capital expenditures for the Northeast Corridor,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the ranking member on the subcommittee. “That’s something of concern to many of us on the committee”

In response to a question asked by Reed as to whether DOT would be able to focus additional resources on the capital infrastructure needs of the Northeast Corridor, Chao said the Northeast Corridor is the only Amtrak route able to sustain itself and that DOT is working closely with Amtrak and local and state authorities in that region.

However, Chao said there is no money available for the Northeast Corridor except what’s in the president’s budget.

In response to a question asked by another senator, Chao suggested that finding more funding for Northeast Corridor repairs is Amtrak’s problem, not DOT’s

“These are repairs which have been delayed and the maintenance requirements are immense,” she said. “There has to be some way of looking at all these repairs, strategically figuring out [how] best to prioritize these repairs, have a program, and then execute [it].

“Amtrak has a new president, and I am very hopeful the president and the board will be able to address some of these issues.”

The Trump administration has proposed diverting money used to pay for Amtrak’s long-distance routes into funding NEC infrastructure work.

Some funding for Northeast Corridor capital projects would come from transit and commuter rail projects under the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Program.

Amtrak is relying on a Capital Investment Program grant to finance some costs of building a new tunnel under the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York Penn Station.

At the same time, the administration has proposed ending the TIGER grant program, which is used to help fund rail capital projects nationwide.

Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., expressed concern that cuts in funding for Amtrak intercity service would increase congestion on the highways.

As Chao sees it, ending funding of long-distance passenger trains would enable Amtrak to focus its resources on what she termed its most vibrant component.

DOT Council to Assist Infrastructure Projects

June 9, 2017

A council will be appointed by the Trump administration within the Department of Transportation to help project managers address rules and regulations.

In remarks made at the USDOT headquarters in Washington, President Donald Trump said the purpose of the council would be to give contractors a single point of contact to get decisions from the federal government “and to deliver that decision, whether it’s a road, a bridge, a dam.”

Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said DOT had published a Federal Register notice “soliciting solutions and suggestions on ways to improve government permitting. If you have ideas, we want to hear from you.”

NARP Plans Rallies for Amtrak Long-Distance Trains

June 9, 2017

The National Association of Railroad Passengers is planning a series of rallies across the country on June 23 to drum up political support for saving funding for Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

The Trump administration has proposed ending funding of long-distance service in the fiscal year 2018 federal budget, which NARP says would end intercity rail passenger service at 220 communities in 23 states.

“If Congress enacts this budget, our national passenger rail network will largely cease to exist,” NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews says. “Communities and rail passengers need to clearly and loudly tell Congress that our communities and citizens rely on trains as important travel options.”

More information about the rallies is available at www.townswithouttrains.com.

FRA Wants Guidance on High-Speed Rail Rules

June 2, 2017

The Federal Railroad Administration is seeking guidance from the White House before it issues standards for high-speed rail lines.

The FRA has been working on the new rules for several months but has held them back because of a Trump administration requirement that agencies eliminate two regulations for every new regulation that they issue.

A news report this past week published The Bureau of National Affairs, a division of Bloomberg, quoted the FRA’s chief safety officer, Robert Lauby, as saying that the high-speed regulations are “complete or ready to be issued,” but the agency lacks an appointed administrator or deputy administrator.

“We want to get some new leadership. We want to get some consistency and have some more direction,” Lauby said. “There’s more questions that need to be answered before we will have a firm way forward.”

The proposed high-speed rail rules were released last November and are designed to create a new tier of safety standards that allow passenger rail service at speeds up to 220 mph along lines shared with commuter and other rail.

At the present, the fastest train in America is Amtrak’s Acela Express, which hits 150 mph in some places in the Northeast Corridor.

Lauby said the rail industry wants the regulations released, calling them “well-liked” because they will provide cost-savings and were developed in coordination with rail and affected industries.

“Rather than have a big question mark, this provides predictability,” Lauby said. “They know exactly what they need to build. They can do accurate costs estimates, and they can have good proposals, and they can compete with each other.”

Trump Infrastructure Plan Included in Budget

May 25, 2017

It turns out that the Trump administration’s much-ballyhooed transportation infrastructure plan was tucked away inside the fiscal year 2018 budget announced on Tuesday although you can be forgiven for having missed it.

It was contained in a six page fact as part of the budget proposal.

As hinted at by various administration officials, including Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, the plan proposes spending $200 billion over 10 years with the expectation that the money will attract and support $1 trillion in private/public infrastructure investment.

The budget document described the plan as a combination of new federal funding, incentives for private sector investment, and expedited projects.

“The administration’s goal is to seek long-term reform on how infrastructure projects are regulated, funded, delivered and maintained,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said at a news conference.

She said more details will be forthcoming, including a legislative package later this year, but described the plan outlined on Tuesday as “the main key principles.”

The plan calls for making changes in regulations to speed up the environmental review and permit process and to shift more services to the private sections.

One example of the latter mentioned in the budget document would be to transfer the air traffic control system from the Federal Aviation Administration to a nonprofit or nongovernmental entity in 2021.

Another change would be to allow imposing tolls on interstate highways by reducing existing restrictions on that practice.

Related to that, the plan would allow private investors to construct and maintain rest stops along highways.

A report by The Hill, said that the infrastructure plan relies on leveraging private sector investment, ensuring that federal dollars are targeted toward transformative projects, shifting more services and underused capital assets to the private sector, and giving states and localities more flexibility.

Pilot programs will be proposed to explore new environmental reviews, designate a single entity to guide a project through the approval process, put some permitting into the hands of states and localities, and make sure that agencies don’t need to worry about making a permit approval litigation proof.

Funding of the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program will be boosted to $1 billion every year.

The proposal to allow states to impose tolls on interstate highways won the approval of Patrick D. Jones, executive director and CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, although with some qualifications.

“Congress should give states access to one more tool in the toolbox by allowing them to toll their Interstate highways specifically to rebuild them,” he said. “This wouldn’t be a mandate. No state would be required to toll their interstates. This would simply give states an option, the flexibility to choose tolling if it makes sense to them.”

President Donald Trump had spoken often during his 2016 campaign about the need to improve the nation’s infrastructure.

He mentioned it again on election night speech and during a Feb. 28 address to Congress, saying that it would create millions of jobs.

In response, Democrats noted that Trump’s budget would provide just $5 billion for transportation infrastructure in FY 2018 and did not provide any detail about where the money would go or how it would be paid for.

But Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune said the plan “recognizes important needs in our country and takes a long-term view on meeting those needs.”

Chao expects Congress to begin working on the infrastructure package in the third quarter of this year.

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.

Infrastructure Plan Might Not Benefit Amtrak

May 15, 2017

Public-private partnerships are unlikely to provide much, if any, benefit to Amtrak an executive of the carrier said last week during an industry conference to discuss the pending Trump administration infrastructure program.

Many attending the conference, which was sponsored by the Association of American Railroads, believer that the yet-to-be announced Trump plan will rely heavily on private investment.

That won’t provide much help to Amtrak said Caroline Decker, Amtrak’s senior vice president for government affairs and communications.

“There’s a lot discussion about an infrastructure package with PPPs, but when it comes to Amtrak and our infrastructure, most of that is going to require direct federal investment,” Decker said in an interview with Trains magazine.

Decker said during the a panel discussion that Amtrak’s infrastructure needs range from replacing aging bridges, tunnels and power distribution systems on the Northeast Corridor to buying new passenger cars to replace rolling stock that’s 50 years old and older.

Also speaking at the conference were other executives representing the AAR and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association.

Ian Jeffries, a senior vice president for government affairs with AAR, said freight railroads are not seeking federal funding but instead looking to resolve funding shortfalls in the Highway Trust Fund and other user-pay systems.

AAR believes that the practice of underwriting the trust fund from general revenue, which has been going on for several years, gives the trucking industry a competitive advantage.

“Truckers are our biggest partners, and our biggest competitors,” Jeffries said.

AAR also wants to see some streamlining of environmental reviews when seeking permits for new construction.

Jo Strang, the vice president for safety and regulatory policy, of the short line association said that policy makers should be reminded that short-line railroads are small businesses and that changes in policy could have unintended consequences.

She cited raising the weight limit for trucks on highways as an example of a change that could harm short lines.

Nicole Berwin, vice president for government affairs with the Railroad Supply Institute, said Congress should view the industry as an integrated whole that includes railroads and their suppliers.

Fort Madison Station Upgrades Put on Hold

April 19, 2017

Officials in Fort Madison, Iowa, say that plans for Amtrak to use a different station are on hold.

“We can’t spend tax money on this or the funds we have unless we have a good assurance that it’s going to [go] forward and stay in,” said City Manager David Varley.

He was referring to the lack of a state budget in Iowa and federal budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration that would end all funding for Amtrak long-distance trains.

Fort Madison will pony up 25 percent of the $1.2 million needed to upgrade the Santa Fe Depot for Amtrak’s use.

“We are going to do what we can on our part but at the same time we have to be responsible,” Varley said.

Fort Madison is the only stop in Iowa for Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Officials Optimistic About Gulf Rail Restoration

April 13, 2017

Amtrak and members of the Southern Rail Commission are expressing optimism that intercity rail service will be restored to the Gulf Coast east of New Orleans.

During a meeting in Mobile, Alabama, they said that efforts to restore Amtrak service lost in August 2005 following Hurricane Katrina are close to being realized despite the proposal by the Trump administration to gut funding for Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

“When we look at the situation of where we are, we are closer now than we have ever been over the course of the last 12 years,” said Thomas Stennis III, Amtrak’s director of government affairs south.

Stennis urged residents of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida to ask their respective members of Congress to reject President Donald Trump’s proposed budget. “I cannot urge that enough,” he said.

Although neither Amtrak nor the Commission has provided any details about how the service would be funded or when it might be restored, Stennis said that Amtrak CEO Charles “Wick” Moorman supports the restoration of service to the line once served by the Sunset Limited.

Nos. 1 and 2 continue to operate tri-weekly between New Orleans and Los Angeles.

One proposal to serve the Gulf Coast has the daily City of New Orleans operating east of its namesake city.

During a meeting in Mobile, officials estimated that 154,000 passengers would use the proposed New Orleans to Mobile segment annually.

Knox Ross, a Mississippi Commissioner of the SRC, said that negotiations with CSX, which owns the rail line that would be used have been difficult.

“We are working very hard to come up with a number,” said Knox. “It’s a hard negotiation because we are working on their railroad and they own it and they wanna make money.”

Knox said Amtrak matched the $125,000 appropriated by the City of Mobile to carry out necessary upgrades to its station.

He said similar deals could be worked out with other cities along the Gulf Coast city stations that require upgrades, said Knox.

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.