Posts Tagged ‘Trump adminstration’

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.

Amtrak VP Thinks Status Quo Will Prevail

April 4, 2017

An Amtrak executive believes that once the dust settles in Congress the status quo will prevail at Amtrak, meaning that the long-distance trains the Trump administration wants to stop funding will continue to operate.

Amtrak Executive Vice President Stephen Gardner told the Future Railway Organisation seminar on March 29 that he had little immediate cause for concern over the future of its network.

Gardner noted that previous administrations has proposed zeroing out Amtrak, but Congress has never gone along with those plans.

The Trump “skinny budget” would continue to fund Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and state corridor trains paid for largely by states that they serve. But funding of long-distance passenger trains would end.

“The cost and logistical complexity of removing these trains would be prohibitive, we feel,” he said. “There is a reason that they have survived through recent decades.”

Gardner said the long-distance trains play an important role in serving intermediate markets and said any attempt to “go back in” in the future would cost at least $1 billion.

Noting that in 2015 Amtrak was included in the FAST surface transportation bill approved by legislation passed in Congress, that gives the national rail passenger carrier a greater degree of
institutional stability.

“The most likely outcome is that the status quo will prevail,” Gardner said.

Gardner said Amtrak is supportive of a private sector inter-city  passenger services in Florida known as Brightline and the planned Texas Central high speed project.

“Naturally , we see that as an endorsement of the rail mode, and we welcome the addition of services able to showcase the latest in rail technology,” he said.

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.

Let the Posturing Begin: Trade Groups Jockey for Influence in Wake of New Regime in Washington

March 31, 2017

With a new administration in Washington promising a renewed focus on transportation infrastructure the posturing from trade groups representing various segments of the railroad industry is in full swing.

The American Public Transportation Association is seeking to lobby Congress to fully fund the FAST Act for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 as well as include public transit in any infrastructure development plan.

The Association of American Railroads is seeking to caution the administration against taking too hostile of a stance on foreign trade by pointing out that at least 42 percent of rail traffic and more than 35 percent of annual rail revenue are directly tied to international trade.

APTA is reacting to the “skinny budget” proposed by President Donald Trump earlier this year that slashed funding for capital grants used by public transit.

In particular the Trump budget would greatly reduce the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants, TIGER grants and Amtrak funding.

APTA said it has conducted more than 60 meetings with congressional staff, focusing on those that serve on budget, appropriations, tax and authorization committees, and taken other proactive steps to engage with members of Congress.

It also has called on its members to meet with their members of Congress when they are on spring break in their home districts April 8-23.

As for the AAR, it released a report saying that 50,000 domestic rail jobs accounting for more than $5.5 billion in annual wages and benefits depend directly on international trade. Those numbers would be higher if rail traffic indirectly associated with trade is included.

AAR fears that the Trump administration might make policy changes that would adversely affect the global economy.

“Efforts that curtail overall trade would threaten thousands of U.S. freight-rail jobs that depend on it and limit essential railroad revenues used to modernize railroad infrastructure throughout North America,” said AAR President and CEO Edward Hamberger.

The AAR report examined rail movements using data from the 2014 Surface Transportation Board Waybill Sample, other government data and information from U.S. ports and Google Earth.

This included movements of coal for export from ports in Maryland, Virginia, the Gulf Coast and the Great Lakes; paper and forest products imported from Canada into the Midwest, as well as paper products exported from the southern United States; imports and exports of Canadian and Mexican automotive products to and from auto factories in dozens of U.S. states; containers of consumer goods from Asia coming ashore in California, Washington, Georgia, Virginia and New Jersey; plastics shipped by rail from Texas and Louisiana to the East and West coasts for export to Europe and Asia; iron ore mined in Minnesota and shipped by rail to Great Lakes ports; and Midwest-grown grain carried by rail to the Pacific Northwest and the Gulf Coast for export.

Endangered Transit Projects Listed

March 27, 2017

News media accounts indicate that the “skinny budget” recently released by the Trump administration would put at risk 16 transit projects in the United States.

The projects include: Phoenix Light Rail; Los Angeles Westside Subway Extension (Section 3); San Jose and Santa Clara BART Silicon Valley extension (Phase 2); Santa Ana/Garden Grove Streetcar; Fort Lauderdale Streetcar; Lake County, Indiana Commuter Rail; Maryland Purple Line; Minneapolis Light Rail (Blue Line); Minneapolis Light Rail (Southwest); Durham-Chapel Hill Light Rail; New York – New Jersey Hudson Tunnel; New Jersey Portal North Bridge; New York Second Avenue Subway (Phase 2); New York Bus Rapid Transit (Woodhaven Boulevard); Seattle Light Rail (Federal Way); and Seattle Light Rail (Lynnwood Link Extension).

The projects are at risk because they lack “full funding grant agreements,” which are needed in order to receive a New Starts grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers said if the funding rule proposed in the budget is enacted, these projects would either have to seek other funding sources or they would not be built.

NARP noted that the budget’s call for end federal funding for Amtrak long-distance passenger trains would end rail service to 220 communities nationwide. Those trains last year carried 4.6 million passengers.

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.