Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Department of Transportation’

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.

OIG Faults FRA Oversight of California High-Speed

January 28, 2020

The Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation has issued a report concluding that the Federal Railroad Administration missed opportunities to better assess and mitigate the federal government’s risks in the agency’s oversight of the California high-speed rail project.

The report was requested by the former chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

The DOT Inspector General reviewed FRA’s risk mitigation and oversight of the project’s expenditures.

The OIG said the objectives of the audit were to assess FRA’s risk analysis, assessment and mitigation efforts, particularly regarding the availability of nonfederal matching funds, business plans and financial reporting; and procedures for determining whether federal funds expended complied with applicable federal laws and regulations.

In a news release, the OIG said that due to the significant amount of HSIPR funds dedicated to California, the audit focused on FRA’s cooperative agreements with the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which manages the state’s high-speed rail program.

The audit found that although the FRA took numerous actions to oversee the CHSRA agreement, the agency missed opportunities to better assess and mitigate federal risks.

The OIG made four recommendations to improve FRA’s assessment and mitigation of risks, documentation of decisions, and processes for overseeing expenditures. FRA concurred with three recommendations and partially concurred with one.

The OIG considers all four recommendations resolved but open pending completion of planned actions.

The FRA administers the federal High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) discretionary grant program.

Between 2009 and 2011, Congress appropriated $10.2 billion for the program. As of April 2019, the FRA had disbursed $8.5 billion of those funds, with 35.5 percent dedicated to developing the high-speed rail corridor in California.

In May 2019, the FRA formally canceled nearly $929 million in previously awarded federal funds to California’s high-speed rail program and said it would consider options to get the $2.5 billion in federal funds that the state has already received for the project return to the federal treasury.

California has sued the FRA for canceling the grant.

N.J. Senators Wants Answers from DOT Head Chao

November 12, 2019

Two New Jersey senators are demanding that Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao explain why her agency continues to slow walk its review of the Hudson River Tunnels project.

Cory Booker and Bob Menendez noted that Chao inspected the existing tunnels in April 2018 and would have seen first-hand evidence of deterioration in the tunnels, which link Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor with New York City and New Jersey.

Furthermore, the senators are upset that Chao toured the tunnels without letting them know about it.

“We would have welcomed the opportunity to join you on the tour to discuss how we could partner to advance the Gateway Project, but please know the invitations we have previously extended still stand,” the senators said in a statement.

Booker and Menendez want Chao to explain why the environmental impact statement for the Hudson River tunnel project has not yet been approved by DOT, even though a draft EIS prepared by the Federal Railroad Administration and New Jersey Transit was published in June 2017.

DOT gave the tunnel project a medium-low rating earlier this year.

The senators also noted that the Portal North Bridge project has continued to languish without DOT’s approval.

In earlier statements, DOT has called for New Jersey and New York to spend more money on the projects, calling them local projects.

BUILD Grant to be Used for New Carbondale Station

November 8, 2019

Federal grant funds will be used to create a new transportation center in Carbondale, Illinois, that will be used by Amtrak.

The $14 million grant will be used to pay for the design and construction of the new facility, as well as demolition of the existing Amtrak station.

The new facility, once opened, will also serve intercity bus routes.

The funding is being awarded from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development program.

Carbondale is the southern origination and termination point for the state-funded Illini and Saluki, which operate on Canadian National tracks to and from Chicago.

The city, which is home to Southern Illinois University, is also a station stop and crew change point for the Chicago-New Orleans City of New Orleans

The current Carbondale station opened on Oct. 8, 1981, and was built as part of a grade crossing reduction project.

Illinois Gets Extension to Use Grant to Develop Route

November 8, 2019

The U.S. Department of Transportation has extended the deadline for the expenditure of a grant awarded to the Illinois Department of Transportation in 2010 to help launch an Amtrak route between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa.

The grant, which was awarded by the Federal Railroad Administration, received a multiyear extension.

The project has been delayed multiple times due to numerous issues.

Plans are to operate the route within Illinois on BNSF and Iowa Interstate tracks from Chicago Union Station to a multimodal station in Moline.

A major source of delay occurred during the administration of former Gov. Bruce Rauner, who “paused” development of the route after taking office in 2015.

Rauner was defeated in the 2018 election by J. B. Pritzker who after becoming governor earlier this year renewed the state’s support of the route by providing $225 million in state funding.

Additional delays have occurred as IDOT and the Iowa Interstate have negotiated the project’s scope and infrastructure upgrades needed to convert the former Rock Island Railroad tracks for passenger service. Those negotiations remain ongoing.

In the meantime the City of Moline has converted a downtown warehouse into a multimodal transportation center and hotel.

The original grant awarded by the FRA was for $177 million.

U.S. DOT Awards Grant for Gulf Coast Service

August 31, 2019

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Friday announced that it will award a $4.36 million grant to the Southern Rail Commission to help restore intercity rail service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

The service, expected to be two round trips per day, will use tracks formerly served by Amtrak’s Sunset Limited until August 2005 when it was suspended in the wake of damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.

The grant is being made through the federal Restoration and Enhancement program and is intended to help pay operating expenses for the first year of service.

The states of Louisiana and Mississippi have committed $1.4 million toward the service while another $33 million federal grant award to get the service started was awarded through the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements program for infrastructure and capital improvements.

However, Alabama officials have yet to agree to provide any funding for the service.

SRC officials said they hope Alabama state officials will support the passenger rail restoration by providing matching funds during the next grant cycle.

“I look forward to working with my fellow commissioners and Alabama state leadership to provide the necessary support to leverage additional federal operating funds to make Gulf Coast Rail a reality,” said Wiley Blankenship, an SRC member from Alabama.

Another stumbling block that must be overcome is reaching an agreement with host railroad CSX on the infrastructure work that is needed before passenger trains can resume using the route.

Likewise, an operating agreement with CSX also needs to be negotiated.

Lawmakers Seek Grant Spending Deadline Extension

June 29, 2019

Illinois lawmakers are asking the U.S. Department of Transportation to extend the deadline for use of a federal grant to establish Amtrak service between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa.

The letter was sent by Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, as well as Representative Cheri Bustos.

It came on the heels of a commitment by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to revive the efforts to establish the service, which would terminate in Moline, Illinois.

A recent capital funding bill approved by Pritzker and the state legislature allocated $225 million in state funding for the project.

The federal grant was originally awarded in 2010. The City of Moline has since created a station facility for the train and the Illinois Department of Transportation has held discussions with host railroad Iowa Interstate about infrastructure upgrades needed for the service.

California Sues Over FRA Claw Back Efforts

May 25, 2019

As expected, California is suing the federal government in an effort to halt its efforts to claw back nearly $1 billion in grants already awarded in 2010 to develop a high-speed rail network in the state.

The suit was filed by the state and the California High-Speed Rail Authority in a federal court in San Francisco.

The Federal Railroad Administration recently said it would seek to get back the funds after California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the network would be scaled back to a line serving the state’s Central Valley.

The original grant funding had been awarded for a network linking Los Angeles and San Francisco.

California contends that the U.S. Department of Transportation, of which the FRA is a part, lacks legal authority to withhold the $929 million in federal funds previously awarded for the project.

In the interim,  U.S. DOT has agreed not to redirect the funds awarded to California to other projects while the lawsuit works its way through the courts.

DOT Accepting BUILD Grant Applications

April 23, 2019

Applications are being taken for a pot of $900 million to be awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation as part of its Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development program.

The competitive grant program will fund projects that DOT said will have a significant local or regional impact.

The grants can be used to support road, bridge, transit, rail, port or intermodal projects.

DOT said that up to 50 percent of BUILD funding will allocated to rural area projects that improve infrastructure condition, address public health and safety, promote regional connectivity, facilitate economic growth or competitiveness, deploy broadband as part of an eligible transportation project, or promote energy independence.

Applications will be reviewed for their contribution to safety, economic competitiveness, quality of life, state of good repair, innovation and partnerships with a broad range of stakeholders.

The deadline to submit a grant application is July 15. The maximum award will be $25 million with no more than $90 million being awarded to a single state.

DOT Council Studying Barriers to Technology

March 15, 2019

The U.S. Department of Transportation is creating a council to study how jurisdictional conflicts and regulatory issues might affect the deployment of emerging technologies.

The council, to be known as the Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology Council, will study such technologies as tunneling, hyperloops and autonomous vehicles.

In a news release, DOT said it has 11 operating administrations, each with its own traditional jurisdiction over certain environmental and regulatory approvals.

A new transportation technology may not always fit into the department’s existing regulatory structure, which could result in a slower pace of transportation innovation, DOT said in the news release.

That may result in inventors and investors facing uncertainty when they seek DOT authorizations, permits or approvals from DOT.

DOT officials said the NETT Council will seek to resolve those challenges by “ensuring the traditional modal silos at DOT do not impede the deployment of new technology.

“Furthermore, it will give project sponsors a single point of access to discuss plans and proposals.”