Bill Would Boost Transportation Funding

Amtrak funding would triple under a five-year transportation plan released by some members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

The plan, known as the “INVEST in America Act,” would authorize almost $500 billion for infrastructure, including $60 billion for rail projects.

Of the $494 billion in funding authorized by the legislation, $319 billion or 65 percent would go toward highway-related projects.

The bill contains $105 billion for transit, $29 billion for Amtrak, and a new $19 billion grant program devoted entirely to passenger rail projects.

Funding for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grant program would be $7 billion for passenger and freight projects, and a new $2.5 billion grant program for grade-crossing improvements.

The bill is being pushed by Democratic members of the committee and drew immediate criticism from three Republican members.

The GOP members, who were not involved in drafting the bill, said as proposed the bill would not provide enough flexibility for states and would favor urban areas over rural regions.

Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation defended the bill by describing it as transformational legislation that would move the nation into a new era of planning, building and improving U.S. infrastructure.

The proposed legislation would prohibit Amtrak from imposing mandatory arbitration in ticket policies, mandate an improved methodology and increase transparency in the process Amtrak uses to determine how much states pay for corridor services.

Amtrak would also be directed to offer reduced fares for certain groups, including veterans and current members of the military and their families, and be required to provide access to hot meals for all passengers traveling overnight and not just those in sleeper class.

The outsourcing of onboard food and beverage service would be banned and Amtrak would have to create a working group to issue a report within a year on how to improve food and beverage service.

As for other railroads, the bill would require use of two-person crews on freight trains with some exemptions for short lines.

The U.S. Department of Transportation would be directed to develop a national strategy to deal with the delays at grade crossings, saying crossings should not be blocked for more than 10 minutes at a time.

The DOT special permits allowing transport of liquefied natural gas by tank car would be rescinded and DOT would be prohibited from issuing any further permits until the agency has further studied the safety of the matter.

The Government Accountability would be directed to conduct a study on the effect of precision scheduled railroading on shippers as well as s study on the safety issues of trains longer than 7,500 feet.

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