Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak funding’

Senators Express Dismay Over Proposed DOT Budget Cuts

July 18, 2017

Although members of a Senate committee are displeased with the Trump administration’s proposed cuts of the U.S. Department of Transportation budget 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, including those that benefit intercity passenger rail.

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

AAO Holding Rallies in Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo

June 21, 2017

All Aboard Ohio plans to conduct rallies on behalf of Amtrak’s long-distance passenger trains on Friday in Cleveland and Columbus and on Saturday in Toledo.

The rallies are part of a larger campaign by the National Association of Railroad Passengers to drum up public support for continuing federal funding for long-distance trains that the Trump administration has proposed ending in fiscal year 2018.

The Cleveland rally will begin at noon at the Amtrak station. The Columbus rally will start at 11 a.m. at the corner of High Street and Nationwide Boulevard.

The Toledo rally will begin at 3 p.m. at MLK Plaza/Amtrak station.

In a news release, AAO said that cities without passengers trains have fewer jobs, less tourism, lower economic activity, lower real estate values, less healthy people, more traffic congestion, less mobility and fewer travel options.

“Eliminating funding for Amtrak would have a profound negative impact on every intercity, rapid transit and commuter rail passenger in the country. More than 220 communities across the country and over 40 million riders will lose their service,” AAO said.

The AAO news release noted that Columbus has gone more than 13,750 days since losing service when Amtrak’s New York-Kansas City National Limited was discontinued on Oct. 1, 1979.

The capital of Ohio was said to be the largest city in the western hemisphere and possibly the world without any regularly scheduled passenger trains whether they be urban light-rail, regional commuter or intercity service.

Cleveland and Toledo are each served by the Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited and the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited.

AAO said that Cleveland’s rail transit system faces a half-billion dollar backlog of unfunded repair needs and the viability of its Greater Cleveland RTA rail service is threatened by other proposed federal budget cuts.

Moorman Stumps to Save Long-Distance Trains

June 14, 2017

Amtrak President Charles “Wick” Moorman recently told Congress that eliminating funding for Amtrak’s long-distance trains in the federal fiscal year 2018 budget would cost more money than it would save.

Moorman

In a letter that accompanied Amtrak’s budget, Moorman said ending the funding would cost $423 million more than keeping it.

“The Administration’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget request for the U.S. Department of Transportation proposes the elimination of Federal funding for Amtrak’s long distance services. Enactment of such a proposal would drastically shrink the scope of our network, could cause major disruptions in existing services, and increase costs for the remaining services across the Amtrak system,” Moorman wrote. “Amtrak’s initial projection is that eliminating long distance services would result in an additional cost of $423 million in FY 2018 alone, requiring more funding from Congress and our partners rather than less.”

The letter sought to highlight Amtrak’s successes last year.

“Amtrak reported strong audited financial results for the fiscal year which ended on Sep. 30, 2016, including an all-time ticket revenue record of $2.14 billion,” Moorman said. “The increased ticket revenue was fueled by a record 31.3 million passengers on America’s Railroad – nearly 400,000 more than the previous year. This is the sixth straight year Amtrak carried more than 30 million customers.

“The company covered 94 percent of its operating costs with ticket sales and other revenues, up from 92 percent the year before – a world-class performance for a passenger-carrying railroad. Thanks in part to our strong performance, Amtrak was also able to make a net reduction in long-term debt of $69.2 million.”

As for Amtrak’s ongoing needs, Moorman said Amtrak needs funding to replace movable bridges that are more than 100 years old and money to pay for a backlog of crucial state-of-good-repair work in the Northeast Corridor estimated to cost $38 billion to complete.

Moorman said the Superliner equipment used by Amtrak’s long-distance trains averages more than 200,000 miles per car, per year, and the age of the fleet is nearly 40 years.

Trump Budget Slashes Amtrak Funding 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.

Congress Approves Spending for FY2017

May 6, 2017

Congress this week approved an omnibus budget bill that will fund Amtrak and other transportation programs through Sept. 30, the end of the current federal fiscal year.

Amtrak received $1.495 billion, an increase of $105 million over its fiscal year 2016 appropriation.

The funding includes $328 million for the Northeast Corridor and $1.167 billion to support the national network.

Transit, Amtrak do Well in Budget Bill

May 3, 2017

A proposed federal budget for the remainder of fiscal year 2017 contains funding for public transportation and Amtrak, the American Public Transportation Association reported.

Congress is expected to vote on the budget this week to fund the federal government through Sept. 30.

The FY17 omnibus appropriations bill contains $12.4 billion in funding for the Federal Transit Administration, $657 million above the FY 2016 enacted level.

The transit formula grants total is $9.7 million while about $2.4 billion would go toward “New Starts” funding, including $1.5 billion for current Full Funding Grant Agreement transit projects.

Amtrak would receive a $75 million increase to $1.495 billion.

Also included in the bill is $199 million for positive train control funding authorized under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.

The Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grant program would receive $68 million; the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair grant program would get $25 million; the Restoration and Enhancement Grants would get $5 million; and the Transit Security Grant program, $88 million.

The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program would be funded at $500 million.

Amtrak VP Thinks Status Quo Will Prevail

April 5, 2017

An Amtrak executive believes that once the dust settles in Congress on the fiscal year 2018 federal budget 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 Amtrak’s network.

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

The Trump “skinny budget” would continue 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 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 service 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.

Budget Proposal Just a Starting Point

March 21, 2017

More than likely it is a waste of time to discuss the Trump administration proposal to eliminate funding for Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

A president’s budget proposal is just that, a proposal, and no president of either party sees the budget he sent to Congress come out without any substantive changes.

For that matter the House and Senate will have their own ideas about how to spend public money, including how much to allot to the national rail passenger carrier.

Amtrak has been down this road before, many times in fact. Past administrations have proposed zeroing out Amtrak funding only to see Congress time and again appropriate just enough to keep Amtrak’s skeletal national network operating.

If anything is a surprise that the Trump budget would seek to keep any funding for Amtrak.

Amtrak may have survived past budget fights but there have been route casualties along the way. A major restructuring in 1979 killed the only Amtrak service in Columbus and Dayton with the discontinuance of the New York-Kansas City National Limited.

A 1995 restructuring killed the Broadway Limited, which wiped Akron, Youngstown and Fostoria off the Amtrak map.

They later regained service for a short time when a revived Broadway operating as the Three Rivers ran between Chicago and New York.

Another budget fight took Athens and Chillicothe out of the Amtrak network when the Cincinnati-Washington Shenandoah was discontinued in 1981.

For a short time, that 1981 budget fight kicked Cincinnati out of Amtrak, but thanks to the political clout of the late Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the Cardinal returned to its Chicago-New York flight path in early 1982, albeit as a tri-weekly rather than a daily train.

Given the history of Amtrak funding, it would seem likely that some, if not all, of Amtrak’s long-distance trains will survive due to political wrangling.

What could happen is that the fight becomes one of percentages as in what percentage of the Amtrak long-distance network will survive.

If that is the case, Ohio could be in the middle of the fight when some modifications of the long-distance route network are proposed to consolidate “duplicate” service, e.g., the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited between Chicago and Cleveland.

I could see someone proposing reducing the Capitol Limited to a Pittsburgh-Washington service that connects with a combined Lake Shore Limited and Pennsylvanian between Chicago and New York. That would leave Erie, Pennsylvania, off the Amtrak map.

Already, Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation have proposed rerouting the Lake Shore Limited through Michigan, presumably in lieu of an existing Wolverine Service train.

Someone in Washington in an Amtrak office, a Department of Transportation office and/or a congressional office has probably been studying the Amtrak map with an eye toward finding a way to end federal funding of the Lake Shore Limited by making it into a state train.

Michigan and Pennsylvania already fund the legs into Chicago and New York City respectively. Why not tell Ohio that if it wants service it needs to fund the leg between Detroit and Pittsburgh?

And if Pittsburgh-Washington service is to survive then Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia or a combination of those three states will have to fund what would be left of the Capitol Limited.

Some lawmakers like to talk about offering “options.”  They may or may not know or may or may not care that Ohio is unlikely to agree to fund the middle section of the Lake Shore Limited route.

But if Ohio says “no,” well it was given an option and it voted with its wallet.

Buried in the Trump budget proposal is the rational for sharply reducing funding for programs that benefit public transportation: “Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.”

Look for some in the coming months or years to begin seeking to apply this philosophy to funding for Amtrak long-distance trains.

It would be part of a larger effort to frame the narrative over passenger train funding as a local issue, not a national one even if the trains in question work to form a national transportation network.

NARP Decries Amtrak, Transit Budget 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.