Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak funding’

Federal Transportation Spending to Continue Through December 16

October 1, 2022

Federal transportation funding will continue through Dec. 16 after Congress passed a short-term budget extension.

The action was needed because Congress has not yet approved budgets for federal fiscal year 2023, which begins Oct. 1.

Also known as a continuing resolution, the extension continues funding Amtrak and other transportation programs at existing levels.

It is common for Congress to be unable to agree on budget bills by the Sept. 30 deadline. In some instances, federal funding has continued through a series of continuing resolutions.

Senate Bill Would Increase Amtrak Funding

August 1, 2022

A Senate committee last week released a proposed federal fiscal year 2023 appropriations bill for transportation spending, including Amtrak funding.

The passenger carrier would receive $2.6 billion, a $269 million increase over the current fiscal year.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is proposing $2.51 billion for the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants program; $200 million for the Federal-State Partnership for State-of-Good-Repair for the replacement, rehabilitation, and repair of intercity passenger rail infrastructure; and $535 million for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement program.

The Senate proposal provides higher Amtrak funding levels than a recently approved House budget bill but would grant $355 million less than what the House approved for the federal-state partnership program.

Whereas the House approved $882 million for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, the Senate bill contains $1,135,000. The House approved $1,463,000 for Amtrak’s network whereas the Senate bill would appropriate $,465,000.

Neither the House budget bill nor the Senate proposal contains any funding for passenger rail restoration and enhancement grants. Both chambers also omitted funding for railroad grade crossing elimination projects.

Both programs received no funding in FY2022 although the grade crossing program was authorized to receive up to $500 million and the restoration and enhancement program was authorized to receive $50 million.

In FY2022, Congress approved $875 million for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and $1,457,000 for the national network.

None of the spending bill amounts include money approved in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which is allocated separately from annual appropriations.

In a related development, the proposed Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 introduced in the Senate omits funding for high-speed rail programs.

Earlier drafts of the bill contained $10 billion in dedicated funding for electrified high-speed rail.

The Rail Passengers Association noted in a report on its website that much of the focus in the energy bill is funding the transition to electric automobiles, which RPA described as “another in a long line of subsidies for highways.”

FY2023 Spending OKed by House Committee

July 5, 2022

Federal fiscal year 2023 appropriations legislation for transportation continued last week to make its way through the House.

The House Committee on Appropriations moved the Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill to the House floor where it is expected to be considered later this month.

The THUD bill as it is known provides a 23 percent increase in discretionary spending for transit and passenger and freight rail.

The appropriations made no major changes in funding levels approved recently by the transportation subcommittee of the appropriations committee.

That committee approved $2.3 billion in Amtrak funding, which fell short of the $3 billion recommended by the Biden administration and the $3.3 billion sought by the passenger carrier.

Once approved by the House the THUD bill will move to the Senate. FY2023 begins on Oct. 1. In recent years, the Senate has failed to meet the deadline, which has necessitated a series of stopgap spending bills until final action was taken.

Committee OKs Transportation Funding Bill

June 27, 2022

A congressional committee last week approved a bill that provide a 23 percent increase in discretionary spending for public transit, and passenger and freight railroads in federal fiscal year 2023.

The Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill was approved by the transportation subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on a voice vote.

The bill is expected to be considered this week by the full Appropriations Committee, which wants to clear spending bills before the July 4th recess.

It would then move to the Senate. The 2023 federal fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

Much of the appropriations proposed by the bill are above the amounts appropriated for the current fiscal year, but below what was authorized in earlier congressional action.

For example, the bill approves $1.6 billion for Amtrak’s national network. That is an increase over the $1.4 billion appropriated for the current fiscal year but short of the $2.2 billion authorized for FY 2023.

Total Amtrak funding in the bill would be $2.3 billion versus the $3 billion proposed by the Biden administration and $3.3 billion sought by Amtrak.

The passenger carrier had said it needed that level of funding because of “the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic [that] continue to affect revenue and ridership.”

Amtrak said “robust FY 2023 grant funding is needed to enable Amtrak to continue operating our long-distance trains.”

The bill approved last week allocates $500 million for the Federal State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail program, which funds capital projects to bring facilities and infrastructure to a state of good repair, improve performance, and expand or establish new intercity passenger rail services.

The Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements program would receive $630 million. This includes a $150 million set-aside to “support the development of new intercity passenger rail service routes including alignments for existing routes.”

The bill contains language that seeks to prevent Amtrak from reducing or eliminating national network service, stating that Amtrak may not “discontinue, reduce the frequency of, suspend, or substantially alter the route of rail service on any portion of such route,” except in an emergency or during maintenance or construction outages.

No funding was appropriated for the Restoration and Enhancement Grants program, which provides operating assistance grants for initiating, restoring, or enhancing intercity passenger rail transportation.

Instead, the bill says Amtrak may use up to 10 percent of its $1.46 billion national network grant for the activities outlined in the service restoration program.

Amtrak Expects to Need $1B in Annual Federal Funding for the Next Decade

May 9, 2022

Back in 2019 when the much reviled Richard Anderson was president of Amtrak, the nation’s passenger railroad talked a lot about how it was on the cusp of breaking even.

A budget estimate that Amtrak sent to Congress in March 2020 even predicted operating profits by 2025. Those profits were expected to grow over the next decade.

But that same month the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and the bottom fell out for Amtrak and other transportation providers.

America’s Railroad, as Amtrak likes to call itself, lost 97 percent of its ridership and Congress responded by providing Amtrak $3.7 billion in emergency funding in federal fiscal years 2020 and 2021 to stave off bankruptcy.

Although COVID-19 and its variants is still around, the pandemic fears have been waning and passengers are returning to the rails.

Amtrak now projects that it will reach pre-COVID ridership and revenue by FY2024, which begins Oct. 1, 2023.

Yet the passenger carrier’s most recent budget estimates submitted to Congress show a shift in the thinking of Amtrak management about its finances.

Gone are the rosy projections of operating profits. Those have been replaced with an acknowledgement that Amtrak will need federal funding of $1 billion a year over the next decade.

The Eno Center for Transportation has published an analysis of Amtrak’s latest budget estimates that provides an overview of how Amtrak sees its finances playing out in the next several years.

That analysis can be read at https://www.enotrans.org/article/amtrak-concedes-perpetual-1-billion-year-operating-losses/

From my perspective, the most interesting and important points in the analysis written by Jeff Davis are made toward the end because they hint at a coming battle in Congress that some rail passenger advocates may not see coming.

In the past several months Amtrak supporters have been talking up the benefits to intercity rail passenger service of the infusion of money from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The Rail Passengers Association has touted IIJA as an unprecedented if not a once in a lifetime $36 billion investment in passenger rail.

In talking about how transformative this funding will be, RPA has oversold what IIJA is likely to produce. That could be setting up some of its members for future shock.

There is, of course, some truth to the rhetoric being espoused by RPA and other rail passenger advocates. And to his credit RPA head Jim Mathews has hinted that the gains of IIJA could be more fragile than many of his members want to believe.

IIJA has created the potential for expansion of the nation’s rail passenger network. That in turn has led to expectations that have been fed by Amtrak itself proposing an expansive plan known as Amtrak ConnectsUS that would create more than 30 new corridor services.

But expectations are not reality nor do they always become reality.

It is true that the IIJA contains funding that could help launch some of those new services envisioned in Amtrak ConnectsUS.

But what some may not recognize unless they have paid close attention is that IIJA is a capital funding program. It provides not a dime for operating expenses of a single Amtrak train.

Those expenses will be paid for by ticket revenue, public money or both.

Now Amtrak has said that it will not make enough in ticket revenue to pay the expenses of its trains.

For most rail passenger advocates that is no big deal. They have long acknowledged that passenger trains need public funding and have sought to explain that away by saying that all forms of transportation are funded at some level with public funding.

There is some truth to that if you consider that the infrastructure used by airlines and bus companies is paid for in part with public money.

Airlines and bus companies will counter that they pay their “fair share” through user fees and taxes of the cost of that infrastructure, but that’s a debatable proposition that is at best a half truth.

The public funding of airline and bus operations does not stand out as a line item in a budget as does funding of Amtrak operations.

In his analysis, Davis makes a valid point in writing, “Amtrak can claim with some credibility that Congress, through the IIJA, chose to de-emphasize the issue of operating losses.”

He then makes a side-by-side comparison of what the federal code says about Amtrak operations before and after passage of the IIJA.

At first glance, those changes appear to put to rest the notion that Amtrak is expected to be profitable.

But read the language again. Whereas before passage of the IIJA Section  C of 49 U.S.C. §24101 said “Amtrak shall . . . use its best business judgment in acting to minimize United States Government subsidies . . .” the IIJA changed the phrasing to Amtrak shall “maximize the benefits of Federal investments.”

Nothing in the federal code requires Congress to spend money on intercity rail passenger service at all. Likewise, the federal code does not require Congress to spend whatever it takes to maintain the existing Amtrak network forever let alone spend money to expand that network.

That is a significant point because the debate in Congress is not so much about whether Amtrak trains lose money – even if some members try to frame it that way – as it is how much to spend to underwrite those losses.

Since Amtrak’s inception in 1971, some members of Congress have sought to end federal funding of intercity rail passenger service if not put Amtrak out of business.

Those efforts have uniformly failed although at times Congress has reduced its financial support of Amtrak, which in turn led to the discontinuance of some routes and trains.

The last significant shrinkage of routes and services occurred in the early 2000s, the service suspensions that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic notwithstanding.

It is also noteworthy that those early 2000s service reductions came as a coda to the last time Amtrak proposed major service expansions, many of which never occurred.

In the Eno analysis, Davis notes that when the IIJA was adopted deficit spending was not considered by a majority of members of Congress to be a problem because the nation was still recovering from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But now the nation is facing large scale inflation and budget deficits are one factor that drives inflation.

If as many political pundits predict Republicans gain control of one or both chambers of Congress in the November elections Amtrak funding requests may face a more hostile environment.

It may be that federal law doesn’t require Amtrak trains to make a profit, but that means nothing to deficit hawks. It never has and it never will. They have beliefs about what is a legitimate purpose on which to spend public money and what is not. Intercity rail passenger service is among the latter.

And some Republicans have already signaled what they hope to do about Amtrak.

Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Arkansas) introduced the Returning Amtrak to Economic Sustainability Act, which calls for changing the language of 49 USC 24101 to replace  the word “modern in the phrase “intercity passenger and commuter rail passenger transportation” with “economically sustainable.”

The RATES act would also add the phrase “while ensuring route profitability proportional to the Federal share of investment” as well.

It is uncertain if the RATES Act would make it through a GOP-controlled Congress although it likely would receive a more favorable reception than it has in the current Congress controlled by Democrats.

But even if Democrats maintain control of Congress, lawmakers must still deal with the prospect of having to, as Davis put it, “either write the checks for the billion-per-year operating losses over the coming decade, or else use their annual platform to encourage (or require) Amtrak to pay attention to operating losses if they want to avoid writing those checks.”

That could easily lead to environments such as existed in the late 1970s, in the early 1980s and in the late 1990s when Amtrak budget cuts resulted in service reductions.

Rather than enjoying the fruits of a second passenger rail renaissance in which the nation’s passenger train network expands, passenger train advocates will be faced with fighting to save as much existing service as they can if not having to save Amtrak itself.

Amtrak’s budget projections are filled with figures that show how much money long-distance passenger trains lose per passenger.

Those numbers have been used in the past to argue in favor of reducing if not ending federal spending on passenger trains. Don’t be surprised if those arguments surface again.

Richard Anderson is unlikely to return as Amtrak’s president but the political climate could lead to another Amtrak CEO who thinks as Anderson did and behaves as Anderson did in taking aim at long-distance trains for reduction.

Amtrak Seeking $3.3B in FY2023

April 12, 2022

Amtrak is asking Congress for $3.3 billion in grant funding for federal fiscal year 2023.

The passenger carrier said in a statement that accompanied its grant request that the funding will enable it to enter a new era with a historic level of federal investment for capital projects.

CEO Stephen Gardner said funding provided by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides Amtrak with “a clear plan to transform and grow our business.”

“Our requested FY2023 annual grant will allow Amtrak to continue operating our long-distance trains, which connect communities across the nation; to continue partnering with states to provide short-distance corridor service; and to continue normalized replacement (necessary maintenance and sustainment) of aged assets on the Northeast Corridor, all while facing new levels of uncertainty and disruption from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Gardner said in the statement.

The grant request includes $1.1 billion for the Northeast Corridor and $2.2 billion for the national network.

The budget request projects that ridership in FY2023 will be 28.8 million. During FY2019 Amtrak handled 32.5 million passengers. It carried 16.8 million in FY2020 and 12.2 million in FY2021. Expected ridership for FY2022 is 23.2 million.

Projected revenue for FY2023 is $1.98 billion in gross ticket revenue; $3.1 billion in total operating revenue; and an adjusted loss of $1 billion.

Amtrak Gets Boost in FY2022 Budget

March 13, 2022

Amtrak will receive an increase in funding after Congress last week approved an appropriations bill for federal fiscal year 2022.

The $1.5 trillion government funding bill also enables federal agencies to begin spending money earmarked for programs in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

That includes $7.3 billion for a rail passenger grant program to be administered by the Federal Railroad Administration over the next five years.

The FRA is in the process of creating guidelines for the program which are expected to be released in late spring when state and local agencies will begin applying for grants from the program.

As for FY2022, Amtrak will receive $875 million for the Northeast Corridor and $1.4 billion for the national network. Those figures compared to $700 million and $1.3 billion respectively that was appropriated in FY2021.

The FRA received $241 million, the Federal-State Partnership program received $100 million and $625 was approved for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grants for FY2022

The budget bill also contains a $300,000 earmark to the City of Ypsilanti, Michigan, to construct a rail passenger station.

Located between Ann Arbor and Detroit, Ypsilanti is on Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) corridor but no Wolverine Service trains currently stop there.

Select Amtrak trains did stop in Ypsilanti, the home of Eastern Michigan University, between Jan. 20, 1975, and Jan. 13, 1984.

Rail Passenger Funding, Running Amtrak on Time, New NS President Didn’t Impress Some Workers

January 17, 2022

Bit and pieces of insights into the workings of railroad world . . .

I recently received in my email inbox a message quoting Evan Stair of the Friends of the Southwest Chief group in which he suggested that the promise of new and expanded service contained in the Amtrak Connects US plan is largely a mirage.

Stair, whose group has been promoting additional Amtrak service along Colorado’s Front Range and extending the Heartland Flyer north of Oklahoma City to connect with the Chief in Kansas, was commenting on a Bloomberg News story in which Amtrak President Stephen Gardner said the plan to add 39 new routes will require state financial support.

Amtrak has estimated the plan will cost $75 billion to implement.

In his interview, Gardner characterized the federal government as the capital partner but the ongoing operating expenses are the responsibility of the states and Amtrak.

And Amtrak has made clear that it’s responsibility to pay operating expenses will only last at best for five years. After that states will be on the hook to pay operating expenses as is the case now with state-supported corridors on the West Coast, in the Midwest and along the East Coast.

“I frankly believe the Amtrak Connects US program will result in few, if any new routes,” Stair wrote. “States are unlikely to commit to long-term operational dollars without some federal operational matches.”

Stair is probably right about that but could have gone even farther. It may not be realistic to think that states that are not now and/or have never paid Amtrak for corridor service will do so in the future even with a short-term Amtrak funding match for operational expenses.

Yes, I’m talking about you, Ohio.

Speaking of Amtrak, Canadian Pacific CEO Keith Creel told a Midwest shippers conference in Chicago last week that he was “proud” of having reached an agreement with the passenger carrier to allow for the prospect of additional passenger service on routes operated by CP and it merger partner Kansas City Southern.

As reported by Trains magazine, Creel also talked about how CP has become one of Amtrak’s best host railroads in dispatching its trains on time. It wasn’t always that way.

“Five years ago, six years ago, we didn’t lead the industry in Amtrak service,” Creel said.

He went on to say that his 30 years as an operating officer taught him that it’s not easy for a freight railroad to coexist with passenger service.

“I understand the conflicts sometimes and the tradeoffs sometimes when you mix high speed passenger rail with what is, in comparative terms, low-speed freight rail,” Creel said. “I understand the track geometry challenges, I understand the speed challenges. But I also understand that if you prioritize right, and there’s tradeoffs, and balance in a partnership, you can succeed. And that’s the approach we’ve taken at CP.”

Creel’s comments suggest that having the right attitude is key to running passenger trains on time and if CP can do it so could the other Class 1 Amtrak host railroads.

Yet CP doesn’t host as many Amtrak trains as its Class 1 brethren and doesn’t host any long-distance trains over thousands of miles.

Perhaps the best that can be expected is that the host railroads could do better than they do, but dispatching is a balancing act and there will be times when a host railroad puts its own interests ahead of avoiding delaying Amtrak for what the host sees as a relatively short period of time.

Speaking at the same shipper’s conference, new Norfolk Southern President Alan Shaw told a story of how on his first day in his new post he decided to go out into the field and meet and greet NS operating employees in Toledo, which is the largest NS crew change point on the system.

 “I wanted to thank [the employees] for their dedication to Norfolk Southern and our customers, and I wanted to get their input into how we fix service and how we continue to improve our productivity,” Shaw said.

As reported by Trains magazine on its website, Shaw said he approached some workers sitting outside the crew room.

He was wearing khakis, boots and a collared shirt and the workers thought he was an operations supervisor.

 “So I walk up and introduce myself. They told me their names, and one of the guys said, ‘Well, what do you do?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m the president’. And he looks at me, and I’m like, ‘Not Joe Biden president, but president of Norfolk Southern.’ And the other dude pulls out his phone, and he’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, I see the announcement. Congratulations!

“So that made me feel good. And then the one guy looks at me and says, ‘What craft did you come from?  . . . Were you mechanical, or engineering, or a conductor, or an engineer?’

“And I was like, ‘No, I started in finance.’ He was really not impressed with that. He goes, ‘Man, at some point, we’re going to have a craft employee running the railroad.’

“It is somewhat humbling when you go out there and talk to them, because they’ve got their own expectations.”

Shaw is right about that, but expectations are not reality. It’s possible that a future railroad president might have worked as a craft employee at an early point in his or her railroad career, but it is not realistic to think that C suite executives will be pulled from the ranks of operating or maintenance employees.

If you want to be a railroad president you need to have spent extensive time in such areas as finance, law or marketing and moved up the ranks in those departments.

Operating employees are not the only railroad stakeholders who have expectations and the expectations of some stakeholders carry more weight than those of others.

Shaw told another story about his first conversation with members of the railroad’s board of directors.

 “Their primary message to me was, ‘Don’t mess up,’” Shaw said. “Now, it was a little more forceful than that. I’ll let you use your imagination what the real verb was that they used.”

I think we can easily figure that one out.

Some IIJA Transportation Funding Authorizations May Not Win Congressional Approval

December 6, 2021

Although Congress last week approved a stop-gap federal spending bill through a continuing resolution, one effect of that will be to delay approval of funding authorized in the recently approved Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The continuing resolution will extend federal funding at existing levels and, with few exceptions, ban new contracts. The resolution will expire next February.

Much of the transportation funding proposed by the IIJA, including money for intercity rail passenger service programs, is guaranteed by that legislation, but other funding programs within the IIJA are only authorizations that Congress must approve through the appropriation process.

The Rail Passengers Association reported on its website that a year-long continuing resolution could mean that as much as 20 percent of the authorized new funding of IIJA could go unrealized.

RPA said this includes authorizations for $3.9 billion in Amtrak operations and capital programs.

In a recent fundraising letter sent to RPA members, the group warned that there will be political pressure next spring to scale back federal spending.

Subject to potentially not being approved by lawmakers is funding for authorizations of programs involving grade-crossing improvements, upgrades to existing rail corridors, and the development of new passenger train services.

In an unrelated development, a key congressman who helped push the IIJA through Congress has announced plans to retire at the end of his current term.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, is chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and has been an outspoken proponent of increase rail passenger service and public transit.

The Oregon Democrat has served in Congress for 38 years. In a statement, DeFazio cited wanting to focus on his health and well being.

Charting the Obstacles to Passenger Rail Expansion

November 15, 2021

Last in a three-part series

During the week that leaders in the House of Representatives were struggling to push approval of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act over the finish line, CSX and Norfolk Southern fired another shot across Amtrak’s bow.

The two Class 1 passenger carriers asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to dismiss a case brought by Amtrak last spring seeking to have regulators compel the freight carriers to host a new rail passenger service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

The Gulf Coast corridor proposal is a harbinger of what lies ahead for other proposed new Amtrak services that could be funded by the IIJA. It is a sobering cautionary tale.

Funding for operating and capital expenses is already in place for the 150-mile New Orleans-Mobile route that until August 2005 hosted Amtrak’s tri-weekly Sunset Limited between Los Angeles and Orlando, Florida.

CSX, which owns most of the route, has been dragging its feet on the proposed New Orleans-Mobile service for more than five years. At one point it demanded $2 billion in route infrastructure work.

In their STB filing, CSX and NS said they would withdraw their opposition to the new service if Amtrak pays for 14 capacity improvement projects the carriers say are needed.

In a fit of hyperbole, the Class 1 carriers said Amtrak service without these improvements would cause “systematic failure” to their freight service, most notably adversely affecting first mile, last mile freight service to shippers. These assertions would be comical were they not so serious.

For years Amtrak’s host railroads have demanded expensive infrastructure improvements as the price of agreeing to service expansion, including daily service for the Sunset Limited and Cardinal, or new service on a now freight-only route.

Many a service expansion has been stymied due to these demands for capital improvements, which Amtrak usually cannot afford.

The underlying conflict before the STB is about more than whether passenger trains are going to operate between New Orleans and Mobile and how much Amtrak and its state partners will have to pony up for infrastructure improvement projects.

Ultimately, it is about rules and whose interests those rules favor.

Amtrak and rail passenger advocates want rules that provide an easier path to service expansion in the face of host railroad resistance.

The host railroads want to maintain the status quo of being able to dictate the terms of access. They dislike having to deal with political pressure seeking to force them to accept passenger trains that they view as having the potential to interfere with their freight operations. They dislike having foisted upon them something they view as contributing nothing to their primary reason for being, namely providing transportation of freight.

I’ve written about this issue before and you can follow this link to read more: https://wordpress.com/post/akronrrclub.wordpress.com/61853

If Amtrak loses the STB Gulf case or gets a mixed decision that could curtail how much service expansion it is able to achieve.

But even a favorable decision for Amtrak may not be enough. NS and CSX and/or the Association of American Railroads are likely to go to court to seek to overturn that ruling or get it modified. They have the resources to litigate for as long as it takes to get the rules that they want.

From a rail passenger advocate perspective, the STB case is about serving the public interest. Rail passenger advocates make the assumption that additional intercity rail passenger service by definition does that.

From a host railroad perspective, the STB case is about maintaining control of its own property and protecting its competitive position in the transportation industry.

This is not to say host railroad resistance can’t be overcome. It is matter of on whose terms these disputes will be settled and how much that will cost. It is why the STB case could be critical to the success of the Amtrak ConnectsUS plan.

There are other potential obstacles standing in the way of passenger rail expansion.

The Amtrak ConnectsUS plan is predicated on state and/or local governments taking over the operating expenses of the new corridors described in the plan.

Amtrak has proposed paying up to 90 percent of those costs initially and fronting money for capital projects to establish stations and do host railroad-demanded infrastructure work.

The Amtrak share of operating costs will eventually reach zero over a six-year period.

A key question is whether Amtrak or the FRA will move ahead on projects in which the state(s) to be served by a new route fail to commit to picking up their share of a route’s operating costs.

The Amtrak ConnectsUS plan seems built on the belief that once the new services are up and running the states served will recognize their value and provide funding. Amtrak seems to be hoping that public pressure will lead to continued state funding of the service by the states served.

But what if they don’t? Many of the proposed new corridors are in states that have never funded Amtrak service. Why would they want to do so now?

The American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009 contained $8 billion in grants for high-speed rail projects that did not require a state match.

In January 2010 Ohio received a $400 million grant to launch the 3-C Quick Start project.

In that year’s gubernatorial election, Republican John Kasich actively campaigned against the 3C project and Republicans who controlled the Ohio General Assembly expressed concerns about Ohio having to pay $17 million for operating costs.

After defeating incumbent Ted Strickland, a Democrat, Kasich killed the 3-C project. Ohio Republican legislative leaders in a move that was not well publicized at the time created rules that made it highly unlikely that Ohio would be able to use the federal grant to establish the 3-C Quick Start project.

The U.S. Department of Transportation took back the grant minus the $2 million Ohio had already spent. That money was disbursed elsewhere, primarily to California.

Ohio was not alone in spurning ARIA funding for rail passenger service. Projects in Florida and Wisconsin also were killed by incoming Republican governors.

The rules for grants the FRA will be awarding from IIJA funds have yet to be written although the IIJA enabling legislation establishes some criteria as described earlier in this series.

It is not difficult, though, to image that what happened in Ohio in 2010 could happen again when it comes to developing new passenger service envisioned by the Amtrak ConnectsUS plan.

Some new passenger services may result from IIJA funding, but the scope of expansion might be more modest than what rail advocates are envisioning.

Another obstacle could arise in 2023 when the 118th Congress is seated.

Just as what happened in Ohio in 2010, the 2022 election season is likely to feature candidates pledging to repeal or restrict how funds from the IIJA are used. Passenger rail could find itself in the cross hairs of those attacks.

Historically, the party that holds the White House in a president’s first term loses seats in Congress in the next mid-term election.

With Democrats holding paper-thin margins in the House and Senate, it would not take much for Republicans to gain control of one or both chambers in the 2022 elections.

If that happens, the environment for passenger rail in the 118th Congress likely will be quite different than it has been in the 117th Congress.

As pointed out in the first installment of this series, realizing the full potential of the IIJA on passenger rail service expansion will require appropriation of funds by Congress.

It is difficult to imagine a GOP-Controlled Congress being receptive to spending billions on new rail passenger service.

Republicans tend not to favor expansive and expensive government programs. Many GOP members of Congress identify as fiscal conservatives and they often oppose government-funded passenger rail of any kind.

Some of Amtrak’s fiercest and most persistent critics are conservative think tanks and many GOP members of Congress align with their views when it comes to transportation policy.

President Joseph R. Biden will still be sending appropriation proposals to Congress in January 2023 and 2024 and his administration probably can be counted on to recommend friendly budgets for passenger rail.

Yet Congress will have the final say on how much money passenger rail receives. A Republican-controlled Congress will not be inclined to give Biden any victories he can point to if he seeks re-election in 2024.

It’s not that all Republicans are opposed to intercity passenger rail. Amtrak’s national network has survived as long as it has because enough GOP representatives and senators have voted in favor of continued funding for it. Some of them have advocated for maintaining the existing Amtrak service in their states.

Republicans and Democrats have philosophical differences when it comes to how to spend public money and what to spend it on. There is nothing sinister about that. It is just a divergence of viewpoints about the role of government at the federal, state and local levels.

This includes differing views on the role government has to play in transportation policy and what modes of transportation should benefit the most from government investment.

But even putting that aside, there are limitations as to how much either party is willing to spend on rail passenger service.

In the 50 years of Amtrak’s existence, many Democratic administrations and Democratic-controlled chambers of Congress have failed to provide the type of reliable dedicated funding of rail passenger service that advocates and Amtrak have sought.

It is one thing to marshal political support to maintain the status quo of the existing intercity rail network and quite another to build support for the type of expansive additions to the network that rail passenger advocates favor.

There just seems to be too many forces that have kept intercity rail passenger service from developing into something more than a boutique form of transportation. The IIJA has not vanquished those forces.

The passage of the IIJA and its historic levels of passenger rail funding may thus turn out to be an aberration rather than a transformation to a new world order in which the nation’s rail passenger network undergoes a substantial expansion to resemble something from the 1950s.

There is too much entrenched opposition from interests who fear passenger rail’s gains will come at their expense.

This dynamic be can be seen at the state level where lawmakers must approve a balanced budget every year and passenger rail funding is weighed against the importance of other needs.

Those competing interests were on vivid display in Ohio in 2010 in the controversy over the 3-C Quick Start project.

Aside from a potentially hostile political environment and host railroad intransigence, the success of passenger rail programs funded by IIJA are linked to how well or how poorly the law is implemented.

The potential of the IIJA to influence rail passenger service is a long game and over the course of it there are bound to be changes in priorities among Amtrak managers, members of key congressional committees, and state and local transportation agencies.

Those changes will affect what does and doesn’t get done.

At this point there is much anticipation and expectation among rail passenger advocates about what could happen now that the IIJA is in place.

But expectations are not reality. It is a lesson passenger advocates know all too well. For once there is reason to be optimistic that good things are going to happen. From a passenger rail perspective, some good things will happen with IIJA funding.

It is just that what IIJA is able to achieve may not be as far-reaching as many passenger rail advocates want to believe.

It is far from a sure thing that we are on the cusp of a new era or a second rail revolution.