Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak funding’

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.

Trump Wants to End Amtrak Long-Distance Train Funding, to Trim Public Transportation Funding

March 16, 2017

Here we go again. Another president has taken aim at Amtrak’s federal funding.

The proposed FY2018 budget released by the Trump administration this week calls for eliminating federal funding of Amtrak’s long-distance trains and would impose other steep cuts in transportation spending.

Amtrak would not lose all funding, but the funding it receives would be focused on supporting services within specific regions, specifically the Northeast Corridor and state-funded corridors in the East, Midwest and along the West Coast.

The budget described long-distance trains as inefficient and incurring the vast majority of Amtrak’s operating losses.

Trump is seeking to cut the U.S. Department of Transportation budget by $2.4 billion or 13 percent.

If Congress adopts the Trump budget blueprint, DOT will receive $16.2 billion.

Also slated for deep cuts in the budget are Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants.

Funding of the New Starts program of the Federal Transit Administration will be slashed and limited to projects with existing full funding grant agreements.

In a statement with the budget, Trump said the DOT budget is being revamped to focus on “vital federal safety oversight functions and investing in nationally and regionally significant transportation infrastructure projects.”

A statement with the budget request said that the blueprint seeks to reduce or end “programs that are either inefficient, duplicative of other federal efforts, or that involve activities that are better delivered by states, localities or the private sector.”

In a statement, Amtrak President Charles “Wick” Moorman said that Amtrak’s 15 long-distance trains offer the only service in 23 of the 46 states that the carrier .

“Eliminating funding for long-distance routes could impact many of the 500 communities served by Amtrak,” Moorman said.

“These trains connect our major regions, provide vital transportation to residents in rural communities and generate connecting passengers and revenue for our Northeast Corridor and state-supported services. Amtrak is very focused on running efficiently  — we covered 94 percent of our total network operating costs through ticket sales and other revenues in FY16 — but these services all require federal investment.”

Moorman pledged to work with the Trump administration, including U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Congress to “understand the value of Amtrak’s long-distance trains and what these proposed cuts would mean to this important part of the nation’s transportation system.”

As for transit funding, the budget blueprint says that curtailing federal funding leaves funding up to “localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.”
The American Public Transportation Association issues a statement saying it was surprised and disappointed with the budget details so far.

APTA noted that the administration has been touting a broad plan to spend $1 trillion for infrastructure investment, but “the White House is recommending cutting billions of dollars from existing transportation and public transit infrastructure programs.”

The trade group said the budget cuts would affect projects underway in Kansas City; Dallas; Fort Worth, Texas; Indianapolis; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Fort Lauderdale, and Jacksonville, Florida.

The cuts to the TIGER program is aimed at what the budget described as “unauthorized” projects. In January before Trump was inaugurated , DOT had announced that $500 million was available. The TIGER grants were first awarded in 2009.

Among the 2016 grant recipients are San Bernardino County, California., which received $8.6 million for passenger rail service; Mississippi’s 65-mile long Natchez Railway, which received $10 million for rehabilitation and upgrades for five bridges; and Springfield, Illinois, which received $14 million to build two underpasses for proposed high-speed service between St. Louis and Chicago.

Moorman Calls for Passenger Rail Investments

February 16, 2017

Amtrak President Charles “Wick” Moorman told a Senate committee this week that the United States needs a new era of infrastructure investment in order to ensure a healthy future for long-distance passenger rail travel.

Wick Moorman

Wick Moorman

Speaking to the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security, Moorman said, “The time is now to invest in our aging assets.

“More than ever, our nation and the traveling public rely on Amtrak for mobility, but the future of Amtrak depends on whether we can renew the cars, locomotives, bridges, tunnels, stations and other infrastructure that allows us to meet these growing.”

Noting that Amtrak posted a record ridership of more than 31 million passengers and ticket revenues of $2.2 billion in 2016, Moorman said. “I’m certain that we can get even better by relentlessly improving our safety culture, modernizing and upgrading our products and strengthening our operational efficiency and project delivery.”

Moorman called for additional support from Congress and the Trump Administration to upgrade aging assets in order to continue to provide reliable services and network operations.

Among the improvements that Moorman cited as urgently needed are construction of tunnels and bridges on the Northeast Corridor; expansion of stations in Chicago and Washington; construction of a fleet of new or rebuilt diesel locomotives; and construction of track, signaling, and other improvements to remove choke points on host railroads or restore service in key underserved markets, such as along the Gulf Coast.

Moorman said Amtrak is focusing on identifying ways to improve collaboration with the 21 states and various commuter agencies that it partners with to provide service on corridors across the country. He urged the federal government to explore different ways to support intercity passenger rail service.

This could include direct investments, public-private partnerships and innovative financing, streamlining of the environmental review process, and less bureaucratic red tape.

“Investments in these sectors can help spur the rebirth of America’s passenger rail manufacturing and supply sector,” Moorman said.

Amtrak Funded for FY 2017

October 7, 2016

Amtrak funding for fiscal year 2017 has been assured as a result of President Barack Obama signing a continuing resolution that will keep the federal government in business through Dec. 9.

Amtrak logoFY 2017 began on Oct. 1 and Amtrak will receive $235 million for the Northeast Corridor  and $1.155 billion for the national network for a total of $1.39 billion,

It is the same amount that Amtrak received in FY 2016, but the passenger railroad is being directed to spend any profits generated by the NEC only on the NEC. Observers say this will result in Amtrak’s total funding being higher.

Amtrak was funded for all of FY 2017 in the continuing resolution because of a provision in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act that requires Amtrak to implement new accounting procedures in 2017.

If Amtrak had been funded for a portion of 2017 but under 2016 funding policies, it would have had to maintain separate but parallel accounting systems in 2017, causing wasted hours of work and millions of dollars in added costs.

Other programs named in the FAST Act will have to be funded by the 2017 Transportation-Housing Urban Development appropriations bill that Congress may approve after the November elections.

White House Seeks Amtrak ‘Anomaly’ Funding

September 7, 2016

President Obama is requesting a full year of government funding for Amtrak in fiscal year 2017 as part of a list of “anomalies” proposed for a continuing resolution to keep the federal government operating after the 2016 fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

Amtrak logoThe Obama Administration is seeking $1.39 billion for Amtrak.

The reason for the request is due to Amtrak’s planned transition to a new accounting structure that is required by the 2015 FAST Act.

Rail passenger advocates say that if the Amtrak funding is approved it would put Amtrak on more solid financial ground but delay by a year any funding of the FAST Act’s passenger rail grant programs.

Passenger train advocates are seeking approval for funding of the new programs that have already been agreed to by House and Senate appropriations committees.

Amtrak Operating Losses Widened in FY 2015

December 2, 2015

Amtrak said on Wednesday that it had an operating loss of $306.5 million in fiscal year 2015, which is an increase over the FY 2014 $230 million loss that had been the lowest in four decades.

Lost revenue stemming from a May derailment in Philadelphia, including the payment of $50 million in damages, played a major role in the operating losses.

During FY 2015, which ended on Sept. 30, Amtrak said it was able to largely hold the line on revenue and expenses while ridership remained steady during a time of lower gasoline prices.

“Ridership has developed a strong affinity in passenger rail,” said Anthony Coscia, Amtrak’s chairman. “We think that riders will stay with trains even as gasoline prices drop.”

Ticket revenue was $2.2 billion and ridership was 30.9 million, which was a 0.1 decline from the previous year.

Total revenue fell 0.8 percent to $3.2 billion while expenses rose 1.4 percent to $4.3 billion.

NEC ridership rose 0.5 percent fiscal 2015 to 11.7 million, while ridership on long-distance routes slid 1.2 percent to 4.5 million.

Amtrak’s measure of adjusted operating losses doesn’t conform to generally accepted U.S. accounting standards, and excludes such costs as depreciation.

Eight died and NEC service was suspended for several days following the derailment in which a train was going too fast into a curve in North Philadelphia.

Amtrak also cited losses of at least $10 million related to repairs to an electrical system in the Hudson River tunnels between New Jersey and New York City. The tunnel problems disrupted travel last summer.

Amtrak expects insurance to pay for most of the estimated $164 million passenger-claim liability stemming from the Philadelphia crash.

Transportation Groups Generally Pleased with Proposed Federal Transportation Funding Bill

December 2, 2015

The five-year federal transportation bill that is before Congress affects the railroad industry by strengthening tank-car safety standards, increases funding for transit systems and creates a rail title that authorizes funding for Amtrak and intercity passenger-rail grants.

Known as the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation, the authorizes $305 billion for transportation programs.

Railroad and public transportation trade organizations are still reviewing the legislation, which was agreed upon by a House and Senate conference committee on Tuesday, but initial reactions to the bill are positive.

“As the first long-term surface transportation bill in 10 years, the significance of this legislation cannot be overstated,” said American Public Transportation Association  President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Melaniphy. “A well-funded, long-term surface transportation authorization is critical to the economic competitiveness and prosperity of our nation’s communities.”

Jim Matthews, president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, called the FAST Act a step in the right direction.

“We’ve gone from the House voting on whether to completely eliminate funding to Amtrak in the spring, to the full Congress thinking seriously and thoughtfully about how to improve and expand the passenger rail network in a single calendar year; that is a big achievement for America’s 31 million passengers,” he said.

Association of American Railroads President and CEO Ed Hamberger hailed the bill’s action on  tank-car standards.

In a statement, the AAR also welcomed a provision that streamlines the environmental permitting process for rail infrastructure projects based on previously enacted reforms for highway and transit projects.

Hamberger said these reforms are designed to increase capacity, improve safety, hire new employees and provide more efficient service.

The bill authorizes $61.1 billion over five years for public transportation, according to APTA. Overall, transit funding would increase by more than 10 percent in one year and by almost 18 percent over the five-year bill.

The bill also would provide $199 million in one-time funding for commuter railroads to implement positive train control technology and authorizes $200 million, rising to $650 million in 2020, for three separate rail infrastructure programs.

The current federal surface transportation authorization expires on Dec. 4 and a short-term extension may be needed to give the House and Senate time to approve the final bill.

As for the tank car standards, the bill increases the thermal blanket protection for tank cars and restrictions on the use of older DOT-111 tank cars that move flammable liquids.

The bill also includes a requirement for top fittings protection on tank car retrofits, which addressed what the rail industry said was a shortcoming in the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s tank car rule enacted in May.

Other railroad elements in the bill include:
• Amtrak funding under a new Northeast Corridor account and a separate National Network program, with total funding for both programs set at $1.45 billion in 2016, rising to $1.8 billion by 2020. Competitors will be allowed to operate up to three Amtrak long-distance lines if they could do so at less cost to taxpayers.
• Accelerates the delivery of rail projects by reforming the environmental and historic preservation review processes, applying existing exemptions already used for highways to make critical rail investments go further.

  • Establishes limited authorization with guaranteed funding for grants or loans to commuter railroads and States that can leverage $2 billion in financing for positive train control implementation.
  • Preserves the U.S. Department of Transportation’s final rule requiring ECP brakes on certain trains by 2021 and 2023, while requiring an independent evaluation and real-world derailment test. DOT must evaluate its final rule within the next two years using the results of the evaluation and testing.
  • Increases the passenger rail liability cap to $295 million by adjusting the current $200 million cap for inflation. The provision will be applied to the Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia on May 12, 2015, and adjusts the cap for inflation every five years.
  • Requires passenger railroads to install inward-facing cameras to monitor train crews and outward-facing cameras to monitor track conditions at the time of an accident or incident.
  • Closes a potential loophole in DOT regulations and reduces the risk of thermal tears, which is when a pool fire causes a tank car to rupture and potentially result in greater damage.
  • Improves emergency response by requiring railroads to provide accurate, real-time, and electronic train consist information to first responders on the scene of an accident.
  • Increases safety at highway-rail crossings by requiring action plans to improve engineering, education, and enforcement, evaluating the use of locomotive horns and quiet zones, and examining methods to address blocked crossings.
  • Enhances passenger rail safety by requiring speed limit action plans, redundant signal protection, alerters, and other measures to reduce the risk of over-speed derailments and worker fatalities.
  • Creates a working group and rail restoration program to explore options for resuming service discontinued after Hurricane Katrina.
  • Reforms the $35 billion Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program to increase transparency and flexibility, expand access for limited option freight rail shippers, and provide tools to reduce taxpayer risks.

NARP broke down the authorizing funding for Amtrak and select other rail programs as follows:

  •  Northeast Corridor, $2.596 billion.
  • National network, $5.454 billion.
  • Gulf Coast Working Group, $500,000.
  • Consolidated rail infrastructure and safety improvement, $1.103 billion.
  • Federal-state partnership for state of good repair, $997 million over five years.
  • Restoration and enhancement grants, $100 million.
  • Amtrak Office of Inspector General, $105 million.
  • Authorization of grants for positive train control, $199 million.

The bill boosts highway spending by 15 percent and transit spending by 18 percent while authorizing $10 billion over five years for Amtrak, $12 billion for mass transit and $1 billion for vehicle safety programs.

However, those funding numbers are subject to annual spending decisions by Congress.

Hoosier State in Trouble if Indy Pulls Funding

July 26, 2014

Amtrak’s Hoosier State appears to be doomed after the City of Indianapolis decided to cease helping to fund the quad-weekly service between Chicago and Indy.

Indianapolis was one of a handful of communities served by the train that agreed to help fund it last October after a new federal law took effect that shifted more of the burden of funding the losses of short-haul trains onto state and local governments.

“They have told me they are not interested in doing it next year, and take that as a final no,” said Bob Zier, director of multimodal program and planning for Indiana Department of Transportation.

The news comes shortly after INDOT selected a Chicago company, Corridor Capital, to take over management of the train in October.

Corridor Capital officials have been talking about trying to boost ridership on the service, which is among the least patronized of Amtrak’s short-distance trains by assigning differing equipment, providing modest food service and instituting Wi-Fi service.

In the one-year deal approved last fall, IDOT agreed to provide half of the money, about $1.4 million, to keep the Hoosier State operating. Local governments in Indianapolis, Beech Grove, West Lafayette, Lafayette, Crawfordsville and Tippecanoe County, kicked in the other half.

Ryan Vaughn, an aide to Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, said that funding the Hoosier State doesn’t make financial sense for the city. The aide said the city’s participation hinged on improvements for Union Station, which is in desperate need of repairs.

Vaughn said it’s hard for the city to take on funding rail service when the needs at Union Station are so great.

He said if Indianapolis can get a federal grant to help with improvements at Union Station, the city might be able to help fund the Hoosier State.

But the deal would need to be done by Sept. 30 although INDOT can apply for one four-month extension.

That Indianapolis wants to end its funding of the Hoosier State doesn’t surprise Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton. “We had a sense Indianapolis wasn’t fully on board from day one,” he said.

Barton doesn’t think the Hoosier State can survive without Indy’s contribution.

“If you look at their contribution, do the math. It doesn’t work out,” he said. “Theirs was a diversion of INDOT funds that they were getting from INDOT anyway. It wasn’t like Crawfordsville, Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County and Rensselaer putting cash on the table.

“I think we’re all confident it can be self-sufficient once you get over the hump, but it will take a year-and-a-half to two years, and it will cost a little more with a private provider. I don’t think the rest of us can make up that difference.”

Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski agreeds that losing the support of Indianapolis might be a death blow for the Hoosier State.

“Without them in that financial mix … there’s a very strong possibility it would mean … the end of the Hoosier State,” he said.

Still, some Indiana officials are holding out hope that the train can be saved and turned over to Corridor Capital.

“We’re all trying to put together a scenario where we can implement the new train service,” Zier said. “I’m still optimistic. I think this is going to happen. It’s just a matter of getting everything to fall into place.”

However, it seems unlikely that Lafayette, West Lafayette, Crawfordsville and Tippecanoe County will agreed to commit more money toward the Hoosier State to make up for the loss of the contribution from Indianapolis.

“We certainly cannot kick in more funds,” said Tippecanoe County Commissioner Tom Murtaugh.

Roswarski, Barton and West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis agreed that their cities don’t have additional money to subsidize the rail line.

Dennis is not as optimistic as Zier, but still has hope that a deal with Indianapolis or other investors might save the Hoosier State because, he said, in the world of politics, things aren’t always as they seem on the surface.

Also holding out hope is Crawfordsville mayor Barton.

“I don’t think it’s final, now. I’m hopeful,” Barton said. “INDOT is still working very aggressively to pull something together, but in all honesty, if we do not secure it by Sept. 30, it’s probably gone forever.”

The end of the Hoosier State would not mean the end of rail passenger service in any of the affected communities. Amtrak’s tri-weekly Cardinal, which operates on the days that the Hoosier State does not operate, would continue to run between Chicago and New York.