Posts Tagged ‘FAST Act’

Senate Committee Introduces Surface Transportation Authorization Bill

June 14, 2021

Members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation last week released details about a five-year surface transportation bill authorizing $78 billion for rail, freight, safety and research programs.

The legislation, which has bi-partisan support, is designed to accompany the $303.5 billion Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021.

The Surface Transportation Investment Act of 2021 was introduced on the same day that a House Committee was marking up its own surface transportation authorization bill, the $547 billion INVEST in America Act.

Both House and Senate proposals are designed to replace the current Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, which expires on Sept. 30.

The FAST Act originally expired in 2020 but was extended by Congress for a year.

If Congress fails to approve a new surface transportation authorization bill by Sept. 30, it will face a situation of having to approve another extension or passing one or more continuing resolution extending the current law.

Some congressional observers believe that based on how other surface transportation bills have fared it will be a year or longer before a new bill is enacted.

Among the provisions of the Senate’s most recently introduced bill is authorization of $36 billion for rail programs.

Passenger rail would receive $25 billion of that for intercity passenger rail service.

The committee said in a statement this level of funding “protects Amtrak’s critically important long-distance routes,” while also addressing the Northeast Corridor project capital improvements backlog and encouraging expansion of passenger rail corridors with state support.

Rail funding also includes more than $7.5 billion for rail safety and improvement projects, such as a new $500 million per year grant program to eliminate grade crossings as well as increased funding for the Consolidated Rail and Infrastructure Safety Improvement grant program.

The bill authorizes $28 billion for multi-modal freight investments, including an average of $1.2 billion a year for the Nationally Significant Multimodal Freight grant program.

Other authorizations include $1.5 billion for U.S. DOT’s BUILD/RAISE grant program and $2 billion for the creation of a new program to fund projects of “national significance.”

Safety programs would be authorized $13 billion, including $6 billion for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s highway safety programs; $4.6 billion for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s commercial vehicle programs; and $500 million to improve first responder planning and training for hazardous material incidents.

DOT would be authorized $1 billion for new and existing research and development programs.

The legislation also reauthorizes and makes reforms to USDOT agencies such as the Office of the Secretary; Federal Railroad Administration ; FMCSA; NHTSA; and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s Hazardous Materials Programs.

Commuter Railroads Face Late March Insurance Deadline

March 13, 2021

Commuter railroads are facing a March 27 deadline to purchase new liability insurance coverage of at least $323 million.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said that is $28 million more than is currently required.

The insurance mandate is required by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015.

During a March 10 hearing of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sharon Valentine said some transit agencies are facing challenges getting an insurance policy before the deadline.

The Commuter Rail Coalition said commuter railroads recently have experienced dramatic premium increases, despite having no losses, and now face the prospect of fewer insurers in the market willing to write policies, thus threatening their ability to operate.

CRC said insurers that provided coverage in the past “have endured losses due to wildfires and hurricanes for other industries and have made a strategic decision to withdraw in part or in whole from the excess liability market; many are no longer writing policy coverages.”

Railroads “have struggled for the past several years to obtain sufficient coverages that are oftentimes provided through multiple layers of coverage provided by numerous insurers. As fewer insurers offered policy coverage, premiums were driven up, sometimes by more than 100 percent in annual increases.”

Valentine said a coalition of commuter railroads is working with the federal government to extend the deadline or obtain congressional authorization to allow commuter railroads to secure additional liability coverage in time to meet that deadline.

CRC has asked U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to extend the March 27 deadline by a minimum of 120 days.

During another congressional hearing last November, Paul P. Skoutelas, president of the American Public Transportation Association, said his group is researching how liability costs have increased for the commuter rail industry and seeking to determine the reasons for the increases.

Skoutlelas said during that hearing that federal law provides a backstop to cover losses above liability limits where the insurance marketplace has become noncompetitive and premiums unaffordable.

APTA is developing a legislative proposal to reduce liability insurance premium costs for commuter railroads.

FAST Act 1-Year Extension Approved

October 2, 2020

President Trump signed on Wednesday night legislation to extend the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act for a year as well as continue federal funding at current levels through Dec. 11.

The action averts a possible shutdown of the federal government that would have been triggered on Thursday because the Senate has thus far failed to approve spending bills for federal fiscal year 2021.

The House had passed its own spending bills earlier but those had languished due to the lack of Senate action.

The FAST Act extension provides at least $12.6 billion for public transit investment and prevents a $6 billion across-the-board cut to public transit agencies. The legislation provides $3.2 billion to the Mass Transit Account.

It also assures continued spending on highway projects and federal funding of Amtrak.

The continuing resolution will maintain Amtrak funding at FY2020 levels and won’t affect the carrier’s plans to reduce the operation of most long-distance trains to three days a week this month.

The American Public Transportation Association said it is the first time in 30 years that Congress enacted a one-year extension of surface transportation authorization programs after the lapse of a multiyear authorization act.

More Details About Bill That Extends FAST Act, Enacts Stopgap Federal Funding for FY2021

September 25, 2020

As reported earlier, the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act will extend the Fixing America’s Transportation Act for another year and keep federal funding flowing through Dec. 11.

The bill, which was approved by a large margin in the House and is expected to receive Senate approval and be signed by President Trump, had a few items of substance for intercity rail passenger service but excluded much of what many rail passenger advocates wanted.

By extending the surface transportation authorization for a year, it ensured that Amtrak and public transit, not to mention highway construction funding, would continue.

Amtrak is expected to receive through December a prorated share of what it was appropriated in fiscal year 2020.

That means $138 million for the Northeast Corridor and $256.4 million for the national network.

The bill also eliminates a requirement that Amtrak food and beverage service make a profit.

The so-called “Mica Provision” was a legacy of former House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair John Mica who often railed against the cost of Amtrak’s food and beverage service.

However, Amtrak’s plans to reduce the operation of most long-distance trains to three times a week are not expected to be halted by the legislation.

The Rail Passengers Association wrote on its website that passenger rail largely was shut out by the bill, which it described as protecting the status quo.

The legislation also transfers $3.2 billion in general funds to the Mass Transit Account, which ensure the Federal Transit Agency will be able to process grants to transit agencies.

It also halted a $6 billion across-the-board cut of transit formula funds by eliminating the Rostenkowski Test in FY2021.

But RPA noted that extending the existing FAST Act for a year means there will not be a dedicated passenger rail trust fund and that authorizations for Amtrak funding for FY2021 remain at FY2020 levels.

RPA noted that without higher authorizations it would be unlikely that Amtrak would receive the $5 billion in funding for FY2021 that it sought.

That is the amount the passenger carrier said it needed to continue operating most long-distance trains on daily schedules.

Amtrak’s original funding request for FY2021 had been just over $2 billion.

In its post, RPA said the legislation failed to resolve any of the questions raised by Amtrak’s plan for tri-weekly service and made no changes to the service return metrics that Amtrak has established for a return to daily service next year.

The legislation also transfers $10.4 billion in general funds to the Highway Trust Fund and transfers $14 billion in general funds to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund.

Amtrak’s FY2021 funding will be hammered out later this year, probably in the lame duck session of Congress after the November elections.

Congress Eyes Stop Gap Funding Bill That is Expected to Extend FAST Act for a Year

September 17, 2020

Congress is expected to take up next week a continuing resolution that would enable the federal government to stay open past the expiration of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The bill is also expected to contain a one-year extension of the surface transportation law, known as the FAST Act, which also expires at the end of this month.

News reports from Washington have indicated that the length of time the continuing resolution would cover has yet to be determined.

Some members of the House and Senate have favored a mid-December expiration date while some Democrats have pushed for an expiration date of next February.

Leadership of both parties is said to be in favor of a one-year extension of the FAST Act and neither party wants to see a government shutdown.

Extension of the FAST Act would be needed to continue payments to Amtrak, public transit and highway fuel tax money for road construction projects.

Some transportation trade groups have sought to use the extension of the FAST Act as an opportunity to increase the amount of money authorized for transportation programs.

A coalition led by the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials, and the American Public Transportation Association is seeking $37 billion and $32 billion, respectively.

The Rail Passengers Association has called for Amtrak to receive $5 billion.

Although the House earlier approved on a mostly party line vote a spending plan for fiscal year 2021, the Senate has not acted and has yet to even release its spending proposals.

The House also approved its version of a new surface transportation authorization bill, but the Senate has not acted on its own proposal.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have called for a “clean” CR that extends spending at fiscal year 2020 levels but generally excludes non-appropriations provisions.

That might appear to rule out an extension of the FAST Act, but lawmakers have noted that they are willing to extend authorizations for critical programs that are expiring this fall.

The Office of Management and Budget has sent Congress a list of more than 60 such expiring programs, two of which involve health care.

Pelosi told reporters on Sept. 10 that a continuing resolution would not include any COVID-19 pandemic emergency funding.

If that stands, it would mean including such funding for Amtrak, public transit and other transportation-related programs will fall by the wayside although it could be considered in a separate pandemic aid relief bill.

Action on such legislation has stalled amid partisan bickering with Senate and House leaders on both sides have signaled that emergency pandemic relief is unlikely to be approved before the November elections.

House Passes Surface Transportation Bill

July 3, 2020

The U.S. House this week passed a five year reauthorization of surface transportation programs.

H.R. 2, which was named the Moving Forward Act, authorizes spending of $1.5 trillion on various transportation-related programs, including Amtrak.

The legislation approves $500 billion to reauthorize surface transportation programs and funding for infrastructure projects.

That includes $105 billion for public transportation and $60 billion for commuter rail, Amtrak and other high-performance rail service.

The bill has received mixed reviews from railroad trade associations because of various mandates that railroads generally oppose.

H.R. 2 faces considerable opposition in the Senate, which is expected to adopt its own surface transportation reauthorization bill with differences to be worked out in a conference committee.

The current surface transportation law, known as the FAST Act, will expire on Sept. 30.

Aside from specific transportation programs, H.R. 2 also authorizes $130 billion for schools, $100 billion for rural broadband and $100 billion for affordable housing.

CRISI Grant Applications Being Sought

April 17, 2020

The U.S. Department of Transportation is accepting application for this year’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program.

The Federal Railroad Administration will administer up to $311.8 million in freight and passenger rail projects that improve transportation safety, efficiency, and reliability as authorized under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.

The FRA said in a notice to be published in the Federal Register that eligible applications for competitive selection include projects that address congestion challenges, highway-rail grade crossings, upgrade short line or regional railroad infrastructure, relocate rail lines, improve intercity passenger rail capital assets, and deploy railroad safety technology.

At least 25 percent of the CRISI grant money will be awarded to projects in rural America.

In considering the applications, the FRA said it will consider how projects support key objectives, including enhancing economic vitality; leveraging federal funding; adopting life-cycle accounting; using innovative approaches to improve safety and expedite project delivery; and holding grantees accountable for achieving specific, measurable outcomes.

Preference will be given to projects in which the proposed federal share of total costs does not exceed 50 percent.

The agency said it may also consider geographic diversity; diversity in the size of the systems receiving funding; the applicant’s receipt of other competitive awards; and projects located in, or that support transportation service in, qualified opportunity zones.

Approximately $45 million will be awarded for projects that require the acquisition of rights-of-way, track, or track structure to support developing new intercity passenger rail service routes.

Applications are due on June 19. In the meantime, the FRA will offer web-based training and technical assistance for eligible applicants.

Automatic Federal Transportation Spending Cut Blocked

November 23, 2019

Transportation agencies will not be subjected to automatic reductions in federal transportation funding as a result of a repeal of a clause of the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.

President Donald Trump signed the repeal this week, which was included in a continuing resolution to keep the federal government operating for another 30 days as Congress tries to work out agreements on fiscal year 2020 appropriation bills.

Otherwise, the funding cut would have taken effect on July 1, 2020.

The rescission of funding had been inserted into the original FAST Act as a means to lower the program’s overall cost.

Much of the cut would have adversely affected public transit systems by imposing a $1.2 billion cut to public transportation funding that would have meant a 12 percent across-the-board funding cut to every transit agency in the nation in FY 2020.

The FAST Act authorizes $287 billion in transportation funding from the Highway Trust Fund and will expire on Sept. 30, 2020.

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.

FAST Act Benefiting Rail Transit Agencies

January 25, 2016

A federal transportation bill passed by Congress last month and signed by President Obama has already stimulated investment in new equipment for public transportation agencies.

The five-year transportation spending authorization bill, known as Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, authorizes $305 billion in funding for transportation programs through fiscal year 2020.

It had been a decade since Congress adopted a multi-year transportation funding authorization bill and public transportation agencies say the FAST Act will give them a longer horizon on which to plan capital projects.

“The new bill includes several provisions that should be good for the U.S. transit industry and, therefore, for Wabtec,” said Richard Betler, Wabtec President and CEO in an interview with Railway Age.

Betler said the bill calls for a 10.2 percent funding increase in its first year and additional increases in future years.

He said there is a backlog of transit projects around the world and his company along with such suppliers as Alstom Transport, Bombardier Transit Corp., Brookville Equipment, CAF USA, Kawasaki Railcar USA, Kinkisharyo, Siemens, and China’s CNR Changchun are busy filling equipment orders for several public transportation agencies across the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Railway Age has put the railcar backlog at 5,701 units worth an estimated $1.2 billion.

Much of that market is for cars for such agencies as the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Bay Area Rapid Transit, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority and the Toronto Transit Commission.

New Jersey Transit is expected to place orders for more than 500 cars and issue a request for proposals of 113 electric multiple-unit multi-level cars.

Amtrak is planning to buy new equipment to replace that used by its Acela Express in the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington.

Through 2021, transit agencies that responded to a Railway Age survey said they are eyeing placing orders for as many as 4,500 new and rebuilt transit vehicles.

Last year, 24 transit agencies took delivery of 971 cars, which was the fourth-highest total in 10 years.

Catherine Connor, manager of federal government affairs at WSP|Parsons Brinckerhoff said in an interview with Railway Age that funding for Amtrak and transit in the FACT Act will come from the general fund and is dependent on annual appropriations.

Much of that funding will be doled out according to a formula, but there are new discretionary grant programs, such as a bus and bus facilities grant program, a nationally significant freight and highway projects grant program, and three small passenger rail grant programs.

Connor called the FAST Act a step in the right direction because it provides a five-year federal commitment and therefore much-needed stability and certainty for transportation agencies.

“The private sector can help  . . . with innovative technologies, creative solutions, and by sharing project risk,” Connor said.

The FAST Act also represented the first time that passenger rail programs had been part of a federal surface transportation bill, which Connor said will help to put rail programs on equal footing with the traditional highway and transit programs.