Posts Tagged ‘pandemic relief aid’

FTA Has Service Restoration Grant Money

September 16, 2021

The Federal Transit Administration said it has $25 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan to help public transportation agencies resume service that was suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Route Planning Restoration Project will help fund restoration of public transit routes as well as to examine ridership following the  pandemic, reduce travel times and make adjustments to increase the quality or frequency of transit service for low-income riders and those in disadvantaged neighborhoods or communities who may need increased service to get to jobs, shopping and health care.

Transit agencies have until Nov. 15 to apply for funds from the program.

FTA said in a news release that projects will be selected in part on whether they will increase racial equity and advance environmental justice.

Applications will also be reviewed for their effect on climate change and if they provide service that connects those in underserved communities, while helping cut down on car and other trips that increase emissions, particularly in those communities, which are often the most impacted by airborne pollution.

The maximum award amount for any prospective applicant may be up to $1 million and a local match is not required.

Kentucky Museum Gets Pandemic Grant

August 3, 2021

A Kentucky group restoring a steam locomotive has received a $20,000 grant from COVID-19 pandemic relief funds.

The grant was given to the Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation through Kentucky Humanities, a local non-profit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Kentucky Steam is developing a museum in Ravenna, Kentucky, on the site of a former CSX yard.

The organization qualified for the grant because of the educational programs it’s developing at its museum, which will be show visitors about the operation of historical railroad equipment including steam locomotives.

Kentucky Steam is also restoring to operating condition Chesapeake and Ohio 2-8-4 No. 2716,

Pandemic Aid Available for Public Transit

March 30, 2021

The $30.5 billion in COVID-19 relief to public transit systems that was earmarked in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is now available, the Federal Transit Administration said on Monday.

The funding includes $26.6 billion to be distributed by statutory formulas to urban and rural areas, to tribal governments, and for the enhanced mobility of seniors and individuals with disabilities.

Another $2.2 billion is available for FTA grant recipients in communities that demonstrate additional pandemic-associated needs.

FTA said the funding is available at the 100 percent federal share and primarily directed to operations and payroll.

The program makes $1.7 billion available for projects in the Capital Investment Grants Program and $25 million for competitive planning grants.

The transit agency will hold a webinar on April 2 to provide more information about the grants.

Amtrak Long-Distance Trains to Resume Daily Service Starting in Late May

March 11, 2021

Amtrak said Wednesday it will reinstate daily service on 12 long-distance routes starting in late May.

Trains on those routes shifted last year to tri-weekly or quad-weekly service in the wake of steep ridership declines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The announcement of expanded service came hours after the U.S. House of Representatives approved a pandemic relief package that contains increased funding for Amtrak.

The legislation also contains a mandate that routes that had daily service until last year resume daily operation and that furloughed employees be recalled.

President Joseph Biden is expected to sign the $1.9 trillion bill on Friday.

Two routes, the Chicago-New York Cardinal and New Orleans-Los Angeles Sunset Limited will be unaffected by the changes because those routes have operated on tri-weekly schedules for years.

Amtrak has already resumed selling tickets for the expanded days of operation on the 12 routes.

Trains returning to daily service on May 24 include the Chicago-Emeryville, California, California Zephyr; Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight; Chicago-Portland/Seattle Empire Builder, and the Chicago-San Antonio-Los Angeles Texas Eagle.

Daily operation returns May 31 for the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited; Chicago-New Orleans City of New Orleans, Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited, and the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Resuming daily operation on June 7 will be the New York-New Orleans Crescent, New York-Savannah Palmetto, and the New York-Miami Silver Meteor (via Savannah) and Silver Star (via Raleigh).

In a news release, Amtrak said new Viewliner II sleeping cars will be making their debut on the Silver Service trains.

The Auto Train had continued to operate daily and its operations will remain unchanged.

Amtrak will receive $1.7 billion in emergency pandemic aid, which will help fund restoration of daily service on long-distance routes.

House Committee OKs COVID-19 Aid for Amtrak, Public Transit

February 11, 2021

A congressional committee on Wednesday approved transportation funding for a COVID-19 relief bill.

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure approved a plan put forth by committee Democrats to provide $1.5 billion for Amtrak and $30 billion for public transit.

The committee also approved a policy rider directing Amtrak to restore without 90 days daily service for long-distance trains that operated daily before last fall.

The Amtrak funding had to survive two efforts by committee Republicans to eliminate it.

The committee defeated a motion by Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pennsylvania) to cut the Amtrak funding from the bill.

Another committee member, Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Arkansas) withdrew an amendment to transfer the Amtrak emergency funding to a highway-rail grade crossing program.

Crawford withdrew his amendment after Committee Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) agreed to work with Crawford on the grade crossing issue in the upcoming surface transportation reauthorization bill.

The bill now advances to the full House. The Senate is expected to consider a counterpart COVID-19 pandemic relief bill.

Amtrak funding as approved by the House committee would be broken down to $820,388,160 for the Northeast Corridor and $679,622,840 for the national network.

The bill directs that not less than $165,926,000 of the combined amounts of the NEC and national network is to be used to restore all long-distance service in effect as of July 1, 2020, and to recall all workers put on furlough on or after Oct. 1, 2020.

Another clause provides that not less than $109,805,000 from the combined amounts of the NEC and national network shall be used in lieu of capital payments that the state-supported routes and commuter authorities were required to pay.

Amtrak is to use $174,850,000 from the national network funds to offset amounts required to be paid by states for covered state-supported routes.

The $30 billion earmarked for public transit is to be used to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus pandemic and includes eligibility for operating expenses to prevent layoffs and avoid cuts to service.

The legislation includes mandates for how the funding it to be allocated among urbanized areas, rural areas and for services for seniors and those with disabilities.

Some of the public transit emergency aid can also be used for planning purposes.

COVID-19 Transportation Aid Levels Proposed

February 9, 2021

Democrats in the House of Representatives have reportedly settled on funding levels for transportation that would be included in a proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.

Under the proposal, transit agencies would receive $30 billion, Amtrak would get $1.5 billion, airlines would receive $14 billion and airports would get $8 billion.

The COVID-19 aid funding for transit falls short of the $39.3 billion that transit systems were seeking.

Amtrak funding would nearly match the $1.541 billion that the intercity passenger carrier is seeking from Congress.

However, it exceeds the $20 million that President Joseph Biden had proposed.

Biden’s initial proposal contained no funding for Amtrak or airlines.

A House committee is expected to begin working this week on the COVID-19 pandemic aid proposal.

Ports Seeking Pandemic Aid

February 4, 2021

The American Association of Port Authorities this week became the latest transportation-related trade group to seek emergency COVID-19 funding from the federal government.

AAPA and 35 other maritime industry groups want Congress to fund the Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief Program.

In a news release, AAPA said the program, which was established by Congress last year, authorizes the federal maritime administration to award grants because of emergencies or disasters, including the current pandemic.

A letter to Congress and President Joseph Biden said financial assistance has been given to other modes of transportation but no funds have been approved for the nation’s maritime network.

“Despite container surges at several large ports, commercial cargo volumes have plummeted across the industry — total waterborne trade volume is down 5.5 percent compared to last year, while the value of this trade has crashed by 12.7 percent totaling $200 billion. Passenger movements remain virtually ceased,” the letter stated.

Amtrak Sends Wish List to Congress

January 28, 2021

Amtrak this week informed Congress of its wish list of legislative priorities.

Perhaps the top item is an additional $1.541 billion of COVID-19 pandemic emergency relief.

In a letter signed by Amtrak CEO William Flynn, the passenger carrier said the money is needed “to sustain and restore operations and recall employees” through Sept. 30 and into the next federal fiscal year.

The letter did not indicate how much money Amtrak believes it needs to restore daily operation to long-distance trains whose frequency of service was cut to tri-weekly last October.

In response to a query from a Trains magazine reporter, Amtrak said restoration of service on long-distance routes hinges on certain public health, future demand, and current ridership performance metrics compared with pre-pandemic numbers for those trains.

In the letter Flynn said specific requests for funding in federal fiscal year 2022, which begins Oct. 1, will be sent to Congress later.

In the meantime, most of Amtrak’s legislative priorities are a repeat of past requests that have yet to be approved by lawmakers.

These include establishing an intercity passenger rail trust fund, legislation designed that will enable the passenger carrier to overcome resistance by host railroads to service expansion and increased frequency of service, legislation that would give Amtrak a right to sue a host railroad that subjects passenger trains to excessive delays due to freight train interference, and funding for new corridor services

The trust fund proposal dates to the 1980s when then Amtrak President W. Graham Claytor Jr. sought such a fund back, suggesting that Amtrak be given funding from the Highway Trust Fund.

In his letter, Flynn said Amtrak needs a predictable source of federal funding for the Northeast Corridor and national network so it can pursue large, multi-year projects and service expansions rather than relying on annual appropriations.

Flynn did not specify what tools Amtrak needs to compel host railroads to approve service expansions, but indicated it will take changes in federal law.

The corridor service Amtrak is seeking would require amending Section 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act so that Amtrak could pay the initial startup costs and operating expenses of those corridors.

Under existing, law, state and local governments are required to underwrite corridor services.

Although Amtrak has told several states that it wants to front the costs to develop corridors between urban centers, the passenger carrier also has made clear that in time the states served by those trains will be expected to pay for them.

‘Amtrak Joe’ Offers a Reality Check

January 17, 2021

President-elect Joseph Biden has yet to take office and already has disappointed some rail passenger advocates.

His $1.9 trillion COVID-19 pandemic relief plan released last week contains not a dime for additional Amtrak funding or, for that matter, airlines or intercity bus companies.

All of those modes of transportation received some funding from a pandemic relief bill adopted by Congress in late December.

At the time, the incoming Biden administration had said it considered that package to be a prelude to another round of pandemic relief in the spring.

We’ve now seen what that next aid package will involve. The Biden proposal does contain $20 billion in assistance for what the president-elect has described as the hardest-hit public transit agencies.

Although those were not named, they are likely to include systems based in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas.

The plan noted that these systems have been devastated by lost ridership and revenue.

Of course a similar scenario has played out with intercity rail, air travel and intercity bus travel.

The Rail Passengers Association issued a statement in response to the Biden plan praising it for proposing aid to public transit.

However, RPA stopped short of criticizing the proposal for ignoring Amtrak.

Instead RPA called for amending it to including funding to enable the intercity rail passenger carrier to resume operating its long-distance trains on daily schedules by next summer.

The Biden proposal is just that, a proposal and not a guarantee. It will be up to Congress to approve the plan, which is subject to change as it makes its way through the House and Senate.

There is no guarantee that Congress will adopt another pandemic relief plan at all. Biden’s Democratic Party controls both house of Congress by thin margins.

There will Republican opposition and not all Democrats will necessarily be on board with everything the new administration is proposing.

Biden, who is known by some as “Amtrak Joe” because of how he used to commute to Washington by train has just given rail passenger advocates a reality check.

Some advocates, including RPA, have hailed the possibilities of what might happen with a president who supports passenger rail.

A letter I received from RPA last week claims Biden has a vision for a “second rail revolution” and “will be looking far beyond just paving roads to secure our transportation future.”

That was last week. This week RPA was writing on its website that the Biden plan falls far short of the “resources needed to tackle the immediate crisis.”

By that RPA means a billion dollars to restore long-distance trains to daily service.

The Biden administration has signaled that it will release another plan a few months from now that will propose infrastructure improvements.

Presumably, that proposal will benefit rail passenger service by providing capital dollars for such things as new equipment and route development.

In the meantime, Amtrak and the rest of the transportation network looks to remain much as it has been of late with fewer flights, fewer intercity bus services and less-than-daily Amtrak service in many places.

Airline industry observers have been writing for months that they expect it will take up to four years for the air service network to return to the level it was in early 2019 before the pandemic took hold and the travel market all but collapsed.

Rail passengers may not like it, but the Biden pandemic relief plan has shown them that restoration of suspended Amtrak services may be following a similar track.

Less-than-daily trains and fewer corridor services are likely to be with us for a while longer and maybe quite a while.

The Biden administration might be thinking that public transit has higher priority because it enables people to get to work. For some workers, it is their only option to get to work.

Much of the Biden aid package is oriented toward bolstering state and local governments. The thinking appears to be to take care of that first and as the economy recovers and the pandemic is tamed then travel will recover as business travel resumes and pent-up demand for leisure travel explodes.

Only then will we be seeing more flights, more bus service and more daily Amtrak trains.

Cleveland RTA Expects up to $60M in Pandemic Aid

January 16, 2021

The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority will receive up to $60 million in emergency aid from legislation approved last month by Congress.

The COVID-19 relief package earmarked $14 billion for public transit agencies.

RTA’s share of the most recent aid bill will be about less than half of what it received from the CARES Act approved by Congress last March.

However, RTA Deputy General Manager of Engineering and Project Management Mike Schipper said any money the agency receives in emergency aid will be helpful in making up losses of fare and sales tax revenue.

RTA ridership is about half of its normal levels as many workers have been working from home rather than going in to an office on most days.

Schipper said RTA expects it will take most of 2021 for the agency to recover lost ridership and revenue.

He said RTA will receive its emergency funding to cover cover the cost of enhanced cleaning and other expenses brought on by the pandemic.

That funding plus money received from the CARES Act should enable RTA to have financial stability for the next two years.

If Congress passes another stimulus plan as president-elect Joseph Biden has proposed, Schipper said that could help carry RTA through 2023.