AASHTO Journal

Panel of State, Amtrak Officials Urges Congress to Create Dedicated Rail Funding

A congressionally mandated committee of states and Amtrak on state-supported passenger rail routes is urging Congress to create a dedicated funding stream for rail improvement projects.

States – often represented by their departments of transportation – and Amtrak created the State-Amtrak Intercity Passenger Rail Committee in the wake of the 2008 Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, which required states to assume primary financial responsibility for passenger routes under 750 miles that are outside Amtrak's Northeast Corridor.

amtraktrain3.jpgThe committee includes 18 states and 21 agencies that sponsor the operations of 29 intercity passenger rail routes, along with Amtrak and the Federal Rail Administration although the FRA does not take a position on the group's recommendations.

The states and Amtrak invest together in locomotives, passenger cars and track improvements, while the states also provide operating subsidies to cover costs beyond fare revenues.

In a new report to Congress, the committee said that during fiscal 2017, "state-supported routes carried more than 15 million passengers, representing nearly half of Amtrak's annual ridership and almost one-third of Amtrak's passenger revenue." It added that the state partners "generated more than $790 million in ticket revenue and capital and operating assistance to improve intercity passenger rail service, safety and reliability."

However, the report noted that while Congress supports highway, transit and airport infrastructure investments with dedicated revenue disbursed through trust funds, "major exception is the federal assistance provided for capital projects that support our nation's intercity passenger rail network.

"Amtrak and its related discretionary rail grant programs are funded through the annual appropriations process, making it difficult to plan, execute and finance multiyear construction projects."

It addressed the report to the chairmen and ranking minority members of the House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over rail issues.

The group explained that major projects require detailed planning and long-term funding, while the current system leaves that surface transportation infrastructure scrambling each year for federal funds.

It also asked lawmakers, who are still negotiating a fiscal 2018 budget, to fully fund rail grant programs that Congress authorized in 2015 in the five-year Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act. A chart in the report showed that fully funding those grants would allow rail partners to invest hundreds of millions of additional dollars into infrastructure and safety upgrades.

In other recommendations, the committee called for continued access for passenger rail service on tracks owned by freight rail lines, improving the on-time performance of passenger trains, congressional support for Amtrak's plans to improve its equipment fleet and continued funding for the committee itself.

Photo / Amtrak

Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.

Recommended Stories

Survey: Americans ‘Overwhelming Support’ Public Transit

A survey conducted by the Mineta Transportation Institute for the American Public Transportation Association indicated that 80 percent of those it polled would support using their tax dollars for creating, expanding, and improving public transportation in their community, with a further 74 percent...

July 27, 2018

FRA Puts More Pressure on Railroads to Comply with PTC Requirements

The Federal Railroad Administration is prepared to levy penalties against 13 railroads if they fail to implement positive train control or PTC safety systems by Dec. 31 this year.

July 27, 2018

Study Tracks Growth of Electric Scooters for Urban Mobility

A new study compiled by data platform management firm Populus indicates that the popularity of electric scooters as an urban transportation option continues to increase in major U.S. metropolitan cities.

July 27, 2018

Past Issues

Issue Date: