President Pushes Bold Plan for Passenger Rail

The Obama Administration released its budget request for Fiscal Year 2014 today, and the President has once again put forth a bold plan for transforming and expanding train service in the United States, with $40 billion in passenger rail investment over the next five years.

The Administration’s budget allocates $6.6 billion to the Federal Rail Administration for fiscal 2014, with increasing amounts each subsequent year through 2019, then decreasing amounts to 2023. The request will be a boost for Amtrak, coming a day before the House Committee on Transportation holds a hearing on the railroad’s FY 2014 budget.  The hearing, Amtrak’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget: The Starting Point for Reauthorization [which can be streamed live] will address Amtrak’s funding needs, as well as the coming rail reauthorization (the current law will expire at the end of this September). Amtrak announced yesterday it had set a new ridership record during the first half of this fiscal year, and will be looking to translate its steady increase in popularity into an increase its funding for badly needed equipment purchases and infrastructure upgrades.

Passage of a reauthorization bill this year is uncertain, but the appropriations committees will determine how much federal funding each program gets.  Secretary LaHood is scheduled to appear before the House Appropriations transportation subcommittee on Tuesday, April 16, at 10 AM ET.  No date is available yet for the usual Amtrak-specific hearing.

Because the Administration’s funding structure is new, it’s hard to provide a direct comparison to past passenger rail funding.  Broadly, however, President Obama’s $6.6 billion request breaks down into the following pots:

  • $2.7 billion for "Current Passenger Rail Service," including:
    • $800 million for Amtrak's long-distance routes
    • $300 million for state corridors
    • $675 million for the Northeast Corridor
    • $925 million for "national assets"(defined as Positive Train Control for passenger rail, rail stations, and “backbone rail facilities”)

 

 

 

 

  • $3.7 billion for "Rail Service Improvement Program." The budget request defines goals for the program as following:
    • Creating or improving passenger corridors
    • Mitigating congestion bottlenecks in the rail system
    • Improving intermodal freight rail capacity
    • Comprehensive future planning

 

 

 

President Obama has put forth similar proposals in the past, and the biggest obstacle to implementing the program remains identifying new sources of funding.  The Administration identifies the “peace dividend”—money saved from drawing down the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—as a major source of funding.  However, House Republicans have rejected this proposal in its previous iterations.

The new structure of the rail program could also be a tough sell on Capitol Hill.  The Administration is proposing that rail funding become part of the Highway Trust Fund (it would be repurposed into a "Transportation Trust Fund"). This would eliminate Amtrak’s dependence on the annual appropriations cycle, moving it a grant structure similar to highways and transit. However, the Highway Trust Fund is already struggling, requiring bail-outs from general revenues totaling over $50 billion since 2008.

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0 #2 Jeffrey Dog. 2013-05-31 20:01
I'm not a Rep, and I can't stand the anti Amtrak. Conservatives, those are the people that will destroy the change of havung Hi Speed Trains in my life time.
As much as I enjoy ridden Amtrak. we can't get a staight answer of a 2nd Train from St Paul to Chicago, much less knowing when the Fright Lines will cooprate by putting the Rails back into the Union Station..
Why are we dreaming on having High Speed Trains from St Paul to Chicago, when now, it takes 6-7 hours down I-94 @ the Speed Limit, and in most cases setting the cruse maybe 69, and the Cops will ignore you. sure with Fuel at $3.75-$4 a Gallon. for 2 people, it's still buing fuel and away you go. yeah, ware and tare, I heard that before.Also, that are Cities that does not have direct Amtrak Service. i.e. Omaha for the Zephyer. and kC for the Cheif. how is that progress? if 2 people were to drive to Cal. then it's possible to make it in 3 nights and 3 full days. Bed Room Space had gotten expensive, besides, not being control for noisey drunks. sure, Motels and Hotels have drunks too, but they have 3 Strickes. on the Train. if the Behavior gets out of hand. then the Amtrak, RR or Local Police will be called. so, now, we lay off Supervisors. that is supose to be the Assistiance to the Conductors for noise control and now the Condutors is forece to control the noise if the attendant does not get any cooperation. How Expsnsive is this Hi Speed Train if build from St Paul to Chicago, and its Tickets? Currently, one will not get business people off the dam planes. Chicago has mostly have burbies that worked downtown. or other sections of the City, that is not easy by Transit. and what about Security? as Stated, this Hi Speed Train is a Dream. it will take 5 yeas to build a 15 miles line from Minneapolis out to the Eden Praire Burb. it's taking 3 years to build the University Line. Surly, non of the RR's will not up-grade their Tracks for Amtrak. that is why they gave up Passenger Business. very pricy.
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0 #1 Peter Wendolkowski 2013-04-24 21:08
Frank Wilner, writing in Railway Age, understandably pours some cold water on the President's rail plan, and I think we all know that it is unlikely to come to full fruition. One thing in Mr. Wilner's editorial concerned me, because I have seen it before, often in ostensibly pro-passenger rail publications. He says of the 8 billion dollars originally slated for High Speed Rail "That $8 billion sum was so sprinkled and diluted around the nation that — with the single exception of the Chicago-St. Loius higher-speed rail corridor — not a single tangible demonstration project will emerge as a result, dampening enthusiasm for a second round of such spending, which Obama recommends top $40 billion over the next five years." This is factually untrue - just off the top of my head I can identify many projects that will benefit from this original outlay:
-- The California High Speed Initial Operating Segment
-- Washington Cascade Corridor improvements in alignment and new frequencies
--North Carolina Piedmont corridor capacity improvements, speed up and new frequencies
--Michigan purchase of Kalamazoo Detroit track and eventual 110 mph operation
--New Jersey NEC improvements to allow 160 mph on 24 mile segment

That's not all but you get the idea. I don't know if NARP has done a comprehensive piece drawing together all the projects completed and in progress resulting from the FRA's HSIPR project, but I think such a document could be a vast help to the many passenger friendly groups, blogs, etc. across the country who favor High Speed but have been so influenced by misguided mass media whose story is that the intial High Speed money has been almost completely wasted.
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