Clock Ticking on Coronavirus Bill to Aid Amtrak and Transit
February 5, 2021
Following today's 51-50 vote in the Senate—with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie breaking vote—the Senate formally adopted a budget blueprint for President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. That means the best chance for near-term restoration of Amtrak service is getting ready to leave the station
Following today's 51-50 vote in the Senate—with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie breaking vote—the Senate formally adopted a budget blueprint for President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. While the House has already adopted its own budget resolution, it will likely vote again next week on the Senate’s language. Either way, the clock has started; under parliamentary rules the House and Senate committees have until the 16th of February to write their COVID-19 legislation.
That means the best chance for near-term restoration of Amtrak service is getting ready to leave the station.
Rail Passengers is working with members of Congress, Amtrak-served cities and towns, and everyday passengers to get the following Amtrak provisions included in the coronavirus legislation:
- $1.541 billion for Amtrak. This funding will allow the railroad to restore long-distance service to pre-COVID levels, start bringing back employees furloughed due to COVID, and helps states meet payments for State-supported and commuter rail services.
- Amtrak funding should include guidelines stipulating that Amtrak MUST return daily service to the National Network by this summer.
“These trains are essential points of connection to the towns they serve,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “If we are going to ensure these vital transportation services come through the pandemic in one piece, the time to act is now. We’re asking each and every passenger to join our campaign to ensure Americans have access to sustainable levels of passenger rail service.”
Transit Hops Onboard
Rail Passengers has also joined a broad transportation coalition that is working to secure additional relief funding for hurting transit agencies. That effort has been bolstered by a February 3rd letter sent by a group of 22 transit leaders from across the U.S., calling on Congress to deliver $39.3 billion in federal relief for mass transit in the next coronavirus relief bill.
“Federal investment will do more than just keep the trains and buses running; it will help fortify our systems for decades to come,” the group wrote in a letter to House and Senate leadership. “By devoting resources to transit, we can create jobs and strengthen the infrastructure that moves not only people, but our economy.”
While the $39 billion request is almost double the $20 billion outlined in the White House proposal, administration officials are signaling they are listening to transit agencies about the scale of the problem they are facing from cratered ridership and lost revenue resulting from the pandemic.
“They should be all taken seriously because this is about making sure we get the transportation sector back on its feet,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told reporters at Reuters, confirming that there are “very active” talks between transit agencies, Congress and the White House on the shape of the transportation funding.
"I’m so proud that we came together in bipartisan fashion in the Senate to keep the Southwest Chief chugging along, and I’m grateful for this recognition from the Rail Passengers Association. This victory is a testament to what we can accomplish when we reach across the aisle and work together to advance our common interests."
Senator Tom Udall (D-NM)
April 2, 2019, on receiving the Association's Golden Spike Award for his work to protect the Southwest Chief