Congressional Debate Over Rail Funding Enters Endgame
September 8, 2023
Congressional Debate Over Passenger Rail Funding Enters Endgame
As Congress returns from its August vacation, leaders in both parties are already discussing the need for short-term extensions to avoid a shutdown of essential government services. That could inform the debate between the Senate and the House over how to fund Amtrak and intercity rail programs.
With only 15 legislative days before the end of Fiscal Year 2023, Congress still needs to pass all 12 funding bills before Sept. 30th to avoid a government shutdown. The Senate also needs to pass its Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, then conference with House leadership to reconcile any differences between the two versions before the end of the month to avoid the consequences of a lapse (which would include a partial shutdown of the FAA and leave the agency unable to collect ticket tax revenue for the Aviation Trust Fund).
The consensus is that Congress will be unable to meet these deadlines and short-term extensions will be required, and the White House has already publicly asked Congress to pass a bill that includes both a short-term Continuing Resolution and an FAA extension.
Intercity Rail and Transit Funding Still in the Balance
Rail Passengers Association continues to work with members of the Senate to support the $3.4 billion in intercity rail funding included in the Senate Fiscal Year 2024 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) bill. The bipartisan bill passed out of the Committee on Appropriations by a unanimous vote in July, and the full Senate is scheduled to take up the THUD bill as part of a three-bill package sometime next week.
Simultaneously, Rail Passengers is working on key Republican targets in the House to secure their opposition to rail cuts included in the House GOP’s FY24 THUD bill.
We are also working hard to ensure that the rail funding proposals House THUD bill—which would slash Amtrak’s funding by 64% compared to the current year, including a shocking 92% cut to the Northeast Corridor (NEC). These cuts would:
- Negatively impact as many as 20 million passengers nationwide;
- Endanger tens of thousands of operating, construction, and manufacturing jobs, with initial estimates indicating 10,000 Amtrak employees alone could be furloughed or separated due to lack of funding; and
- Halt work on scores of state-sponsored transit and intercity rail infrastructure projects that will benefit tens of millions of Americans.
Rally for Amtrak
To help educate the public on the stakes of the debate in Congress, Rail Passengers Association joined with the Empire State Passenger Association at a “Rally for Amtrak” held in Hudson, New York. Rail Passengers President & CEO Jim Mathews was a featured speaker at the event, where he addressed reporters on how the proposed House cuts would impact Americans.
“Here’s the reality of what that means: 20 million passengers nationwide see their service cut; 10,000 Amtrak employees furloughed after we spent the last three years trying to rebuild the workforce after the pandemic,” said Mathews.
He also explained that it’s not about whether Amtrak makes money, it's about who Amtrak makes money for: the towns and cities connected by these services.
“The return to the local community served is anywhere from four times to as much as seven times what you spend on that rail passenger investment,” said Mathews.
[Please join our campaign to keep the Passenger Rail Revolution moving forward! Just use Rail Passengers advocacy resource tool to contact your elected officials in Congress to let them know you support America’s rail network. With just a few minutes of your time, you can help to build a better rail network for the next generation of passengers!]
In addition to overall funding levels, the are some other key differences between the two bills:
- High Speed Rail: The House bill prohibits the use of any FY24 funds for use by “the State of California for a high-speed rail corridor development project”.
- Long-Distance Trains: The Senate bill includes a Sense of Congress to maintain long-distance passenger rail routes.
- Congressionally Directed Spending Items (earmarks): The Senate bill includes $72.9 million in Congressionally Directed Spending Items, while the House sets aside $28,864,439.
- FTA Capital Investment Grants: Of the $2.45 billion that the Senate set aside for FTA Capital Investment grants, $340 million is dedicated for Small Start projects, whereas nearly all of the CIG funding in the House bill is set aside for New Start projects.
"Thank you to Jim Mathews and the Rail Passengers Association for presenting me with this prestigious award. I am always looking at ways to work with the railroads and rail advocates to improve the passenger experience."
Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-3)
February 14, 2020, on receiving the Association's Golden Spike Award