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For Train Passengers in Search of a Congressional Vision on Infrastructure, Moulton, Esty, Slaughter Lead the Way

March 23, 2017

Representatives Seth Moulton (D-MA), Elizabeth Esty (D-CT), and Louise Slaughter (D-NY) are leading the fight to modernize and expand passenger rail in America, asking appropriators to make vital investments in rail essential for a 21st economy—a fight that has taken on more urgency in the face steep cuts outlined by the White House budget proposal.

The three members of Congress wrote to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation—Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Ranking Member David Price (D-NC)—asking appropriators to provide full funding for Amtrak and passenger rail programs authorized under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, a bipartisan, bicameral law passed with overwhelming support in 2015.

You can read the full text of the letter below.

NARP is asking its members—and all passengers in the U.S.—to urge their representatives to sign-on to this important letter. Call your Congressperson today!

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Dear Chairman Diaz-Balart and Ranking Member Price:

We write to request that you provide full funding for Amtrak and passenger rail programs authorized under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act in the Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) Appropriations legislation. As we continue to find ways to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, these programs present Congress with opportunities to make vital investments in rail that are essential to our success in the 21st Century economy. Our requests for specific accounts funding these rail programs are as follows:

Amtrak Northeast Corridor: Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) is the busiest passenger railroad in North America with approximately 2,200 trains operating on its network every day. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, when accounting for the commuter railroads that operate on the NEC, there are approximately 750,000 passenger trips taken on this railroad daily. However, the average age of the major backlog assets on the NEC is 111 years old, requiring $28 billion in repairs. In order to begin addressing the necessary upgrades to improve rail safety and efficiency, we are recommending appropriators fund Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor at $515 million as authorized under the FAST Act.

Amtrak National Network: While we are encouraged by the Trump Administration’s commitment to improving service along the Northeast Corridor, it is concerning that the president’s budget proposal would completely eliminate funding for Amtrak’s long-distance routes. Amtrak operates fifteen long-distance trains throughout the country, connecting hundreds of rural communities with our urban centers and providing alternative travel options for those who are unable to fly or drive. We understand that these routes have seen a decrease in ridership, but to eliminate funding entirely would undermine our efforts to expand passenger rail service and to lay the groundwork for high-speed rail in the future. Both the long-distance and state-supported routes are vital parts of the national rail network. For these reasons, we support funding Amtrak’s National Network at $1.085 billion.

Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Program: The CRISI program provides crucial support for project development and capital construction for new passenger rail projects, while also ensuring that existing rail networks have a designated source of funds for safety and infrastructure improvements and other activities. Since 2010, demand for rail investment has grown as states throughout the country have completed passenger rail plans to improve existing service, start new service, and restore terminated service due to natural disaster or fiscal challenges. The CRISI program provides great flexibility for use of funds: capital construction, planning, rail line relocation, highway-rail grade crossing improvements, positive train control deployment, shortline or regional railroad infrastructure, among others. We therefore recommend $230 million to maintain this essential new program.

Restoration and Enhancement Grants Program: In 2008, Congress required all passenger rail services under 750 miles to pay 100 percent of their costs. The Restoration and Enhancement Grants program represents a prudent investment by providing operating assistance for up to six new, reestablished, or expanded passenger rail services. The services would be eligible for up to 80 percent of the operating assistance in year one, 60 percent in year two, and 40 percent in year three. Services will have to pay 100 percent of costs in year four, but this program provides incentives to help build ridership and farebox receipts before they are required to be completely self-sustaining. For this program, we support full funding at $20 million, as authorized under the FAST Act.

Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair: The FAST Act also authorized the Federal-State Partnership for a State of Good Repair program to reduce the state of good repair backlog for publicly owned or Amtrak-owned infrastructure, equipment, and facilities. In addition to projects that target bringing existing infrastructure into a state of good repair, activities that are eligible for funding also include projects that replace existing assets with those that increase capacity and service levels. Given the significant number of upgrades needed along our railways, we recommend $175 million for this grant program.

Continued investments in our passenger rail system are vital as our society becomes increasingly mobile and we look for ways to improve access to skilled workers, jobs, and new opportunities for economic development. We ask that you strongly support these rail programs as recommended in the FY18 T-HUD Appropriations bill.

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