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Key Policy Victories in Senate Rail Title
June 16, 2021 by Sean Jeans-Gail

Today the Senate Committee on Commerce passed the Surface Transportation Investment Act of 2021 (STIA) by a bipartisan vote of 25 to 3.

STIA includes many of the policy goals Rail Passengers has been working towards. Getting final passage of these reforms and enhancements would dramatically improve the experience of America’s passengers across the national passenger rail network.

We’ve outlined the key victories rail passengers have secured below:

Sec. 2201. Amtrak Findings, Mission, and Goals: Amends Amtrak’s mission and goals to emphasize its role in providing service to rural communities, recognize the importance of long-distance routes, and encourage Amtrak to maximize the benefits of Federal investment (as opposed to minimizing costs).

Sec. 2202. Composition of Amtrak’s Board of Directors: Revises the composition of Amtrak’s Board of Directors to ensure representation across the Amtrak network (two from NEC states, two from LDR states, and two from State-supported states), and requires annual engagement with the disability community, Amtrak employees and the general public.

Sec. 2203. Station Agents: Requires ticket agents at each Amtrak station building that averages at least 40 passengers per day.

Sec. 2204. Increasing Oversight of Changes to Amtrak Long-Distance Routes and Other Intercity Services: Requires Amtrak to include information regarding any change or plans to change a route, frequency of service, or station stops in its annual operations report and its general and legislative annual report to Congress.

Sec. 2206. Improved Oversight of Amtrak Spending: Requires Amtrak to provide a much greater level of detail on its spending in annual reports to Congress, including:

  • Categorize and identify the amount of funds each service type receives and spends by operating expenses, debt service, capital expenses, and contingency levels;
  • Describe the operations, services, programs, projects, and other activities to be funded, by category;
  • Provide the estimated projected scope, schedule, and budget necessary to complete each project and program;
  • Describe the performance measures used to quantify expected and actual project outcomes and benefits; and
  • Describe the status of efforts to improve Amtrak’s safety culture.

Sec. 2208. Passenger Experience Enhancement: Eliminates requirement that food and beverage services on trains may only be provided if their revenues break even during a fiscal year. This section also directs Amtrak to establish a working group—including nonprofit organizations representing Amtrak passengers—to develop recommendations to improve Amtrak’s onboard food and beverage services.

Sec. 2210. Protecting Amtrak Routes through Rural Communities: Prohibits Amtrak from discontinuing, reducing the frequency of, suspending, or substantially altering the route on any segment of any long-distance route if Amtrak receives adequate funding for that route.

Sec. 2211. State-Supported Route Committee: Directs the State-Amtrak Intercity Passenger Rail Committee (SAIPRC) to update its cost allocation methodology to improve accountability and transparency. Requires Amtrak to provide monthly invoices to each State, as well as SAIPRC, describing operating costs of State-supported routes.

Sec. 2212. Enhancing Cross Border Service: Requires Amtrak to report to Congress on how to improve Amtrak passenger rail service between the United States and Canada, identifying challenges such as delays associated with customs and immigration inspections.

Sec. 2214. Amtrak Daily Long-Distance Service Study: Directs the U.S. DOT to conduct a study to evaluate the restoration of daily intercity rail passenger service along any Amtrak long-distance routes that has been discontinued, and any Amtrak long-distance routes that, as of the date of enactment of this Act, occur on a nondaily basis.

Sec. 2304. Restoration and Enhancement Grants: Broadens applicant eligibility for the Restoration and Enhancement grants program to include Tribes, and extends Federal support for a route to six years (from three years).

Sec. 2306. Interstate Rail Compacts: Establishes a competitive grant program to provide Federal funding for interstate rail compacts—analogous to the Southern Rail Commission which has led the Gulf Coast Restoration project. Grants will cover costs of administration, systems planning, and operations coordination. Grants to IRCs will not exceed $1 million annually and require a local funding match of at least 50 percent.

Sec. 2307. Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grants: Expands project eligibility for the Federal-State Partnership grant program to entities other than Amtrak and States, and to the construction of new intercity passenger rail routes. Requires at least 45% of funds go to projects on the NEC and at least 45% of the funds go to projects not located on the NEC (20% of non-NEC funds must benefit long-distance routes). This section would also allow FRA to engage in multi-year funding agreements.

Sec. 2308. Corridor Identification and Development Program: Requires the USDOT to establish a program to add and improve intercity passenger rail corridors. Rail corridors selected for development would work with USDOT and relevant States to prepare a plan outlining capital projects needed to establish service.

Sec. 2309. Surface Transportation Board Passenger Rail Program: Directs the Surface Transportation Board to hire additional full-time employees to assist in carrying out its passenger rail responsibilities.

Passenger Rail Funding Falls Short

Unfortunately, STIA falls short in one key area: funding levels.

The good news is that STIA more than doubles current levels of investment in freight and passenger rail, providing $34.2 billion over five years (compared to the $14.3 billion five-year baseline).

However, the bill provides only 36% of what is authorized by H.R. 3064, and fails to include several innovative grant programs targeted at passenger rail infrastructure such as PRIME and BeST grants. This funding will be inadequate to meaningfully add or upgrade new service beyond a handful of routes.

Rail Passengers is calling on the full U.S. Congress to adopt the funding levels passed by the in H.R. 3684. This could be addressed during Senate floor action or the reconciliation process.

(Billions of dollars)

 H.R. 3064S. 2016
Amtrak - Northeast Corridor

$13.5

$6.6

Amtrak - National Network

$18.5

$10.7

Amtrak Inspector General

$0.1

$0.1

CRISI Grants

$7.0

$5.0

Fed-State SOGR Partnership Grants

$0.0

$7.5

Restoration/Enhancement Grants

$0.1

$0.3

PRIME Grants

$25.0

$0.0

Bridges-Tunnel-Stations (BeST) Grants

$25.0

$0.0

RRIF Credit Premiums

$1.0

$0.0

Grade Crossing Elimination Grants

$2.5

$2.5

FRA Safety & Operations

$1.6

$1.3

FRA Research & Development

$0.4

$0.2

Five Year Total

$94.6

$36.1

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