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What’s in the Senate’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill?
August 4, 2021 by Sean Jeans-Gail

The Senate has combined the two investment bills to create a truly ambitious investment program in passenger rail in the U.S. Combining both the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework and the Surface Transportation Investment Act of 2021, the bill outlines $102 billion in rail investment over the next five years – a potentially transformational figure.

[Nb. It’s important to note that future appropriations aren’t guaranteed in the absence of a passenger rail trust fund. That means only $66 billion of the rail funds are guaranteed, with the remainder at the discretion of appropriators. There’s no assurance that the additional $36 billion in investment will ever fully materialize. This creates uncertainty around federal operating funds and total levels of capital investment, potentially hindering the ability of States and Amtrak to effectively execute multi-year capitalization plans.]

Rail Passengers is still organizing our supporters as part of a campaign to improve this bill through the amendment process. We also look forward to working with Members of Congress and our elected leadership to improve this bill in conference negotiations between the Senate and House and—ultimately—working with Congress to ensure that the full promise of this bill is realized.

In the meantime, we’ve provided a breakdown of the Senate’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill’s passenger rail highlights, looking at both funding and policy reforms.

Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill – Funding

Amtrak – National Network – $16 billion

Eligible projects include:

  • Acquiring new passenger rolling stock to replace obsolete equipment used in Amtrak’s long-distance and state-supported services, including the upgrade and expansion of storage and maintenance facilities;
  • Bringing Amtrak-served stations to full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act;
  • Eliminating the backlog of deferred capital work on Amtrak-owned railroad assets not located on the NEC; and
  • Projects to eliminate the backlog of obsolete assets associated with Amtrak’s national rail passenger transportation system, such as systems for reservations, security, training centers, and technology.

Requires the USDOT to provide Congress a detailed plan to spend the first year’s money within 180 days of enactment, and each year thereafter as part of the USDOT’s annual budget submission.

An annual $50 million set-aside for the Restoration and Enhancement Grants program to restore discontinued passenger rail service.

Amtrak – Northeast Corridor – $6 billion

Eligible projects include:

  • Acquiring new passenger rolling stock for the replacement of single-level passenger cars used in Amtrak’s NEC services, including the upgrade and expansion of storage and maintenance facilities;
  • Bringing Amtrak-served stations to full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act;
  • Eliminating the backlog of deferred capital work on sole-benefit Amtrak-owned assets located on the NEC; or
  • Carrying out NEC capital renewal backlog projects:

Requires the USDOT to provide Congress a detailed plan to spend the first year’s money within 180 days of enactment, and each year thereafter as part of the USDOT’s annual budget submission.

Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grants - $36 billion: Not more than $24 billion shall go to projects on the NEC.

Critical Policy Reforms and New Programs

Sec. 22201. 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. 22202. 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. 22203. Station Agents: Requires ticket agents at each Amtrak station building that averages at least 40 passengers per day.

Sec. 22204. 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. 22206. 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. 22208. 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. 22210. 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. 22212. 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. 22214. 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. 22304. 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. 22306. 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. 22307. 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. Expands project scope from in-kind asset replacement to upgrading, expanding or establishing new intercity passenger rail service, including privately operated intercity passenger rail service (if an eligible applicant is involved 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. 22308. 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. 22309. 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.

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