It’s the end of September, and that means we once again find our government facing down a series of potentially catastrophic and largely self-imposed deadlines.
As sure as you’ll find passengers gazing out of train windows at the fall foliage every autumn, so too you’ll find political organizations watching the U.S. Congress scramble to avoid a government shutdown. The projection of chaos coming out of Washington, DC, can make it challenging to track overlapping deadlines. Here is where our interests stand:
- The end of the fiscal year Thursday night could have triggered a government-wide shutdown unless a new budget was enacted – but a short-term Continuing Resolution was signed into law Thursday, extending current spending levels until Dec. 3;
- The current surface transportation law, the FAST Act, expired Thursday night at midnight. Unless its replacement, the ambitious Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act, is passed soon, we’ll see a shutdown of transportation programs such as payments to highway departments and mass transit agencies. The Highway Trust Fund and Mass Transit account is shutting down, with the potential for more than 20,000 furloughs at the U.S. Dept. of Transportation. A glimmer of good news: a short-term surface extension looks likely. But the transformational Amtrak investments we all fought so hard for are contained in the Jobs Act, which right now is stalled.
- Allowing the government debt limit to expire in a couple of weeks’ time would lead to a default on the U.S. government’s legal obligations, unless it is raised (or, again, a short-term extension is passed). A short-term extension here looks likely too, but the future beyond a few weeks is cloudy.
What makes it especially frustrating this time around is that the IIJA, the bipartisan infrastructure bill, is poised to finally place America’s passenger rail network on solid footing. Rail Passengers fought hard to secure meaningful, tangible improvements for Amtrak passengers in the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the budget reconciliation. The $102 billion in rail funding over the next five years—including $66 billion in guaranteed funding—will address decades of underinvestment. Passengers will see real, tangible benefits:
- Amtrak passengers will see newly refurbished train interiors, brand new trainsets, and new energy-efficient locomotives;
- Physical improvements to train stations across the U.S., including expanded and upgraded concourses and platforms;
- Additional frequencies that offer more convenient travel options and connections; and
- Upgrades to our aging rail infrastructure that will eliminate delays, add capacity and reduce trip-times, like new bridges, rebuilt tunnels, upgraded signals, additional sidings, crossovers and double-tracking;
That doesn’t include $10 billion in dedicated funding for high-speed rail corridors and $10 billion in funding for housing- and jobs-focused transit investments, included by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in the budget reconciliation.
Nor the policy reforms that will protect Amtrak-served communities and improve the passenger experience, including (but not limited to!):
- Better geographic representation and transparency for Amtrak’s board;
- Increased oversight for Amtrak’s long-distance routes;
- Protections for rural Amtrak communities; and
- Creation of a food and beverage working group for passengers to provide input into the onboard experience.
The Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act is worth fighting for. And Rail Passengers will continue to fight for it—next week, the week beyond, and as long as it takes until it’s passed!
The vision this association was founded on more than 50 years ago has never been closer to becoming reality. With your support, your generous donations, and your tireless advocacy, I promise you that this association will continue to fight on behalf of passengers until the job is done.