The Senate Committee on Appropriations released proposed transportation funding levels for Fiscal Year 2022 this week, outlining a $700 million increase for Amtrak over FY2021 enacted numbers (not including emergency COVID funding).
The fate of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, with its $66 billion in guaranteed funding over five years, looms large over FY22 budget negotiations. At the end of the day, the Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act will be the real engine for upgrading the U.S. passenger rail network. But this bill will be crucial for Amtrak and transit operations over the next 12 months.
The Senate's operations funding, while a significant increase over Amtrak’s standard appropriations, is still a billion dollars below what Amtrak requested earlier this year as part of their annual legislative grant outline. That funding request was based upon the railroad’s lower projected ridership, based upon to the COVID-ravaged travel market. The delta between these two figures raises questions about how Amtrak will handle operations over the next 12 months, particularly given the different funding splits for the National Network and the Northeast Corridor between the House and the Senate bills (see table below).
[For more insight into the current challenges facing passengers, read Rail Passengers’ President Jim Mathews’ blog: We Aren’t Out of the Woods Yet.]
“We applaud Chairman Leahy, Transportation Subcommittee Chair Schatz and the rest of the committee Members and staff for their work on directing increased funding to passenger rail and rail transit,” said Mathews. “The committee has taken concrete steps to improve the experience of America’s passengers through investments in rolling stock and train stations. We also appreciate the protections they’ve included for Amtrak-served communities and rural services, and will continue to work with Congress to ensure no Americans lose access to this essential transportation connection.”
Federal Funding Table (millions of dollars)
|Program||FY21 Enacted||House FY22||Senate FY22|
|Amtrak - National Network||$1,300||$1,500||$1,731|
|Amtrak - NEC||$700||$1,200||$969|
|Consolidated Rail Infrastructure & Safety Grants||$375||$500||$523|
|Federal State Partnership For State Of Good Repair||$200||$0||$220|
|Passenger Rail Improvement, Modernization, and Expansion (PRIME)||$0||$625||$0|
|Restoration & Enhancement Grants||$5||$0||$2|
|Transit Formula Grants||$10,150||$12,200||$10,800|
|Capital Investment Grants||$2,014||$2,500||$2,248|
|Transit Infrastructure Grants||$516||$580||$757|
The bill includes several policy protections for existing services, prohibiting Amtrak from discontinuing, reducing the frequency of, suspending, or substantially altering the route of rail service on any portion of a route operated in fiscal year 2018 except in an “emergency or during maintenance or construction outages impacting such routes.”
The funding bill also reiterated the broadly shared sense of Congress that:
“(1) long-distance passenger rail routes provide much-needed transportation access for 4,700,000 riders in 325 communities in 40 States and are particularly important in rural areas; and
“(2) long-distance passenger rail routes and services should be sustained to ensure connectivity throughout the National Network.”
The popular CRISI rail grant program identifies $121 million in set-asides for Member-designated priorities, including several passenger rail and passenger rail-related projects:
- Georgia: Senator Ossoff - $8,000,000 for an Atlanta to Savannah Passenger Rail Environmental Impact Statement.
- Maryland: Senators Cardin, Van Hollen - $5,000,000 for Baltimore Penn Station Facility Improvements
- Michigan: Senator Peters - $300,000 for Ypsilanti Train Station
- Rhode Island: Senators Reed, Whitehouse - $2,500,000 for Kingston Train Station Intermodal and Parking Expansion
- Vermont: Senator Leahy - $3,000,000 for Essex Junction Multimodal Train and Bus Station Redevelopment
- Vermont: Senator Sanders - $800,000 for White River Junction Amtrak Station Platform Reconstruction
Questions remain about whether the Senate will be able to move ahead of the expiration of the current short-term extension. Given the 50-50 split of the Senate, the Majority Democrats will need the buy in of their Republican colleagues.
“The federal government is operating under a continuing resolution until December 3rd, said Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT). “Between now and then it is imperative that we make progress on negotiating a topline that is bipartisan and bicameral, so that we can enact these bills into law. I believe we have struck the right balance with the bills we have produced and made public this week. But as with everything in Congress, we rarely end where we begin.”
Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) sounded a pessimistic note to reporters.
“I guess we could [reach a deal by December 3],” said Shelby. “But will we? Probably not."