The U.S. Senate passed a bill last night to raise the debt ceiling through December, buying another few months to come up with a longer-term solution. In similar fashion, Congress also passed an extension of current surface transportation law through October 31 and an extension of the budget through December 3 at the end of last week. Together, these extensions create a hectic end-of-year scenario where Congress will need to manage a series of self-imposed and overlapping deadlines during the holiday season.
This has been a drawn-out and convoluted process, so you’d be forgiven for asking: “What does this all mean for America’s passenger rail network?”
In short: while the debt limit has little to do with the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the Senate’s work to meet a series of rolling deadlines means it will have precious little time to deal with other important pieces of legislation. With limited floor time, the October 31 deadline to pass the Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act (IIJA) and secure historic levels of funding for passenger rail already looms large.
The good news: passenger rail provisions in the IIJA are already baked in. That means the $66 billion in guaranteed rail funding (with another $35 billion authorized) is “safe.” But the bill has to reach the desk of the president for these benefits to materialize. Rail Passengers is laser-focused on getting the IIJA across the line.
Given what we’re hearing from Democratic Capitol Hill staffers, that won’t happen without some version of a budget reconciliation moving concurrently. The White House and Senate Democrats are currently in negotiation over a figure rumored to be between $1.5 and $2 trillion, focused on various climate change investments, tax credits, and healthcare programs. We don’t yet have a clear picture of what’s going to be included, and—outside of high-speed rail and transit funding—it’s a fight that exists outside of the Rail Passengers’ mission. With cuts of $1.5 - $2 trillion off the topline funding, it’s impossible to predict what will make the final budget reconciliation package. But if voters are not advocating for high-speed rail funding, then it’s much more likely to be sacrificed to make the final numbers work.
Rail Passengers has made it easy to write your elected officials to ask for their support for high-speed rail funding.
It's true that as we get closer to the finish line, the bills get bigger and we have less control over this process. However, it's also true that Rail Passengers’ staff, elected leadership, and grassroots supporters have already laid the groundwork for a transformational rail bill. As we continue to push for final passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, it’s important to remind ourselves what this bill would do for America’s passengers:
- 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;
- 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;
- 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.
We thank you again for your patience and your work on this legislation. We know it’s been a drawn-out and complicated process. Remember, though: this bill is important, and worth the fight.