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Appropriations bill would block Amtrak service reductions

(Rail Passengers Association press release, July 8, 2020)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — House appropriators with jurisdiction over transportation programs gave Rail Passengers another significant victory today, releasing a draft Fiscal 2021 proposal boosting regular Amtrak appropriations, setting aside at least $26 billion in additional emergency grant funds for Amtrak and public transportation, and tying the money to a requirement that Amtrak not cut staff or routes.

Much of this reflects the priorities outlined by Rail Passengers in its March 17th request to the House Appropriations Committee and the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies subcommittee supporting additional rescue funds for Amtrak and public-transportation agencies.

“Congress is really listening to Americans and recognizing the critical role passenger rail and public transit have always played in economic resilience,” said Rail Passengers President and CEO Jim Mathews. “The House has already passed the authorizers’ ambitious policy framework for passenger rail in H.R. 2, the INVEST In America Act, and now House lawmakers are stepping up with a Fiscal 2021 money bill to make sure that Amtrak, commuter railroads and state agencies have the funds they need to keep America moving.”

Mathews also praised the long-distance route protections written into Title I of the draft funding bill, which was considered today in the T-HUD subcommittee.

“Since May 28th, we’ve been saying that while we strongly support additional emergency funds for Amtrak, we’ve also insisted that any additional funds need to buy certainty for workers and passengers alike,” Mathews said. “Daily train service must be the very minimum service level. Title I includes important language protecting that service at 2018 levels in exchange for the additional dollars.”

Subcommittee members stipulated in the core title that Amtrak can’t use any of the appropriated funds to “discontinue, reduce the frequency of, suspend, or substantially alter the route of rail service on any portion of such route operated in Fiscal Year 2018.” There’s also a section within the $75 billion emergency portion of the bill – known as Title V – barring furloughs and freezing the route structure at Fiscal 2019 levels.

The core appropriation would give Amtrak $2.05 billion in Fiscal 2021, boosting Northeast Corridor grants by $50 million over FY 20 to $750 million, and maintaining FY 2020’s National Network level of $1.3 billion.

The so-called “emergency title,” Title V, makes $26 billion in additional money available into Fiscal 2022. It includes $5 billion for the Northeast Corridor, $3 billion for the National Network, $5 billion for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program, $3 billion for BUILD grants, $5 billion for Capital Investment Grants targeting surface transportation and $100 million for Maglev on top of $5 million in Maglev appropriations in the core appropriations measure.

Within the $5 billion NEC provision, subcommittee members set aside $1 billion for capital projects, $200 million for upgrades related to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and $172 million to cover 2021 capital payments that would have come from states. On the National Network side, the subcommittee stipulated that $424 million of the $3 billion be used for state-related payments, capital projects and positive train control.

Section 502 also protects daily service and existing routes with the following language:

“That the amounts made available in this title under such headings shall be used by the National Railroad Passenger Corporation to prevent employee furloughs: Provided further, That none of the funds made available in this title under such headings may be used by the National Railroad Passenger Corporation to reduce the frequency of rail service on any long-distance route or State-supported route (as such terms are defined in section 24102 of title 49, United States Code) below frequencies for such routes in fiscal year 2019, except in an emergency, during maintenance or construction outages impacting such routes, or at the request of the State or States supporting such State-supported routes.”

Friday, July 10, 2020

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