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Last week, Amtrak sent Congress its annual funding request, which asks for an increase in capital investment and a decrease in operating support. Amtrak's need for federal operating support has actually decreased significantly in recent years, meaning the railway is becoming more self-sufficient by covering more of its operating costs with ticket fares and other non-federal revenue. In 2013, high ridership (31.2 million) drove record ticket sales (more than $2 billion), which helped Amtrak cover about 88% of its operating costs "with funds generated by the company itself, rather than from the Federal Government." In 2014, Amtrak is requesting $373 million for operating support, more than 20% less than Congress appropriated last year and 34% less than was appropriated in 2010.

Highlights from Amtrak's federal funding request after the jump.
Download the press release.
 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 15, 2011

We commend Chairman John Mica and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for holding a hearing today to focus on the viability of high-speed rail in California.

Our research indicates that there are two markets in the nation that have the concentrations of population, employment, and existing travel markets to support high-speed passenger rail today: California and the Northeast. California, having started planning this project in the mid-1990s, is now poised to be the first state in the nation to build world-class high-speed rail. In doing so, it will transform the state's geography, shrinking time distances among the state's major job centers and connecting California residents to economic opportunity for decades to come.

Around the country, over one-third of Amtrak passengers ride routes that receive substantial funding support from states. These 15 states understand the importance of passenger rail to their residents, businesses, and economies, and have invested in these routes to maintain and improve service. These routes are referred to as state-supported corridors and in 2010, they carried over 9 million passengers, about one-third of Amtrak's annual ridership. A new budget proposal passed by the House of Representatives earlier this month proposes to eliminate every last one of them. The same budget proposal cuts funding for the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program to zero.

A map of Amtrak routes supported by states

Criticism of Amtrak commonly focuses in on its federal subsidies. However, these 15 states have taken it upon themselves to supplement scarce federal resources and make critical investments in these corridors to improve service and grow ridership. The House budget proposal unfairly punishes these states for this and places the burden of budget cuts squarely on the shoulders of passengers on these state-supported routes.

Please contact your elected officials and tell them to fight this budget proposal that reverses decades of progress to vital passenger rail corridors in all corners of the country. Visit www.StandUpForTrains.org today to send your Senators, Representative, and President Obama the message that you want America to have a stronger national passenger rail system.

John+Mica.jpgTransportation advocates were gearing up for a big push to ensure that the federal surface transportation program did not expire at the end of the month, but in a remarkable show of common cause and swift action on Tuesday, the House unanimously approved a six-month extension of SAFETEA-LU, as well as a four-month extension of the authorizing legislation for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The Senate still has to pass this bill before it's final, but Harry Reid has promised to move it through quickly, leaving transportation advocates breathing a little easier.

The federal surface transportation bill, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA-LU), which funds federal highway, safety, and transit programs, originally expired in 2009. Since then, rather than pass a new, long-term bill that reauthorizes these important programs and guarantees funding assistance for the thousands of active transportation projects around the country, Congress has passed seven short-term extensions, essentially kicking the can down the road. These Band-Aid extension solutions do not give states the funding assurances they need to complete major infrastructure projects that often span several years and provide hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of jobs to American workers.

"I'm calling on Congress," said President Barack Obama on August 31st in a speech on the lawn of the Rose Garden, "as soon as they come back, to pass a clean extension of the surface transportation bill." Upon hearing this, many rolled their eyes. Advocates around the country were already beginning to set up the phone banks and prepare the advocacy letters we were going to send warning of the dire consequences of letting these programs shut down or waiting until the last minute to extend them. This time, our leaders did what was necessary to keep America moving forward with time to spare.

The bill, the Surface and Air Transportation Programs Extension Act of 2011, extends SAFETEA-LU through March and the FAA through January. Highway and transit programs would receive funding at fiscal year 2011 levels - $19.8 billion for highways and $4.2 billion for transit paid for out of the Highway Trust Fund. The FAA will receive about $5.4 billion. This is the eighth time SAFETEA-LU and the 22nd time the FAA bill have been extended.

jobs act.jpgLast night, President Obama gave an impassioned speech to a joint session of Congress, outlining his $447 billion economic package to put Americans back to work and provide economic relief to businesses and families through comprehensive tax cuts and unemployment insurance benefits. While critical details of the plan have yet to be released, including the all important question of how to pay for it, the broad concepts are sound. The nation's transportation system will be affected in the following ways:

President Obama's plan, the American Jobs Act, includes an investment of approximately $50 billion in federal funds for transportation projects around the country. According to the fact sheets posted on the White House's website, the funds are intended for transportation infrastructure projects that modernize our nation's highway, public transit, intercity rail, and aviation systems. The President cited necessary upgrades to our air traffic control system, which a recent RPA report, Upgrading to World Class: The Future of the Regions Airports, recommended in order to expand capacity at the New York metropolitan region's heavily congested airports.

In order to fund major transit and rail transportation projects, the President's economic package also calls for investing about $5 billion to expand the U.S. DOT's Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program and FHWA's Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) credit assistance program to help leverage federal resources. An additional $2 billion would be spent on improving our nation's intercity passenger rail service (presumably going towards another round of grants for the federal High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program).

The American Jobs Act would also establish a National Infrastructure Bank to help build a wide range of infrastructure projects of national and regional significance by leveraging private and public capital, and capitalize it with $10 billion in seed money. To speed the delivery of these infrastructure projects, and create jobs and achieve their benefits faster, the President would follow up on a Memorandum that was recently issued that set forth a plan to streamline time-consuming environmental review and permitting processes.

Download the Fact Sheet: American Jobs Act (PDF)

Download the Presidential Memorandum - Speeding Infrastructure Development through More Efficient and Effective Permitting and Environmental Review (PDF)

On Monday, the Secretary of the U.S. DOT, Ray LaHood, announced that Amtrak and the New York State Department of Transportation will indeed receive the $745 million that was awarded to them back in May 2011 for two high-speed and intercity rail projects on the Northeast Corridor. The grant awards, announced just over three months ago, represented a major victory for the region's passenger rail system and today's announcement marks a major milestone in bringing the benefits of these improvements to the Northeast Corridor.

lahoodschumer.jpgIn May, Sec. LaHood, joined by Sen. Schumer, announced nearly $1 billion in awards for the Northeast, including $795 million for projects on the NEC.

Robert Yaro, Co-Chair of America 2050 and President of Regional Plan Association, remarked, "Secretary LaHood's announcement is a huge relief for the millions of rail passengers who rely on the Northeast Corridor, America's busiest intercity transit link. These investments had been threatened by a proposed rescission of these funds by the U.S. House of Representatives. Looking forward, these two rail improvement projects will increase the reliability of Northeast Corridor rail service, create thousands of jobs in the Northeast, stimulate American manufacturing, relieve significant bottlenecks, and allow for increased speeds and decreased travel times on the Corridor."

"We applaud the Secretary and the Administration for making this wise, much-needed investment and moving to obligate the funds so quickly."

>> Rep. Mica's six-year, $230 billion proposal, or an average of $38 billion a year, would drastically reduce federal spending on all modes of transportation (overall 35% cut from FY 2009 levels), stabilizing the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which currently pulls in about $35 billion a year. The bill would cut Amtrak funding by 25%.

>> Sen. Boxer's two-year, $109 billion bill would maintain current spending levels under SAFETEA-LU at about $55 billion a year, or about $20 billion more a year than Mica's bill. Boxer's proposal includes $12 billion that the HTF cannot cover. Boxer argued that this additional funding could be redirected from the Defense budget.

>> Pres. Obama's six-year, $556 billion bill proposed $53 billion for the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program.


Background: SAFETEA-LU

The legislation that funds and authorizes the nation's surface transportation program, SAFETEA-LU, expired at the end of September 2009. Since then, Congress has struggled and failed to pass a multi-year reauthorization bill that secures funding for the nation's highways, bridges, intercity rail and transit systems, bike and pedestrian facilities, and other transportation infrastructure. Eight times since SAFETEA-LU expired, Congress has passed short-term extensions, which makes it very difficult for states to effectively plan for long-range transportation investments. States do not have the certainty that funding for critical maintenance and construction projects will be authorized.

Complicating matters, if Congress does not act soon the HTF will go bankrupt as early as next year. Without identifying new sources of revenue or funding mechanisms to close the yawning gap between receipts and outlays, as U.S. Senator Menendez (D-NJ) noted last month, "if spending continues at current levels, the highway account could run out of money next year and the transit account shortly thereafter."

House Republican Plan

new_direction.JPGOn Thursday last week, Republicans on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee led by Chairman John Mica, released a 22-page summary of a transportation reauthorization bill. While specific details of the bill have not been publicized, as expected, it does abide by the Rules of the House, adopted by Republicans in 2010, which require that the Committee not authorize spending above projected revenue into the HTF. So, Mica's plan invests $230 billion over six years, or $38 billion a year on average, which is roughly equal to Highway Trust Fund receipts.

This level of funding simply falls far short of what is required to address the Northeast's critical infrastructure investment needs, create much-needed jobs, and get the country's economy back on the right track. According to data released by the Federal Highway Administration, cuts of this magnitude will come at the cost of 630,000 jobs across the nation. Hopefully, negotiations between the House and the Senate will provide an opportunity to raise spending levels above Mica's woefully inadequate proposal.

High-Speed Rail and Amtrak

The bill makes fundamental changes to the HSIPR Program that would make conventional intercity rail project ineligible for grants, which would undermine it's ability to sustain support in Congress. The amount of funding for the HSIPR Program provided in the bill has not been specified yet. However, the bill will make high-speed rail projects eligible for loans through the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program, which provides loans with low interest rates and long repayment terms for railroads and reforms the application process for a RRIF loan. The bill will also expand the federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program, which helps finance major surface transportation projects.

The bill makes dramatic cuts to all modes of transportation, including intercity passenger rail, which would have devastating effects on Amtrak and the HSIPR Program. Specifically, Mica's bill slashes Amtrak's funding by 25% in FY 2012 and 2013, and puts limits on Amtrak's use of federal funds.

New Sources of Revenue or Funding Mechanisms

Both the House and Senate proposals are far more austere than President Obama's six-year, $556 billion proposal, or the six-year, $500 billion bill introduced in 2009 by former House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar, and (then) Ranking Member John Mica, which Congress never passed. Without new sources of revenue or funding mechanisms, all three proposals are severely hemmed in by the diminishing balance of the HTF. Ever since 2008, revenues from the federal gas tax into the HTF have been unable to cover the costs of projects because the gas tax does not adjust for inflation over time and people are buying less gas due to improvements in vehicle fuel-efficiency.

None of these proposals offer any serious solutions to this major funding crisis. Chairman Mica's bill does not raise revenues, Senator Boxer's bill proposes to temporarily close the budget gap by redirecting funds from other areas, and the President's proposal is mum on the funding issue. Unfortunately, Republicans, as well as the President, have ruled out raising the gas tax above 18.4 cents a gallon, where it has stood since 1993. The source of funding remains the most critical unanswered question to achieving the investment levels the nation's infrastructure requires.

Summary of House Republican Proposal (PDF)

Statement by House Democrats

Statement by Senator Barbara Boxer

Analysis of Jobs Losses, by State

Even as vital passenger rail projects are creating thousands of new jobs and generating economic growth across the country, these successful programs are under attack. Members of Congress are threatening not only to deny adequate funding for Amtrak and high-speed rail in the next budget, but to take back funding that has already been awarded for the President's high-speed rail program. We need your help to protect these important investments in America's future.

The Fiscal Year 2012 House Energy & Water Development Appropriations Bill is being debated on the House floor right now. The bill contains a provision that would rescind all unobligated high-speed rail money that was awarded in ARRA. If the bill is successful in rescinding that funding, the country will lose critical rail projects and jobs. Final passage of the bill is not scheduled for a House floor vote until this Thursday, so there is still time to have an influence!

Visit www.StandUpForTrains.org and enter your zip code at the bottom to contact your elected officials. Give their offices a CALL TODAY and send a follow up EMAIL using the website. Then, tell a friend to email their legislators too! Let's flood these offices with thousands of calls from across the country, demonstrating the widespread support that exists for high-speed and intercity passenger rail!

This week is THE critical time for rail advocates and supporters to contact your legislators and tell them to protect high-speed rail funding in their districts. It is important that Representatives hear from their constituents that they are opposed to losing HSIPR money. TODAY, please call and/or email the members who stand to lose money from this rescission and tell them to speak out against this attack on passenger trains on the House floor! Click here to download a list of each member who will lose funding, the approximate jobs lost, and the number and name of the projects that will be halted. You may use this as a resource when reaching out to their offices.