Amtrak Seeks Direct Federal Aid in Lawmakers’ Infrastructure Plan

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By Stephanie Beasley

Any infrastructure package that clears Congress this year should include direct federal funding for Amtrak and other rail organizations, Amtrak’s president and CEO Wick Moorman told senators.

Public-private partnerships and other financing tools should also be “part of the mix” for an infrastructure proposal being developed by the Trump administration, but direct federal funding would help maximize those investments, Moorman said at a Feb. 15 Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee subpanel hearing on multimodal transportation.

President Donald Trump has said he plans to introduce a 10-year, $1 trillion infrastructure investment plan this year that would be funded primarily by public-private partnerships. Yet Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Commerce Secretary-designate Wilbur Ross have said they expect the infrastructure plan to also include some direct federal spending. That has raised concerns among budget hawks like House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who oppose increasing the national deficit.

Projects That Need Federal Aid

Lawmakers should seize on the new opportunity to boost investments by focusing on improving aging rail infrastructure, Moorman said. He highlighted several key projects that need long-term investment, including construction of the Portal North Bridge and new Hudson Tunnels—both part of the Gateway Program intended to increase the number of trains running between New York and New Jersey. Federal money also is needed to restore rail service along the Gulf Coast, Moorman said.

Tracks and signals along the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak’s most profitable route, are in need of repair too, he said. And the capacity of the National Network, which is primarily owned by freight companies and shared with Amtrak trains, should be expanded to alleviate capacity constraints that delay both freight and passenger trains, Moorman said.

“More than ever, our nation and the traveling public rely on Amtrak for mobility, but the future of Amtrak depends on whether we can renew the cars, locomotives, bridges, tunnels, stations and other infrastructure that allow us to meet these growing demands,” Moorman said in his written testimony.

Unlike transit, passenger rail does not receive funding from the Highway Trust Fund. Moorman told reporters after the hearing that he wasn’t pushing for passenger railroads to be included in any kind of trust fund, but would like to see more partnerships among states, Amtrak, commuter agencies and the federal government. Federal grants would be preferable to the creation of any “quasi-trust fund,” he said.

Positive Train Control

Passenger rail operators also need federal assistance with the implementation of anti-crash safety technology known as positive train control (PTC), according to BNSF Railway Executive Chairman Michael Rose. Congress has ordered both freight and passenger-commuter railroads to install PTC systems by Dec. 31, 2018. Commuter railroads, which are subject to federal and state appropriations, have especially lagged behind privately owned freight rail organizations in adopting the systems.

“There [are] a lot of passenger-commuter rails that still have not had the … they just don’t have the money to implement positive train control,” Rose said. “As a freight railroad, it might sound out of line, but I actually urge Congress to fund passenger-commuter rail funding for positive train control.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Beasley in Washington at sbeasley@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bna.com

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