Amtrak is preparing to receive less funding from Congress for new construction, but that isn’t deterring plans for high-speed rail service along the northeast corridor in the future.
The Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act, which proposes to cut Congressional funding of Amtrak for new construction by 40%, was approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee on Wednesday.
This may sound like a dramatic reduction, but the committee says the $770 million for new construction, part of the total $1.4 billion total for construction, improvements and operations, that Amtrak could receive annually if the bill passes is more in touch with reality.
“Part of Amtrak’s dilemma was always hoping for the higher authorization level, but getting the lower appropriations number,” said Jim Billimoria, a spokesperson for the committee. “Our bill stops authorizing unrealistically high funding levels and instead is in line with the levels they’ve actually been receiving from Congress via appropriations.”
Plans for high-speed rail service for Amtrak’s northeast corridor, its busiest route, will be kept in motion through investing in improvements needed along the route. The bill provides the option to tap into the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program, which can authorize up to $35 billion in loans, and improve partnerships with states to advance large infrastructure projects.
“The bill would help advance some near-term capital projects (bridges, tunnels, catenary) that would improve the corridor, and are identified as needed early investments in Amtrak’s much larger, much longer-term high speed rail vision documents,” Billimoria said.
RRIF sets aside 40% of loan volume for northeast corridor improvements. The last reauthorization for Amtrak funding was in 2008, when $1.9 billion was appropriated for operations and construction.
“[RRIF] would make a big dent in the state-of-good-repair backlog in the corridor,” he said.
Both parties aren’t completely satisfied with the reauthorization, but Democrats support the slight increase in spending for current train operations, while Republicans back the bill’s call to eliminate food and beverage losses from concessions’ sales. It’s not clear when the House will vote on a final version of the bill.