Friday, February 13, 2009

H.R. 1 kind to Amtrak, HSR; transit gets nicked

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As Congress tinkered last week with final details of the proposed Stimulus Package, some transportation analysts lamented that funding for all rail modes totaled only 2% of the $787 billion plan.

Within that segment, however, passenger rail, including FRA “high speed” options and Amtrak, were well rewarded. By contrast, rail transit funding, while significant, was cut as the bill neared final approval and headed for the President's desk.

About $8 billion was targeted for “Capital Assistance for HSR Corridors and Intercity Passenger Rail Service,” up from the Senate’s $2.25 billion and an even bigger increase from the House’s original recommendation of just $300 million. The two categories (HSR and conventional intercity passenger rail, are “appropriated ... under a combined heading,” and the Secretary of Transportation is given “flexibility in allocating resources between the programs to advance the goal of deploying intercity high speed rail systems in the U.S. The Capital Assistance to States program first received funding in fiscal year 2008. The High Speed Passenger Rail program is a new initiative recently authorized under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008."

amtrak logoSeparately, Amtrak is awarded capital grants of $1.3 billion, also up roughly $500 million from earlier House and Senate numbers. Of that amount, $450 million is earmarked for "security improvements to include life safety improvements.” Conference Committee members also cap any expenditure on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor to “no more than 60%" of the remaining funds. About $850 million in funds for non-security measures is for “the repair, rehabilitation, or upgrade of railroad assets or infrastructure, and for capital projects that expand passenger rail capacity including the rehabilitation of rolling stock.”

Transit capital assistance, overseen by the Federal Transit Administration, gets $6.9 billion in the measure, down from $7.5 billion the House envisioned and $8.4 billion recommended by the Senate. FTA is to distribute 80% of the funding through its urbanized formula, 10% to rural areas, and 10% to “growing states and high density formula” funding. Capital investment grants of $750 million are to be distributed on a discretionary basis for New Starts and Small Starts projects, including light rail and streetcar programs as well as “Bus Rapid Transit,” that are already in construction or are nearly ready to begin.

President Obama is scheduled to sign H.R. 1 into law on Monday.