House Dems: $547B for Surface Transportation

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
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Democrats on the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released a $547 billion, five-year surface transportation reauthorization bill on June 4.

It comes in 80% higher than the $303.5 billion bipartisan bill the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works debuted last month.

The Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation (INVEST) in America Act (download below), which would succeed the current FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act, was introduced by Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Chair of the T&I Committee; Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Chair of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit; and Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-N.J.), Chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials. A markup is slated for June 9.

The 1,249-page Act includes:
• $109 billion for transit.
• $95 billion for passenger and freight rail. Of this, Amtrak will receive $32 billion, tripling its funding to allow for “enhanced service, ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] upgrades, and investments to renew and support service on the Northeast Corridor and long-distance and state-supported routes.”
• $343 billion for roads, bridges and safety.

Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-N.J.)

(Below, Railway Age provides section highlights for transit as well as passenger and freight rail, plus a full section-by-section breakdown for download.)

“The INVEST in America Act will bring America’s aging rail infrastructure into the 21st century,” Rep. Payne said. “It provides $95 billion to upgrade intercity passenger rail systems and fund critical infrastructure projects, such as the Gateway Program. This investment in our nation’s future will encourage more Americans to use rail transportation, reduce traffic congestion, lower carbon emissions, and reduce the effects of climate change.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.)

“The INVEST in America Act puts a core piece of President Biden’s American Jobs Plan into legislative text—seizing this once-in-a-generation opportunity to move our transportation planning out of the 1950s and toward our clean energy future,” Chair DeFazio said. “Let’s get this done.”

American Public Transportation Association (APTA) President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas is among those supportive of the legislation. In a statement, he noted, in part:

“APTA strongly supports the bill and its critical investments for surface transportation infrastructure, including $109 billion for public transportation and $95 billion for commuter rail, Amtrak, and other high-performance rail.

APTA President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas

“This once-in-a-generation, forward-thinking investment will help our communities meet growing mobility demands, create family-wage jobs, expand U.S. manufacturing and supply chains, and grow the economy. This legislation will put us on the path to increase access to opportunities for all Americans and build more equitable communities, while also addressing the environmental and sustainability challenges facing our communities, nation, and the world. In addition to these critical investments, the INVEST in America Act includes important policies from streamlining the Capital Investment Grant program to investing in new technologies like zero-emission buses that will create the transportation systems of the future.”

Amtrak has also expressed its support, and issued this statement:

“Based on our initial review, the INVEST in America Act is a bold commitment to a stronger Amtrak and more sustainable transportation system that America needs. The bill authorizes the robust funding necessary to allow Amtrak to better serve the country. It provides additional funding to help advance the recently released Amtrak Connects US vision to bring more trains to new customers and under-served communities, and address Amtrak’s aging bridges, tunnels, and fleet. In addition, the bill would help Amtrak enforce its statutory right to preference so that passengers arrive on time and ensure fair and expeditious access to rail lines to expand service.

“If enacted, these provisions will strengthen Amtrak to deliver the 21st century intercity passenger rail network that America needs. We thank the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure for their commitment to Amtrak and look forward to working with all of Congress and our partners to bring more sustainable and equitable rail service to communities throughout the nation.”

ASLRRA President Chuck Baker

The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association expressed support—with reservations. “We recognize the need for a large and transformational infrastructure investment to support the American economy and protect our environment long into the future, and believe there is an opportunity right now to accomplish this long-held bipartisan goal. We welcome the introduction of the INVEST in America Act by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee as an important step in this process,” said ASLRRA President Chuck Baker. “For small business freight railroads, the bill is a mixed bag. There are some beneficial funding opportunities, including an expanded CRISI grant program, but there are also a host of troubling and unnecessary operational mandates and multiple missed funding opportunities where short lines could help achieve the goals of a program, but are not included as eligible recipients. As this process advances, we urge both parties, both sides of the Capitol, and both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to work together to produce a successful bipartisan surface transportation reauthorization bill, and we stand ready to work in good faith to help accomplish that goal. Short line railroads are eager to be a part of the solution for America.”

RSI Senior Vice President, Government
and Public Affairs Nicole Brewin

“The introduction of the INVEST in America Act is an important step toward making once-in-a-generation federal investments in our nation’s rail infrastructure that will connect communities, improve safety and security, repair and replace aging fleets, and implement new clean and efficient technologies while creating and sustaining tens of thousands of jobs in the railway supply industry,” said Railway Supply Institute (RSI) Senior Vice President, Government and Public Affairs Nicole Brewin.

“Specifically, this bill would strengthen the Buy America program to ensure that domestic content requirements are rigorously enforced, close loopholes that allow foreign state-owned enterprises to exploit American tax dollars and create new safeguards in the freight railcar manufacturing industry that will preserve a competitive playing field for years to come. The INVEST in America Act would also significantly increase funding for commuter rail and passenger rail systems that would allow for continued growth to meet our nation’s mobility needs.  

“As this legislation moves forward, RSI also encourages Congress to strive to continue the tradition of moving such a robust infrastructure package forward in a bipartisan fashion. While railway suppliers are eager to help make this bill’s vision a reality, we urge members of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee to take the opportunity to make changes during the committee markup that defer certain controversial and prescriptive provisions of this bill to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the industry’s existing collaboration forums, and the regulatory process and focus instead on making the transformational investments and policy reforms that will grow our economy and move America forward.”

Republicans: Just Say No

Not surprisingly, T&I Committee Republican leaders do not support the Act. Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-Mo.); Highways and Transit Subcommittee Ranking Member Rodney Davis (R-Ill.); Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Ranking Member Rick Crawford (R-Ark.); and Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and Aviation Subcommittee Ranking Member Garret Graves (R-La.) issued the following joint statement, noting, in part:

Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.)

“The Majority’s new ‘My Way or the Highway Bill 2.0’ doubles down on the same mandates, restrictive policies, and costly diversions of infrastructure resources that led to last year’s failure to provide long-term investments in America’s roads and bridges.

“Instead of working with Republicans to find common ground on a bill that could earn strong bipartisan support—something our Senate counterparts did successfully last month—this bill moves even further to the left to appease the most progressive members in the Majority’s party.”

T&I Committee Republicans indicated they would propose their own transportation bill the week of June 7. Presumably, their version will not be “bi-partisan.”

The deadline for surface transportation reauthorization is Sept. 30, when Congress’ extension of the FAST Act expires. If no bill is passed and signed by President Biden by the deadline, a continuing resolution will be needed to extend the current legislation. If history is any indication, it could be a year or longer before a new bill is enacted.

Transit Plus Passenger and Freight Rail Highlights, by Section

DIVISION A—FEDERAL SURFACE TRANSPORTATION PROGRAMS FOR FISCAL YEAR 2022

Sec. 104, Federal Transit Administration. The section authorizes “$1 billion from the mass transit account to bring additional transit stations into compliance” with the ADA; “$1 billion from the mass transit account to increase transit options, including through startup operating expense assistance, in unserved and underserved areas”; and “such sums as may be necessary from the general fund to increase the federal share for key projects that demonstrate the need for additional federal investment.”

DIVISION B—SURFACE TRANSPORTATION REAUTHORIZATION

• Title IFederal and Highways, Subtitle B—Programmatic Infrastructure Investments, Sec. 1204, Railway Crossings [23 USC 130]:
—Establishes a “standalone railway crossing program, based on the railway-highway grade crossing set aside, raising the overall level of investment in safety projects under the bill.”
—Requires railroads to “contribute the share for projects that provide a benefit to the railroad and removes the statutory cap on these contributions.”
—Expands “eligibilities to projects to mitigate lost access from a crossing closure and strategies to prevent or reduce trespasser fatalities and injuries along railroad rights-of-way.”
—Clarifies that the “replacement of functionally obsolete protective devices is eligible under the program.
—“Allows railway crossing funds to be used toward the cost of projects selected for the Federal Railroad Administration’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements discretionary grant program.
—“Directs the GAO to assess the effectiveness of the railway crossing program.
—“Emphasizes congressional intent that U.S. DOT should coordinate departmental efforts to reduce trespasser deaths at railroad rights-of-way.”

• Title IFederal and Highways, Subtitle C—Project Level Investments, Sec. 1304, Community Climate Innovation Grants [new 23 USC 172]:
—Establishes a new $250 million per year competitive grant program to “support local investments in innovative strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” Eligible are intercity bus vehicles and facilities as well as intercity passenger rail projects “that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve mobility on public roads.”

• Title II—Public Transportation, Subtitle A—Federal Transit Administration, Sec. 2101, Authorizations [49 USC 5338]:
—“Authorizes $73.5 billion in contract authority for FY23 through FY26 for the federal transit program.
—“Creates a new set aside for administrative costs for Buy America.
—“Ensures that funds provided may not be used to provide a contract, grant, or loan to a state-owned or -related enterprise.”

• Title II—Public Transportation, Subtitle C—Buy America and Other Procurement Reforms, Sec. 2301, Buy America [49 USC 5320]. Among the section’s provisions:
—Requires the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to “conduct rolling stock certifications to remove the burden from transit agencies, allows certifications to be used for multiple procurements, sets a standard for recertifications, and provides fair competition by ensuring certifications are consistently applied.”
—Requires FTA to “review its bus and rail component and final assembly regulations to maximize domestic job creation and align with modern manufacturing techniques.”
—“Phases in the modifications of Buy America over a five-year timeframe.”

• Title II—Public Transportation, Subtitle C—Buy America and Other Procurement Reforms, Sec. 2306, Special Rule for Certain Rolling Stock Procurements [49 USC 5323(u)]. The section “creates new conditions on federal financial assistance pertaining to the purchase of restricted rolling stock” and “amends section 5323(u) of chapter 53 of title 49 by removing an exemption for transit agencies who have previously purchased restricted rail rolling stock.”

• Title II—Public Transportation, Subtitle J—Streamlining, Sec. 2911, Fixed Guideway Capital Investment Grants [49 USC 5309]. The section “reduces the bureaucratic burden within the Capital Investment Grant (CIG) approval process.” Modifications to the CIG program cover:
Small Starts: The federal cost cap for small starts projects increases to $320 million and the total cost cap increases to $400 million, “providing more small projects a streamlined approval process.”
Core Capacity: The section “adds station expansion eligibility to core capacity projects” and “allows these projects to start planning additional capacity 10 years before the corridor reaches capacity.”
Engineering Phase: The time projects have to move engineering phase increases to three years.
Project Development Phase: “Cost and risk assessments may not be required in the project development phase, but applicants may choose to do their own assessments and FTA can provide technical assistance.”
Federal Cost Share: The section “reestablishes an 80% CIG cost cap for all CIG projects.” It also “replaces the requirement on FTA to minimize Federal cost share with an option for a transit agency to choose a CIG cost share under 60%. Transit agencies that remain under [the] 60% cost share are subject to less strenuous requirements for project approval by allowing the applicant to: determine the amount of the contingency funds; certify that local resources are available to continue running their current service; and secure only 75% of the local financial commitment to sign the Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA), with the remaining 25% budgeted, but not committed.”
Contingency Funds: “For projects that seek the higher cost share, FTA will now provide 50% of the contingency amount required.”
Project Rating Incentives: The section “expands the use of incentives (warrants) for projects with a total cost under $1 billion, or projects that selected the lower cost share. This allows more projects to get automatic ratings when they meet certain criteria.”
Transparency: The section “provides an opportunity for applicants to seek clarification, at several key stages of the approval process, of what information FTA still requires from the applicant to secure project approval. Requires FTA to create a publicly accessible CIG dashboard to post monthly updates on the status of each CIG project in the approval process or under construction including the status of pending approvals.”
Congressional Notification: The section “reduces the number of days before a project can be signed after congressional notification to accelerate project approval.”
Interrelated Projects: The section “allows a rating improvement in mobility for projects that have another related project in the planning process that has secured initial NEPA guidance and will boost ridership on the current project seeking a rating.”

• Title V—Innovation, Subtitle A—Research and Development, Sec. 5106, National Cooperative Multimodal Freight Transportation Research Program [49 USC 70205]:
—“Reestablishes the freight transportation cooperative research program in conjunction with the National Academies.
—“Guides research efforts through an advisory committee consisting of regulators, industry representatives, labor representatives, environmental experts and safety groups. Research will include the effects of growing freight demands on the environment, safety, and congestion; technological solutions and challenges for freight movement; improving the National Multimodal Freight Network; truck parking; and planning for the changing nature of freight movements, including first and last-mile challenges.”

• Title VI—Multimodal Transportation, Sec. 6003, National Multimodal Freight Network [49 USC 70103]:
—“Amends the National Multimodal Freight Network to include ports that have a total annual cargo value of at least $1 billion.
—“Establishes a new deadline for the Secretary to designate a final National
Multimodal Freight Network and requires the Secretary to report to Congress on the resources that will be used to meet this deadline.
—“Allows for the establishment of critical urban multimodal freight corridors in the same manner as the establishment of critical rural multimodal freight corridors.”

DIVISION C—HAZARDOUS MATERIALS TRANSPORTATION

• Title II—Hazardous Material Safety and Improvement, Sec. 8202, Transportation of Liquefied Natural Gas by Rail Tank Car:
—“Requires DOT to rescind any special permit or approval for the transport of liquified natural gas (LNG) by rail tank car issued before the date of enactment. Also prohibits DOT regulations on the transport of LNG by rail tank car from taking effect until DOT conducts a further safety evaluation.
—“Directs PHMSA [Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration] and FRA [Federal Railroad Administration] to initiate an evaluation of the safety, security and environmental risks of transporting LNG by rail, which must include performance evaluation of tank cars, including physical testing of rail tank cars. The evaluation also must examine the impact of a discharge of LNG from a rail tank car and consider several related issues, including the benefits of route, speed, and consist restrictions; the needs of first responders to prepare and safely respond to incidents involving LNG; and the types of safety enhancements required to make tank cars and certain rail containers capable of moving LNG by rail safely. GAO must verify that DOT has complied with this mandate.”

DIVISION D—RAIL (Includes Authorizations, Amtrak Reforms, Intercity Passenger Rail Policy, Commuter Rail Policy, and Rail Safety. For all Rail details, download document below). This section is called the TRAIN (Transforming Rail by Accelerating Investment Nationwide) Act.

• Title I—Authorizations, Sec. 9101, Authorization of Appropriations:
—“Provides $32 billion over five years in grants to support Amtrak’s intercity passenger rail service on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) and the National Network.
—“Provides $25 billion over five years to both the Passenger Rail Improvement Modernization and Expansion grant program and the Bridges, Stations, and Tunnels grant program, and $7 billion to the Consolidated Rail Investment and Safety Improvements [CRISI] grant program.
—“Authorizes over the next five years appropriations for the
State-Amtrak Intercity Passenger Rail Committee at $20 million, the Northeast Corridor Commission at $30 million, and the Grade Crossing Separation Grant program at $2.5 billion.
—“Authorizes appropriations for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Safety and Operations account at $1.567 billion over five years and requires FRA to increase the number of safety inspectors by 20% over five years; sets aside $20 million a year for FRA regional planning processes; authorizes appropriations for the Amtrak Office of Inspector General at $137.5 million over five years and FRA’s Railroad Research and Development account at $335 million over five years.”
—“Blocks federal financial assistance to any entity that is owned or controlled by a State-Owned Enterprise and includes a Sense of the Committee that a rail trust fund should be created and authorizes FRA grant programs to be funded by a rail trust fund if one is created.”

• Title I—Authorizations, Sec. 9102, Passenger Rail Improvement, Modernization, and Expansion (PRIME) Grants. “This new high-speed and intercity passenger rail competitive grant program authorizes grant funding of $25 billion over five years to improve mobility, operational performance, or growth of high-speed or intercity passenger rail corridors. Priority is given for projects that incorporate regional planning, or have the support of multiple states, provide environmental benefits, such as greenhouse gas reduction and other air quality benefits and/or improve service in and to socially disadvantaged communities. The grant program reserves 4% of funds for high-speed rail corridor development planning and has a federal cost-share of up to 90%.”

• Title I—Authorizations, Sec. 9103, Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Grants. The section reauthorizes the “FRA’s CRISI competitive grant program to fund freight and passenger rail projects at $7 billion over five years. Safety program eligibilities expressly allow for projects to help prevent rail trespassing and suicide. New preferences are added for projects that positively impact socially disadvantaged communities and for zero-emission locomotives. Commuter rail and Tribal government rail projects are newly eligible. The section retains the 25% set aside for rural projects and establishes a 25 percent set aside for projects over $100 million and removes a preference for projects with a lower percentage of federal funding. The federal cost share remains
up to 80 percent for most projects.”

Title I—Authorizations, Sec. 9104, Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF). “New provisions direct the Secretary to repay the credit risk premium (CRP) with interest for each loan defined in cohort 3 (made between 2009 and 2015) not later than 60 days after all obligations attached to each such loan has been satisfied. The section also authorizes $900 million over five years for the Secretary to pay the CRP in whole or in part for loan and loan guarantees for state and local governments, congressionally consented interstate compacts, and government-sponsored authorities. For entities that pay a credit risk premium, this section provides certainty that upon loan payoff, the credit risk premium will be refunded. The section makes permanent the authority for transit-oriented development project loans, and it clarifies that RRIF loans may be used as the non-federal share of project costs for DOT federal grant programs if such loans are repaid from non-federal funds.”

Title II—Amtrak Reforms, Sec. 9201, Amtrak Findings, Mission, and Goals. The section revises these “to reflect Congressional priorities for Amtrak. Amtrak must provide reliable national intercity passenger rail service, reflect the needs of all passengers, and support the U.S. workforce.”

Title II—Amtrak Reforms, Sec. 9204, Amtrak Preference Enforcement. “Amtrak’s preferential access to freight-owned corridors dates to Amtrak’s early years and is key to the future success of intercity passenger rail transportation. This provision provides a means for Amtrak to enforce its statutory right of preference directly in federal court without intermediaries.”

Title II—Amtrak Reforms, Sec. 9205, Use of Facilities and Providing Services to Amtrak. This section “revises the Surface Transportation Board provisions that govern when Amtrak seeks to operate additional trains over rail lines owned by another carrier by establishing a process for the Board to determine whether the additional trains unreasonably impair freight transportation and initiate a proceeding to evaluate what additional investments are required.”

Title II—Amtrak Reforms, Sec. 9209, State-Supported Routes Operated by Amtrak:
—“Increases transparency of the costs for state-supported Amtrak routes and calls for procedures to improve financial planning.
—“Directs the State-Amtrak Intercity Passenger Rail Committee to update the cost methodology that promotes accountability and transparency.”
—“Requires Amtrak to engage stakeholders early when developing new state-supported routes, and ensures Amtrak receives affirmative state permission before initiating such service.”
—“Allows states and Amtrak to pursue an alternative cost methodology to facilitate the development, construction, and operation of new state-supported routes and the expansion of existing ones.”

• Title III—Intercity Passenger Rail Policy, Sec. 9304 Interstate Rail Compacts. This section “encourages states to create interstate compacts to facilitate multi-state rail planning and encourage multi-state grant applications” and “directs the Secretary to provide up to $500,000 in administrative assistance for up to 10 interstate rail compacts to improve, promote, and develop intercity passenger rail service through initiating, restoring, or enhancing such service. Recipients must provide a nonfederal match of not less than 50% of the administrative costs. The section sets applicant selection criteria and requires recipients to report annually on its activities and information related to performances measures the Secretary establishes to measure a recipient’s progress toward achieving goals and objectives.”

• Title III—Intercity Passenger Rail Policy, Sec. 9305, High-Speed Rail:
—“Updates requirements for high-speed rail projects to consider whether projects connect to rail stations in urban centers; environmental impacts including greenhouse gas reductions; and electrification.
—“Establishes a consistent definition for high-speed rail projects to reach speeds of 150 mph or more for projects on shared-use right of way and 186 mph or more on dedicated right-of-way.”

• Title IV—Commuter Rail Policy, Sec. 9401, Surface Transportation Board Mediation of Trackage Use Requests. This section “requires that a rail carrier must provide good faith consideration to a provider of commuter rail transportation’s reasonable request for access to trackage and provision of related services.”

 Title V—Rail Safety, Subtitle A—Passenger and Freight Safety, Sec. 9501, Study on Safety Impact of Long Trains. “Long trains place different operational demands on the rail network and workforce. This provision directs the Secretary to study the safety impacts of trains composed of more than 150 railcars in a variety of terrains and conditions. The study will consider safety factors, such as loss of communication between crew members and in-train forces that can cause derailment risks. The Secretary must collaborate with stakeholders, including railroads, workers, and safety technology manufacturers; take action to address any risk identified by the study; and share the study results with stakeholders and Congress.”

 Title V—Rail Safety, Subtitle A—Passenger and Freight Safety, Sec. 9506, Freight Train Crew Size Safety Standards. This section “includes a two-person crew requirement that generally requires that freight trains have a certified engineer and a certified conductor. Limited exemptions are included for short line and small railroads, but no exemptions are available for trains carrying dangerous hazmat and long trains, which must be staffed with two crew members.”

 Title V—Rail Safety, Subtitle B—Grade Crossing Safety, Sec. 9553, Establishment of a 10-Minute Time Limit for Blocking Public Highway-Rail Grade Crossings. “This section mirrors many state laws by prohibiting a stopped freight train from blocking a public highway-rail grade crossing for more than 10 minutes and allows the Secretary to issue civil penalties to railroad carriers for repeated violations of blocked crossings. Railroad carriers are granted 60 days to rectify the cause of the blocked crossing before penalties can be assessed. Exemptions are made for instances such as accidents or compliance with federal safety regulations, while higher penalties are permitted for repeatedly delaying emergency services.”

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