U.S. Senators Eye RRIF Program Improvements

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Maggie Hassan’s (D-N.H.) bipartisan legislation would build on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) Express program and make it more viable for short lines.

Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Maggie Hassan’s (D-N.H.) bipartisan legislation would build on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) Express program and make it more viable for short lines.

Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) have reintroduced the Railroad Rehabilitation and Financing Innovation Act to provide dedicated funding for RRIF financing costs, streamline the application process, and extend loan terms for certain assets.

The legislation, which debuted last May, would build on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s RRIF (Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing) Express program by:

• Establishing an expedited credit review process for loans that meet certain financial and operational criteria.

• Requiring DOT to provide short lines and passenger railroads with regular updates on application status to reduce uncertainty.

• Extending loan terms to 50 years for certain rail infrastructure projects and increasing flexibility for DOT to evaluate collateral and creditworthiness.  

• Authorizing funding to cover financing costs associated with providing RRIF loans—similar to the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan program. Funding would be split equally between short line and passenger rail projects.

“The RRIF program was originally designed to provide stable financing to small railroads for infrastructure investment,” said Sen. Thune, a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. “Unfortunately, short lines are often unable to afford the time and expense associated with the current RRIF application process, discouraging them from using the program. This legislation makes necessary updates to RRIF so short lines are better able to use the program as originally intended.”

“Infrastructure investments will be a critical part of our economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sen. Hassan said, who has sought to bring passenger rail from Boston to Nashua and Manchester, N.H. “Passenger rail has significant potential in New Hampshire, expanding options for commuters and helping our towns to thrive, and short line and smaller rail lines play a key role in our state’s economy. This bipartisan bill will improve financing options for both.”

Chuck Baker, President, ASLRRA

Commented American Short Line & Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) President Chuck Baker: “This legislation would improve the RRIF program and make it more viable for short lines. It addresses several important issues that have been hurdles to participation in the RRIF program for our short line members, including some solutions that are being piloted in the RRIF Express program.”

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