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Congress Finally Passes Amtrak and Transit Relief Bill

December 22, 2020

After six months of negotiations and false starts, Congress has passed an emergency coronavirus funding bill that will prevent further service cuts and layoffs to the nation’s railroads and transit agencies.

Amtrak and Transit Relief Funding Finally Passes

$900 Billion in Emergency Funds Catch Ride on $1.4 Trillion Budget Bill

[UPDATE - 10:00AM - Dec. 23] Not so fast, ladies and gentlemen. President Donald Trump issued a surprise attack on the Fiscal 2021 spending and coronavirus relief legislation, demanding that Congress amend the bill to increase the emergency COVID-19 payments to Americans from $600 to $2,000. Notably, President Trump did NOT explicitly issue a veto threat.

Democrats responded by enthusiastically embracing the President's proposal, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announcing she will introduce an amendment on Dec. 24th requiring -- a move that would allow the body to amend the passed bill, but could be blocked by the objection of a single member of Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has not responded to the President's demands (at least not publicly).

Congress has until Dec. 28th to pass the legislation to keep the government funded and open. Amtrak and transit agencies will be kept waiting for aid in the meantime -- along with hundreds of millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of businesses, agencies and other organizations.

We'll keep you updated as this situation develops.

After six months of tense negotiations and false starts, Congress has finally passed an emergency coronavirus funding bill that will prevent further service cuts and layoffs to the nation’s railroads and transit agencies. The relief package included $1 billion for Amtrak and $14 billion for mass transit. It passed as part of the Fiscal Year 2021 omnibus budget legislation (HR 133), which includes another $2.8 billion in rail funding and $13 billion for the Federal Transit Administration.

“On behalf of the 40 million Americans that depend on passenger trains, we’re pleased that the political logjam appears to [has broken],” said Rail passengers President and CEO Jim Mathews. We urge Congress to follow through on the final step and pass this bill into law. This funding will avert further job losses and cuts to essential transportation services, which would deal yet another blow to the U.S. economy. While this bill addresses the immediate needs of Amtrak and transit agencies, there is still work to be done to restore these systems to their pre-pandemic levels. We look forward to working with Congress and the incoming Biden Administration on additional legislation as soon as Congress returns to expand and grow rail service. With the widespread introduction of the vaccine around the corner, Americans are ready to get moving again; the federal government must take action to restore the nation’s transportation network to promote a full economic recovery.”

[Rail Passengers couldn't have achieved this outcome without your help! Please continue to support our efforts to grow and improve passenger train service in America.]

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The legislation doesn’t address all the needs outlined by Amtrak and transit agencies, but it does stop the bleeding. U.S. transit agencies—who had warned of dire consequences should Congress fail to act—are saying these funds will allow them to avoid the worse-case scenarios.

“We are relieved and thankful to see Congress pass another coronavirus relief bill that includes $4 billion in federal relief for the MTA,” said Pat Foye, CEO of the New York transit agency, in a statement after federal lawmakers announced the deal. “This crucial funding will allow us to get through 2021 without devastating service cuts and layoffs of over 9,000 colleagues.”

Rail Passengers will continue to work with congress in 2021 to ensure it takes the next step towards the full restoration of service on all Amtrak routes and transit systems to get America moving again.

Omnibus FY2021 Appropriations

Title L - Rail Programs

Amtrak - Northeast Corridor: $700 million for operating and capital projects on the NEC, $75 million which will go to bringing Amtrak-served facilities and stations into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Amtrak - National Network: $1.3 billion for long-distance and State-supported trains, $50 million of which will go towards safety costs on State-supported routes.

Amtrak - General Provisions:

-Reestablishes the sense of Congress that It is the sense of Congress that “(1) long-distance passenger rail routes provide much-needed transportation access for 4,700,000 riders in 325 communities in 40 States and are particularly important in rural areas; and (2) long-distance passenger rail routes and services should be sustained to ensure connectivity throughout the National Network (as defined in section 24102 of title 49, United States Code).

-Sets aside $100 million to support the acquisition of new single level passenger equipment in proportion to the use of this equipment for Amtrak's NEC, state-supported, and long-distance services.

-Reminds Amtrak that Congress removed the prohibition on the use of Federal funds to cover any operating loss associated with providing food and beverage service on Amtrak routes.

-Directs Amtrak to “continually review and evaluate the locations and trains that may be eligible for private car moves, update the guidelines for private cars on Amtrak if additional locations or trains meet Amtrak's criteria, and notify private car owners of these changes.”

Consolidated Rail Improvement and Safety Improvements (CRISI): $375 million for rail projects; at least $75 million of which is reserved for projects that support the development of new intercity passenger rail routes including alignments for existing routes; and not less than $25 million to be used for capital projects and engineering solutions targeting trespassing.

Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair: $200 million to repair, replace, or rehabilitate qualified railroad assets to reduce the state of good repair backlog and improve intercity passenger rail performance.

Restoration and Enhancement Grants: $4.7 million for initiating, restoring, or enhancing intercity passenger rail transportation.

Mass Transit: $13 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, including $2 billion for Capital Investment Grants (CIG) and $516 million for Transit Infrastructure Grants; reestablishes an 80/20 cost share split between federal state government for the CIG program.

COVID-19 Relief Funds

Amtrak - Northeast Corridor: $655.4 million to prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus; not less than $109.8 million to be used by Amtrak in lieu of capital payments from States and Commuter Rail Authorities.

Amtrak - National Network: $344.6 million to prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus; $174.9 million of this money to be made available to Amtrak in lieu of Section 209 payments from states to Amtrak for State-supported corridors.

Amtrak - General Provisions: Congress specified that funds granted to Amtrak are to prevent further employee furloughs, or the further reductions in frequencies on long distance trains; employees placed on furlough shall be entitled when recalled to the same seniority and job classification that they held prior to being furloughed when intercity passenger service is restored; Amtrak is prohibited from contracting out any services that were performed by a furloughed worker.

Mass Transit: $14 billion for Transit Infrastructure Grants, of which no recipient may receive more than $4 billion from this act when combined with money received in the CARES Act; $50 of which will go to paratransit providers; and $678.7 million to be set aside be for rural transit providers.