Key Rail Passengers Victories Secured in TRAIN Act!
June 3, 2020
Rail Passengers scored a number of wins in the Transforming Rail by Accelerating Investment Nationwide (TRAIN) Act released by the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure earlier today.
Today, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure released the text of the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act, which includes a rail title that invests $60 billion over five years. The larger bill also provides $66 billion in capital authority for mass transit over the same period. Based on our initial review, the INVEST in America Act takes a transformational approach to rail investment, offering a number of innovative solutions to the problems highlighted by Rail Passengers and our members.
Titled the Transforming Rail by Accelerating Investment Nationwide (TRAIN) Act, the rail title provides $16.2 billion for the National Network and $13.1 billion for the Northeast Corridor in five years. The TRAIN Act also creates a new dedicated passenger rail grant program funded at $19 billion and makes several critical reforms to Amtrak that Rail Passengers has been fighting for.
“The Rail Passengers Association has been working for more and better train service for over 50 years. Over that entire period, we’ve fought the notion that passenger rail is reserved for big cities on the coast, arguing that trains are an essential service for connecting the nation, valuable because they connect Wall Street to Main Street. The TRAIN Act definitively answers the question of whether all Americans deserve to have access to a modern transportation network. The answer it gives is a resounding ‘YES,’” said Jim Mathews, President and CEO of the Rail Passengers Association. “The TRAIN Act allows us to fully focus on improving and expanding train service and provides a meaningful blueprint to finally build a 21st century rail system in the U.S. The 40 million Americans who ride trains every year owe Chairman DeFazio, Subcommittee Chair Lipinski, and the entire Committee a debt of gratitude for their work on developing this important legislative proposal.”
Over the next few weeks, we’ll dig deeper into this 864-page bill. However, we wanted to share some of the ideas our Association has advanced which found their way into the INVEST In America Act. Below, we’ve highlighted a selection of these important policy victories.
Rail Passengers Policy Victories in the TRAIN Act
TITLE 2 – AUTHORIZATIONS
Sec. 9101. Authorization of Appropriations. Provides $29.3 billion over five years in grants to support Amtrak’s intercity passenger rail service on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) and the National Network.
- Provides higher Amtrak funding levels for FY 2021 and FY 2022 than subsequent years in order to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on its network.
- Additionally, $2 billion over five years of the National Network grants will go to offset allocated national costs that Amtrak charges states for state-supported routes.
|FY2021||FY2022||FY2023||FY2024||FY2025||Total - By Program|
|Amtrak - Northeast Corridor||2,900||2,700||2,500||2,500||2,500||13,100|
|Amtrak - National Network||3,600||3,400||3,200||3,000||3,000||16,200|
|RRIF Financing - CRC||30||30||30||30||30||150|
|Restoration and Enhancement Grants||20||20||20||20||20||100|
|Grade Crossing Separation Grants||450||475||500||525||550||2,500|
|Total - By Year||12,200||11,825||11,450||11,275||11,300||58,050|
These funding levels would triple investment in Amtrak, providing much needed investment in new equipment, new capacity projects, and state of good repair. The authorizing levels also responds to our recent campaign highlighting the dangers to Amtrak service and workers from reduced ridership levels as a result of the COVID-19 by providing increased levels of funding in the first two years of the bill to help Amtrak keep the trains running until demand returns.
Sec. 9103. Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Grants. Reauthorizes the FRA’s discretionary grant program, CRISI, at $7 billion over five years. Commuter rail authorities are newly eligible, and project eligibilities are extended to commuter rail transportation improvement projects, maintenance and upgrades of railroad safety technology (including positive train control), and the establishment of new quiet zones. The section reserves 15% of the funding for rural projects, establishes a 50 percent set-aside for projects over $100 million, and removes a preference for projects with a lower percentage of Federal funding.
Frustrated by the projects being funded through CRISI Grants, we asked to strengthen the program by adding passenger rail as a priority consideration. By extending eligibility to commuter rail and PTC while reserving 50% of grants for projects over $100 million, the TRAIN Act ensures that meaningful improvements to passenger rail corridors will be given greater weight by the FRA.
Sec. 9102. Passenger Rail Improvement, Modernization, and Expansion (PRIME) Grants. This new intercity passenger rail funding program authorizes grant funding of $19 billion over five years for state of good repair projects, service improvement projects, and rail expansion projects. High speed rail projects are eligible for the funds, and priority is given for projects that incorporate regional planning and/or have the support of multiple states and to projects that provide environmental benefits, such as greenhouse gas reduction and other air quality benefits. Within the grant program, 40% is reserved for NEC projects and 40% is reserved for projects outside the NEC, with a Federal cost-share of up to 90%.
The TRAIN Act answered Rail Passengers' call for greater and more reliable investment in modern regional rail systems and high-speed rail corridors by creating a new grant program dedicated to passenger rail projects. While PRIME Grants will only be funded at $3.8 billion per year—far below what has been outlined in proposals offered by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA)—the program includes several important policy provisions such as expanded consideration of the benefits of passenger rail to served communities.
TITLE II – AMTRAK REFORMS
Sec. 9201. Amtrak Findings, Mission, and Goals. Amtrak’s findings, mission, and goals have been revised to reflect Congressional priorities for Amtrak. Amtrak must provide reliable national intercity passenger rail service now and, in the future, reflect the needs of all passengers, and support the U.S. workforce.
From the Rail Passengers’ 2020 Legislative Grant Request – “Enshrine National Network Service: Recognize the importance of on-time performance to the long-term viability of the National Network as a guiding principle for passenger rail investment in the surface transportation authorizing law.”
Sec. 9202. Amtrak Status. Clarifies that Amtrak serves the public interest in providing reliable passenger rail service.
From Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews’ November 2019 testimony before the House Committee on Transportation:
‘I would like to draw [Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson’s] attention, and the attention of this Committee, to Section 301 of the Rail Passengers Service Act. This section, still in effect today, was amended to modify the term “a for profit corporation” by inserting the term “operated and managed as” (Amtrak Improvement Act of 1978). This wording was deliberate, as indicated by the report language accompanying the bill (H.R. Rep. No. 1182, 95th Congress, Second Session, 15):
‘“Section 9 amends section 301 of the RPSA…to conform the law to reality, providing that Amtrak shall be ‘operated and managed as’ a for-profit corporation. This amendment recognizes that Amtrak is not a for-profit corporation.” [Emphasis added.]
‘If Amtrak were a true private corporation, then the idea of eliminating all but a few of the “experiential” long-distance trains and focusing entirely on urban corridors in response to demand indicators would make perfect sense. It’s why in the 1970s America almost lost all long-distance service: with consumer “demand indicators” suppressed by government subsidies of competing modes, the largely unsubsidized private railroads responded by dropping passenger service.
‘However, the American people, acting through their elected representatives, decided there was more value to this kind of service than what was profitable to the individual railroads. The people created Amtrak, with the help of our Association. Amtrak exists, and collects public funds, expressly to provide service to places that need it and where the private sector cannot profitably provide it—where the “demand indicators” aren’t enough to satisfy private shareholders.”’
Sec. 9203. Amtrak Board of Directors. Realigns the makeup of Amtrak’s board of directors to better reflect the interests of passengers and Amtrak-served states. The board must represent the interests of areas served by Amtrak, Amtrak’s passengers and employees, in addition to the Amtrak president and DOT. Also clarifies that the board members provide advice and oversight of Amtrak operations, with consideration for the travelling public’s safety and interests, and the long-term viability of national passenger rail service.
This language is pulled straight from the Rail Passengers playbook, and has informed our campaigns in response to questionable appointees to Amtrak’s Board of Directors. Ensuring that the voices of passengers are included in Amtrak’s decision making at the highest level is a huge victory for passengers everywhere.
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.
From the Rail Passengers’ 2020 Legislative Grant Request – “Given the dramatic rise in host railroad interference and passenger delays, Rail Passengers is asking Congress to grant Amtrak a Private Right of Action to enforce existing dispatching preference.”
Sec. 9205. Use of Facilities and Providing Services to Amtrak. 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.
From the Rail Passengers’ 2020 Legislative Grant Request – “Process Improvements for Host Railroad Access for Additional Trains + Routes: update and clarify federal law related to the process for determining the amount of capital investment needed to ensure any additional Amtrak trains do not unreasonably impair the host railroads. It is important that this process is expeditious and fair and cannot be abused by a freight railroad as a delay tactic for additional Amtrak trains.”
Sec. 9206. Prohibition on Mandatory Arbitration. Prohibits Amtrak from imposing mandatory arbitration. This reverses Amtrak’s recent change to its ticket policy to include a mandatory arbitration clause that forces passengers who purchase tickets to waive their right to file a lawsuit or participate in a class action.
From the Rail Passengers’ 2020 Legislative Grant Request – “Ending Passenger Rail Forced Arbitration Act (H.R. 6101): Restores legal rights and protections to Amtrak passengers who are currently being forced into mandatory arbitration agreement when purchasing tickets.”
Sec. 9209. State Supported Routes Operated by Amtrak. Increases transparency of the costs Amtrak assigns to states for state-supported routes and calls for procedures to improve financial planning. The section directs the State-Amtrak Intercity Passenger Rail Committee to report on potential improvements to the methodology that would promote accountability and transparency. Further, the section requires Amtrak to engage in early stakeholder engagement when developing new state-supported routes, and Amtrak must receive affirmative state permission before initiating such service. The section also allows states and Amtrak to pursue an alternative cost allocation method to facilitate the development, construction, and operation of new state-supported routes.
From the Rail Passengers’ 2020 Legislative Grant Request – “Increase Amtrak Transparency and Oversight: Given the dramatic increase in Amtrak investment, we believe there is a greater need for transparency in Amtrak decision-making in its relationship with states and in its network planning. We request Amtrak report route financial performance on the basis of Avoidable Costs and increase transparency in the attribution of costs for state-supported service.”
Sec. 9211. Amtrak Food and Beverage. Requires that any individual onboard a train who prepares onboard food and beverage service is an Amtrak employee. The section also establishes a working group charged with developing recommendations, and issuing a report within one year, on how to improve onboard food and beverage services. Amtrak is prohibited from making changes to its food and beverage service until 30 days after issuing a response to the working group recommendations. The provision also requires Amtrak to ensure that all long-distance passengers traveling overnight have access to hot meals, not just sleeping car passengers, and it removes statutory language limiting Amtrak’s ability to provide food and beverage service due to costs.
From the Rail Passengers’ 2020 Legislative Grant Request – “Food & Beverage Reform Act: Reforms Congressional oversight of food and beverage on Amtrak trains by eliminating onerous provisions threatening the stability of National Network service.”
Sec. 9212. Clarification on Amtrak Contracting Out. Amends current Amtrak contracting limitations to clarify that Amtrak cannot contract out the work performed by an employee if such employee has been laid off and has not been recalled to perform such work. It also clarifies that Amtrak is not authorized to contract out work if prohibited in a collective bargaining agreement.
Sec. 9213. Amtrak Staffing. Prevents Amtrak from contracting out work performed at Amtrak call centers. The section also requires an Amtrak ticket agent to staff each station where there was more than an average of 40 Amtrak passengers boarding or deboarding per day in FY 2019.
From Jim Mathews’ speech at 30th Street Station to protest the Amtrak’s outsourcing of good jobs in Philadelphia to contracted call centers:
"Amtrak is America's railroad, and that means being able to serve all Americans. There are millions of Americans who rely on the help provided by the real human beings at Amtrak's call centers. They choose to call in because of religious observances; because of financial hardship or lack of access to broadband in their rural community; sometimes simply because they lived in an America before the age of smartphones. They deserve to receive quality service in return for their train fare—and their tax dollars. We stand ready to work with Congress and with Amtrak to ensure that America’s railroad is able to offer sustainable levels of service, from 30th Street Station to Main Street USA.”
"The support from the Rail Passengers Association, and from all of you individually, has been incredibly important to Amtrak throughout our history and especially so during the last trying year."
Bill Flynn, Amtrak CEO
April 19, 2021, speaking to attendees at the Rail Passengers Virtual Spring Advocacy Conference