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With Transit Agencies on the Brink, Talks Falter

December 11, 2020

With Amtrak and Transit Agencies on the Brink, Congressional Negotiations Falter

With Amtrak and transit agencies hurtling towards a fiscal cliff and tens of thousands of rail transportation jobs in the balance, Congress has passed yet another weeklong extension as talks falter over the shape of the next coronavirus relief package.

Transportation advocates have organized around this latest coronavirus aid proposal as a vehicle to restore daily service across the National Network and avoid severe cuts to transit service in cities across the U.S. Rail Passengers allies on Capitol Hill are telling us that the current bipartisan compromise—a $908 billion package in total—includes $1 billion for Amtrak and $15 billion for mass transit systems, which would help avoid further cuts and layoffs for rail operators struggling with the coronavirus pandemic and anemic ridership.

‘Gang of 908’ Transportation Relief Proposal: $45 billion

• Amtrak: $1 billion [Requested: $2.4 billion];

• Transit: $15 billion [Requested: at least $32 billion];

• Airlines: $17 billion – [Requested: $25 billion];

• Airports: $4 billion – [Requested: $13 billion];

• Private buses: $8 billion – [Requested: $10 billion].

Given the delta between the requested funding and the funding provided in the $908 billion proposal, it’s likely that congress intends to work with the incoming Biden Administration on another aid deal in 2021. According to an internal document being passed among negotiators on Capitol Hill, the funding would be used to “support public transit systems across the country that will be used to prevent furloughs, meet operating needs, and keep systems running; and “allow Amtrak to continue to provide existing service and prevent additional furloughs through March 31, 2021.” The second point is further indication that congressional leaders are banking on another relief package in the spring to restore daily service to the long-distance and state-supported routes.

However, the Trump Administration has offered a counterproposal that only includes $31 billion for transportation. It is not yet clear how that money would be divided among the various modes, or whether Amtrak would be a recipient; the Trump Administration has repeatedly proposed eliminating Amtrak’s long-distance services.

Further complicating factors, there is talk of yet another short-term extension which would push negotiations through Christmas. With Amtrak and transit agencies warning that further furloughs and layoffs are imminent without additional financial aid, tens of thousands of frontline transportation workers have reason to be concerned this holiday season.

“The MTA and transit agencies across the nation have been devastated by the pandemic,” said Pat Foye, chair and CEO of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, during a December 9th virtual press conference held by leaders from nine major transit agencies. “I repeat there will be no economic recovery regionally or nationally without significant investment in mass transit. This is not a red or a blue issue — it’s a jobs issue.”

This delay does give passengers another week to ensure that Amtrak and transit are included in the final passage!

With disagreement over key passages, the bill is still very much in flux, with no guarantee that the Senate will pass a coronavirus relief package at all unless they hear from their constituents. We need your help to stiffen the spines of your members of Congress between now and next week!