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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Sens. McConnell, Boxer hash out terms of long-term surface transportation bill


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) yesterday reached an agreement on a six-year surface transportation bill.

Known as the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act (S. 1647), the bill would provide three years of guaranteed funding for the highway trust fund without increasing the deficit or raising taxes, according to a press release from the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. 

The bill is fully offset with spending reductions or changes to federal programs.

The DRIVE Act is composed of four main components covering infrastructure and transportation, safety, public transit and federal permitting reform.

The legislation's safety and regulatory title, crafted by the Senate Commerce Committee, includes the Railroad Reform Enhancement and Efficiency Act, which is aimed at increasing safety, improving infrastructure and easing the implementation of new technology.

Additionally, the bill's public transit title would increase public transportation funding from $10.86 billion in the current year to $11.79 billion in fiscal-year 2016. Under the bill, public transit funding would increase to $13.26 billion in fiscal-year 2021, according to a "legislative alert" from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

The DRIVE Act would also authorize $6.6 billion in Amtrak funding from fiscal-year 2016 through 2019, in addition to allotting $2.28 billion for grants to transit-rail agencies. The bill would also modify the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program to prioritize applications that support positive train control implementation.

"Senators from both parties know that a long-term highway bill is in the best interest of our country. So we’ll continue working together to get a good one passed," McConnell said in a statement.

The bill was immediately taken to the Senate floor for a cloture vote, which it lost by a vote of 41 to 56. An additional cloture vote may take place today, according to APTA.

Senators voting against cloture wanted more time to read the 1,030-page bill, according to The Hill.

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who voted against moving the bill forward, said it doesn't provide dedicated funding to ensure safety for the nation's rail system.

"Americans deserve world-class roads, highways, bridges and transit systems, and it would be tough to find a person who is more dedicated to solving our transportation problems than me," he said in a statement. "But I can’t, in good conscience, go along with a bad deal that doesn’t get the job done, just for the sake of saying we did something."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 7/22/2015