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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Obama's budget request includes $476 billion for surface transportation over six years


Yesterday, President Obama unveiled a $3.8 trillion budget proposal, which would allocate $74 billion for the U.S. Department of Transportation in fiscal-year 2013 and establish a blueprint for a $476 billion, six-year surface transportation reauthorization plan.

The centerpiece of the president’s transportation proposal is the six-year plan, which would improve the nation’s highways and transit networks, continue to ensure safety and provide travelers with new options by enhancing passenger rail, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a prepared statement.

The “signature” of the six-year plan is investment in high-speed rail, according to USDOT officials’ summary of the transportation proposals. The plan calls for $2.7 billion in FY2013 and $47 billion over six years to develop high-speed rail corridors.

To spur job growth, Obama also is seeking an additional $50 billion in transportation investments in 2012. Included in that request are $6 billion for transit agencies’ state-of-good-repair projects; $4 billion for high-speed rail network development; $2 billion for rail system preservation and renewal, which includes funds for Amtrak to upgrade its aging car fleet and rail stations; and $4 billion for transportation infrastructure grants to state and local governments, and transit agencies.

In FY2013, Obama’s budget would set aside $10.8 billion for the Federal Transit Administration to improve and expand transit assets, and increase safety. About $3.2 billion would go toward state-of-good-repair grants; $2.4 billion for transit expansion and livable communities grants; $4.8 billion for grants to states, urban and rural areas to construct and maintain transit systems; $121 million to fund transit research; and $166 million to fund the FTA’s administrative operations and new transit-rail safety oversight.

For the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the FY2013 budget requests $2.7 billion for rail safety programs and a “fast and efficient passenger-rail network,” according to USDOT’s budget summary. The total request is a $1.1 billion increase from the FY2012 level to provide grants for planning and developing infrastructure, station, equipment and capacity necessary for a high-speed rail system.

Also contained in the FRA’s budget request is $1.5 billion to fund Amtrak’s national network, operating, capital and debt service requirements, and to establish competitive grant programs.

The president’s transportation proposals drew reactions from a number of transportation stakeholders. Below are some statements issued by three of them.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.):

“Rather than emphasize more deficit spending, from whatever source, the president’s focus should change to making transportation programs and projects more efficient and cutting the red tape that has left even his transportation stimulus money still stuck in federal coffers. One-third of his infrastructure stimulus money is still in Washington, three years after its passage, but he proposes more. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

American Public Transportation Association President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Melaniphy:

“This proposal demonstrates that the administration understands the important role public transportation plays in getting people to work and putting people to work. It includes a continuing commitment to high-speed and intercity passenger rail, improvements to keep our systems in a state of good repair, and a focus on livable communities. The proposal includes improvements in streamlining delivery of public transit programs. We are committed to working with the Administration and Congress to move transportation legislation forward to create American jobs and ensure that the United States remains economically competitive.”

National Association of Railroad Passengers officials:

“The Obama administration is proposing an additional $6 billion for passenger trains immediately as part of a larger jobs-creating initiative that looks to build on recent economic growth through investment in America’s infrastructure — much of which is in serious disrepair. The 2012 rail money will be broken down into two pots, with $4 billion going to network development and $2 billion going towards system preservation. This forward-thinking proposal contrasts sharply to the $1.42 billion set aside for Amtrak in the 2012 round of appropriations—an unacceptable figure given the record-breaking 30.2 million passengers Amtrak carried last year, the eighth ridership record in the last nine years.”

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 2/14/2012