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Rail News Home Passenger Rail

March 2008



Rail News: Passenger Rail

Movement on the transit-rail federal funding front



President Bush unveiled his $3.1 trillion fiscal-year 2009 spending plan last month, which includes $68 billion for transportation. However, the budget short-changes public transit and Amtrak, according to some transit officials.

Administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), the transportation appropriation proposes a record $10.1 billion for transit programs, but the amount falls short of the $10.3 billion guaranteed in FY2009 under SAFETEA-LU.

“APTA is outraged that the Bush Administration’s budget request would cut $202.1 million for public transportation,” said American Public Transportation Association President William Millar in a prepared statement.

Of the $10.1 billion, $1.6 billion would go toward transit construction projects. The administration has proposed allocating $1.1 billion for 15 current New Starts projects and $160 million for two projects pending New Starts funding. The budget also would provide $200 million for nine new and four existing projects under the Small Starts program.

Among the proposed New Starts recipients: MTA New York City Transit’s Second Avenue Subway project; MTA Long Island Rail Road’s East Side Access project; Sound Transit’s University Link light-rail line; Valley Metro’s Central Phoenix East Valley light-rail project; Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s Northwest/Southeast light-rail extension; the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon’s South Corridor I-205/Portland Mall light-rail project; Utah Transit Authority’s 43-mile Weber County-to-Salt Lake City commuter-rail line; Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Metro Gold Line Eastside light-rail extension; Minnesota’s Northstar Corridor commuter-rail project; the Regional Transportation District of Denver’s West Corridor light-rail project; and Hampton Roads Transit’s 7.4-mile Norfolk, Va., light-rail line.

Another ‘inadequate’ Amtrak proposal

The transportation budget also would include $800 million for Amtrak in FY2009, well below the railroad’s $1.3 billion FY2008 appropriation. The amount “would be inadequate to operate the national passenger-rail system as it is currently configured,” says Amtrak spokeswoman Karina Romero.

Late last month, Amtrak submitted a $1.67 billion FY2009 budget request to Congress that includes $801 million for capital investments, $525 million for operating expenses and $345 million for debt service.

In addition, the railroad identified a needed $114 million congressional appropriation to fund the balance of retroactive pay that will be doled out in FY2009. In January, Amtrak reached labor agreements with nine unions that require the railroad to provide about 16,000 workers with wages retroactive from Jan. 1, 2000.

In the meantime, Amtrak service could get a boost from a new funding program created last month by the federal government. States will be directly eligible for federal dollars to support intercity passenger-rail service.

The $30 million capital grant program will require a 50 percent funding match. Eligible projects include, but are not limited to, upgrading track to increase train speeds, adding or lengthening passing tracks to increase capacity, upgrading switches and signal systems to improve reliability and safety, and purchasing new passenger-rail cars.

The Federal Railroad Administration, which will administer the grants, will favor projects designed to improve on-timer performance to 80 percent or higher, reduce travel times, increase service frequency or enhance service quality, USDOT said.

Individual states or multiple states working together can submit applications, which the FRA will begin accepting on March 18. The FRA expects to start awarding funds later this year.

— Angela Cotey



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Browse articles on transit funding FY09 transportation budget SAFETEA-LU

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