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Rail News: Passenger Rail

FY2012 budgets: Administration proposes $129 billion for transportation, Amtrak proposes $2.2 billion


President Barack Obama’s proposed $3.7 trillion budget for fiscal-year 2012 — which was unveiled yesterday — includes $129 billion for the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), and calls for a $556 billion, six-year surface transportation reauthorization plan to modernize the country’s infrastructure.
The budget proposal includes:
• $13.4 billion in discretionary resources in FY2012, a $1.3 billion decrease from 2010 levels;
• a $50 billion boost above current law spending for railways, roads and runways to stimulate job creation in the first year of the plan;
• $8 billion in FY2012 and $53 billion over six years to build a nationwide high-speed rail network;
• $30 billion over six years to create a new national infrastructure bank that would fund projects that would have national and regional significance to the nation’s economy;
• $22.4 billion for the Federal Transit Administration; and
• $233 million for Federal Railroad Administration safety inspections.
The plan also calls for including intercity passenger-rail programs in the six-year reauthorization plan, including moving Amtrak’s stand-alone subsidies out of the annual appropriations process and into the six-year program. The change would require Amtrak to compete for rail grants through a high-speed rail “system preservation” initiative.
The president’s budget proposal would establish a new foundation for economic growth and competitiveness by rebuilding the nation’s transportation systems, enabling innovative solutions to transportation challenges, said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a prepared statement.
“If we’re going to win the future, we have to out-compete the rest of the world by moving people, goods, and information more quickly and reliably than ever before,” LaHood said. “President Obama’s investments in rebuilding our crumbling roadways and runways, and modernizing our railways and bus systems will help us do just that.”
However, some GOP leaders, including U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who chairs the House Subcommittee on Railroads, were highly critical of the budget proposals.
“Here we sit, $14 trillion in debt with our heads underwater, and the president proposes more spending, more borrowing and more taxes on a recovering economy,” Shuster said.
Nonetheless, several passenger-rail industry associations issued statements in support of the proposals.
“We applaud President Obama for his leadership and vision in making public transportation and high-speed rail programs a high national priority,” said William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association. “We’re also pleased that he outlines a robust, multi-year authorization bill, which incudes the creation of a truly multi-modal trust fund that ensures the money intended for surface transportation is spent on surface transportation.”
Railway Supply Institute (RSI) officials were “encouraged” by the $8 billion included in the FY2012 proposal for high-speed and intercity passenger rail, as well as the six-year surface transportation reauthorization plan.
“Investment in both freight and passenger rail will help stabilize and create well-paying jobs in the domestic rail supply sector,” said RSI President Tom Simpson.
The National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) also welcomed the proposal.
“Integrating passenger trains into an expanded transportation trust fund recognizes that passenger rail is a vital transportation choice,” said NARP President Ross Capon. “This could be a key point in providing the public with real transportation choice to cope with crippling road congestion and steadily-rising gas prices.”
The Transportation Equity Network (TEN) had praised the first year, $50 billion funding boost for recognizing the country has “no time to waste if we want to seize the opportunity for historically low interest rates and catch up with our competitors abroad,” said TEN Executive Director Laura Barrett.
The surface reauthorization plan would “give us a long-overdue chance to reset our national transportation priorities to match our current needs and opportunities, rather than continuing with the knee-jerk, short-term extensions of the previous transportation bill, which expired more than 16 months ago,” she said.
Meanwhile, in a separate action Monday, Amtrak submitted to Congress a $2.22 billion funding request for FY2012, which would include $1.3 billion for capital improvements to tracks, equipment and other infrastructure along Amtrak’s heavily-traveled Northeast Corridor; $616 million for daily train operations and $271 million for debt service.
Amtrak’s proposal also calls for purchasing 40 Acela Express coach cars to increase seating capacity on all existing high-speed trainsets.

Investing in Amtrak now is an important part of “any serious plan” to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, said Amtrak Chief Executive Officer Joe Boardman in a prepared statement.
“It is necessary to balance the real concern over federal spending with the ongoing need to invest in the nation’s intercity passenger-rail network to meet growing demand, support economic recovery and fuel the next generation for growth,” he said.