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House/Senate conferees sign off on FY10 appropriations bill


On Wednesday, a House and Senate conference committee approved a fiscal-year 2010 transportation appropriations bill that would fund transportation programs at higher-than-FY09 levels and finance two new transportation programs.

The bill calls for providing $8.4 billion in transit formula grants, up about $80 million compared with FY09. About $2 billion would go toward the New Starts program, including projects such as MTA Long Island Rail Road’s East Side Access ($202.5 million), New Jersey Transit’s Access to the Region’s Core ($200 million), MTA New York City Transit’s Second Avenue Subway ($197.2 million) and D.C.’s Dulles Corridor Metrorail extension ($85 million).

The transit portion of the bill would include $150 million for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) — the first time the federal budget has included additional dollars for the D.C. agency.

“This is something people in D.C. have been pushing for for a long, long time,” says National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association President Chuck Baker. “A huge chunk of their ridership is federal government workers, so there’s a case to be made that there should be more federal funding for WMATA.”

In addition, the transit bill includes $75 million to extend the Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGGER) grant program originally developed as part of the stimulus bill.

“The FTA got all that money out really quickly, so it looks like they made their case that it’s worth keeping,” says Baker.

The House version of the bill did not include any funds for the program, while the Senate had proposed $100 million.

House and Senate conferees also approved $1.58 billion for Amtrak, up about $90 million compared with FY09. Amtrak’s appropriation would include $1 billion for capital grants, $560 million for operating subsidies and $20 million for the railroad’s inspector general office.

Within the Federal Railroad Administration budget, the conference committee approved $172 million for safety and operations, a $159 million increase vs. FY09, and $37 million for research and development, up from last year’s $34 million.

The budget allocates $50 million for railroad safety technology — “basically, positive train control,” says Baker — and $34 million for the Rail Line Relocation and Improvement Program, up from last year’s $25 million.

Freight railroads also could get a funding boost through the new National Infrastructure Investment program, for which the conference committee allocated $600 million for in FY10.

“The House put in nothing for this program in their bill and the Senate included $1.1 billion, so there was a huge question as to how much would be funded,” says Baker.

Similar to the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program established under the stimulus bill, the infrastructure program will be administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation. All surface transportation modes would be eligible to receive grants, although the explanatory statement that accompanies the legislation “specifically calls out inland ports and freight-rail projects as appealing for this program,” says Baker. In addition, $140 million has been set aside for projects in rural areas, which could benefit freight railroads, says Baker.

The House and Senate are expected to vote on the appropriations bill soon.

Angela Cotey

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 12/11/2009