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Short-line tax credit bill passes Senate, but more needs to be done to improve small roads' infrastructure, NRC says


The Local Railroad Rehabilitation and Investment Act of 2003 (S. 1703) has passed the Senate, according to the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC). A House companion bill, H.R. 876, still is being considered by the House Ways & Means Committee.

The bills would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide short lines and regionals an income tax credit for track maintenance expenditures. Tax credits would be capped at $10,000 for every track mile regionals and short lines own or lease, and small roads would be able to transfer credits they can't use to other roads, shippers, suppliers or contractors. Credits would be issued against qualified track maintenance expenditures, such as maintaining or upgrading track, roadbed, bridges and related structures.

The Senate provision permits a tax credit of 30 cents on the dollar for infrastructure investments and caps the credit at miles of line operated times $3,500, according to the NRC.

"The Congressional Budget Office estimated a revenue impact of $500 million over three years, [which] would generate about $1.7 billion in track spending," said NRC Chairman Rick Ebersold in a column sent to members. "Unfortunately, the House companion bill does not contain a similar provision, so this will be a conference issue between the House and Senate."

Meanwhile, NRC and American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association officials support a congressional plan to increase the loan authority available under the Railroad Rehabilitation and Infrastructure Financing (RRIF) program tenfold to $35 billion.

Launched in 2001 as part of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), RRIF authorizes the Federal Railroad Administration to provide $3.5 billion in direct loans or loan guarantees to eligible railroads (including $1 billion set aside for regionals and short lines), state and local governments, and government-sponsored authorities to acquire, develop, improve or rehabilitate intermodal or rail facilities.

To generate even more federal funds for small-road infrastructure improvements, Congress should consider adding a short-line funding provision to TEA-21 reauthorization legislation, said Ebersold.

"The repair of our short-line rail network should be designated as a 'Project of National Significance,'" he said. "A combination of tax credits, RRIF loan reform and direct modernization grants should be concentrated in a coordinated effort to cure the $7 billion shortfall faced by these carriers."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 6/24/2004