October 24, 2014

Harsh cuts by Congress to transport funding

WASHINGTON — The vote by Congress April 15 on a budget that keeps the federal government operating through Sept. 30 contains harsh spending cuts for Amtrak, transit and high-speed rail.

Especially troubling to UTU members are the Amtrak and transit budget cuts, which could result in worker furloughs, although none have been announced.

More troubling is that additional Amtrak and transit budget cuts are probable when Congress begins working on a fiscal year 2012 budget for the 12 months beginning Oct. 1, 2011.

As for the budget bill keeping the federal government operating through Sept. 1, the cuts include:

  • Amtrak funding for the remainder of this federal fiscal year through Sept. 30 was cut by some $78 million. The fiscal year 2011 Amtrak budget is thus cut from more than $1 billion to $924 million.
  • Federal Transit Administration funding was cut by $400 million, plus an additional $280 million was cut from unobligated fiscal year 2010 funding, all of which will affect transit system capital and operating subsidies and expanded training for transit workers.
  • All funding was cut for the high-speed and intercity passenger rail program for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, and an additional $400 million in unobligated funds from the fiscal year 2010 budget were eliminated. This is an especially harsh blow to President Obama’s vision to spend $53 billion to create high-speed and higher-speed rail corridors and expand conventional passenger rail to where 80 percent of Americans would have access to passenger trains by 2035.

Among the funds lost will be the billions initially intended for high- and higher-speed rail lines in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin. As those funds had been rejected by those states and not reallocated yet to other states or Amtrak for improvements on the Northeast Corridor, the funding is now lost as part of the budget cuts.

Also lost in the budget cutting agreement were federal grants of some $50 million to help develop and implement positive train control (PTC) technology, plus some $24 million to assist with rail line relocation and improvement.

Railway Age magazine reports that the withdrawl of the $50 million for PTC asssistance “does not override or end the federal mandate for PTC by 2015, and it is in itself a small portion of the estimated cost of establishing PTC nationwide; much of the estimated $9.55 billion cost is to be sholdered by the railroads themselves.”

The House voted 260-167 and the Senate voted 81-19 to pass the budget cutting bill, President Obama said he will sign the bill into law.