October 2, 2014

House bill would slash Amtrak, transit funding

WASHINGTON – The Republican leadership of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee will introduce legislation July 8 to slash Amtrak’s federal subsidy by 25 percent, prevent federal funds from being used to create additional rail passenger services unless they are high-speed projects, and cut federal transit funding by 30 percent.

Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), and Rail Subcommittee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) have previously made known their dislike for Amtrak and intention to destroy the national intercity rail passenger network through funding cuts and privatization of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

The senior Democrat on the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, put the Mica/Shuster legislation in perspective: “The bill, as we have seen so far, cannot pass the [Democratic-controlled Senate].”

Opposition to the bill also is being voiced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has joined with the AFL-CIO to lobby against it. The UTU’s National Legislative Office already is working with members in the House and Senate against Amtrak and transit funding cuts.

Amtrak funding has previously and regularly been in the crosshairs of its detractors, and another tough fight is brewing. On Amtrak’s — and transit’s — side are tens of millions of Americans who continue to make clear to their elected congressional lawmakers that they want more, not less, rail passenger and transit service.

The proposed cuts for Amtrak and transit are contained in a six-year bill entitled, “The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, or SAFETEA-LU.” Senate Democratic leaders are pushing for a two-year bill that would be more generous toward Amtrak and transit – although at lower spending levels than sought by the Obama administration.

The House bill would also extend the deadline beyond 2015 for implementation of positive train control (PTC).

The bill also would remove a federal requirement that states use Highway Trust Fund revenue for non-highway transportation purposes, such as mass transit; but would allow states to make such decisions unilaterally.

There are, however, provisions in the House bill that have been sought by the UTU – and those provisions are expected to survive. They include:

  • Increasing a low-interest loan program for state transportation projects.
  • Encouraging states to create and capitalize state infrastructure banks to provide loans for transportation projects.
  • Improving transit options for the elderly and disabled.
  • Insulating motor carrier safety programs from any spending cuts.
  • Requiring federal regulators to keep unsafe buses off the road.
  • Improving access to the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program; and making high-speed rail projects eligible for RRIF loans.
  • Strengthening the rail transit safety oversight program.
  • Establishing annual inspection programs for buses.
  • Requiring regulations to establish minimum training requirements for commercial drivers.