October 25, 2014

Update on congressional funding for Amtrak

Amtrak LogoHere is an update on federal funding to keep Amtrak operating.

The House of Representatives in June approved a transportation funding bill — for the 12-month fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 — that includes $1.8 billion for Amtrak (H.R. 5972).

This is an almost $400 million increase over fiscal-year 2012 funding that ends Sept. 30, but $300 million less than Amtrak sought.

The ball is now in the Senate court, with the Senate Appropriations Committee having voted a $1.45 billion appropriation for Amtrak. That committee action awaits a vote by the entire Senate. If the entire Senate does approve that level of funding – $350 million less than the House approved – the House and Senate versions will go to a conference committee of House and Senate members for a final decision.

There are two other differences between the bill approved by the entire House and the bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The House voted not to provide any funding for high speed rail initiatives or other grant programs that could benefit Amtrak. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted to fund $100 million for high speed rail and another $500 million for separate grants that would benefit Amtrak.

The legislative process has been in almost total gridlock owing to partisan politics, and that gridlock may become worse as Election Day in November approaches. If no new funding legislation is approved by the House and Senate prior to the start of the new federal fiscal year Oct. 1, it is likely that Congress will pass a continuing appropriations bill, whose spending levels each month match the fiscal year 2012 funding levels. Otherwise, Amtrak would run out of funds and have to shut down.

Many congressional experts expect the partisan gridlock to continue past Election Day. Whether a lame-duck Congress will act after the elections (if they don’t pass a new funding bill for Amtrak before then), or await the seating of a new Congress in January to do so cannot be predicted.