Major New Investments for Rail, Transit Proposed by House
This week, Democrats on the U.S. House’s Transportation and Infrastructure committee introduced a bill that would reauthorize the FAST Act, which governs surface transportation policy and funding at the federal level and is set to expire on September 30.
The legislation, called the INVEST in America Act, would authorize $494 billion over five years for transportation projects overall, with $60 billion going to rail programs and $105 billion going to transit programs. The railroad component is called the TRAIN Act (Transforming Rail by Accelerating Investments Nationwide).
The Alliance certainly agrees with the bill’s sponsors desire to “truly transform rail transportation in the United States.” And they are correct that “while the current COVID-19 pandemic has reduced ridership, we must invest now to meet passenger demand as our Nation recovers and new travel patterns emerge.”
The TRAIN Act would improve several programs, including Amtrak, the CRISI (Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements) and the RRIF (Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing) loan program.
It would also establish a new grant program focused exclusively on improving and expanding passenger rail systems in the U.S., authorizing $19 billion for the program over five years to fund “projects that improve the state of good repair, optimize performance, and expand intercity passenger transportation.”
The bill increases the authorization for rail spending by several times over the FAST Act.
The bill adds to a growing list of legislation and proposals in Congress aimed at dramatically increasing rail investments in the U.S.—including a five-year, $240 billion proposal by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA). In addition to the new spending, that proposal would standardize federal regulations and create incentives for the freight railroads to cooperate in building new passenger-rail infrastructure.
Additionally, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) has introduced a bill that would authorize $5 billion annually over five years in “high-performance” intercity passenger rail service, meaning rail service that enhances “transportation capacity, travel times, reliability, and efficiency.” The program is “exactly the kind of recovery program that can help repair the economic damage caused by the coronavirus while correcting long-standing inequities,” according to Markey.
As with previous transportation spending bills, the Invest in America Act would spend massively on roads and bridges, providing $319 billion for the federal highway program. But it also aims to begin loosening the chokehold of car-centric culture with $250 million devoted to planning and constructing pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly transportation networks. It also provides $100 million in grants each year “to tackle larger city street congestion that slows down buses” by funding solutions like bus-only lanes.
The bill would also authorize more than 29 billion over five years for Amtrak. That’s three times the level of spending in the Fast Act that expires this fall. “These investments will help Amtrak tackle the state of good repair backlog, support the development of new state-supported routes, and strengthen the network to revitalize and grow service,” according to the Transportation Committee.
A Committee markup session to begin considering the legislation is scheduled for June 17.