H.R. 749, Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015

H.R. 749

Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015

Date
March 3, 2015 (114th Congress, 1st Session)

Staff Contact
David Smentek

Floor Situation

On Tuesday, March 3, 2015, the House will consider H.R. 749, the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015, under a rule.  H.R. 749 was introduced on February 5, 2015 by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and referred to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which ordered the bill reported unanimously by voice vote.

Bill Summary

H.R. 749 authorizes appropriations for the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) for FY 2016-2019, including: approximately $1.9 billion for the Northeast Corridor Improvement Fund account; approximately $3.9 billion for the National Network account; $96 million for the Amtrak Office of Inspector General; and $1.2 billion for national infrastructure investment capital grants.  The bill also makes a number of reforms to improve rail infrastructure, reduce costs, leverage private sector resources, create greater accountability and transparency for Amtrak, and accelerate project delivery.

Within 60 days of the bill’s enactment, Amtrak is required to establish and maintain internal controls to ensure that Amtrak’s costs and revenues are allocated to either the Northeast Corridor or the National Network.  Additionally, this legislation requires the Secretary of Transportation, within 30 days, to establish substantive and procedural requirements for Amtrak’s grant requests which must be done by lines of business.  These requirements include a detailed financial analysis for the upcoming fiscal year; a description of work to be funded; and an assessment of the financial stability of Amtrak.  This legislation also requires Amtrak to establish two new specific accounts for: 1) the Northeast Corridor Improvement Fund for Northeast Corridor capital improvement projects; and 2) a National Network account for capital expenses and operating costs of the National Network.

H.R. 749 also requires the Northeast Corridor Infrastructure and Operation Advisory Commission to develop an annual capital investment plan for both the Northeast Corridor main line and the Northeast Corridor branch lines.[1]  Furthermore, the bill requires Amtrak, states, and public entities that own infrastructure that supports or provides intercity rail passenger transportation on the Northeast Corridor, to develop and update asset management plans for both the Northeast Corridor main line and the Northeast Corridor branch lines.  The Commission is also required to, at least once every 10 years, update the Northeast Corridor service development plan.  The Amtrak Board of Directors is required under the bill to prepare a five-year capital and operating plan for the Northeast Corridor and National Network within 60 days of  enactment of an appropriation for Amtrak.  Moreover, the bill directs the Secretary of Transportation to establish a State-Supported Route Advisory Committee to promote mutual cooperation and planning pertaining to the rail operations and related activities of train operated on State-supported routes.  Moreover, this legislation revises requirements with respect to methodologies for Amtrak route and service planning decisions.  Within 180 days of enactment, Amtrak is required to obtain the services of an independent entity to develop and recommend objective methods for Amtrak to use in the planning of intercity rail passenger transportation routes and services.  Within one year of enactment, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is further required to complete a rulemaking to develop an alternate passenger rail service pilot program.

The bill also makes changes to Amtrak’s food and beverage service.  Within 90 days, the bill requires Amtrak to develop and begin implementing a plan to eliminate the operating losses associated with providing food and beverage service on board Amtrak trains.  Five years after the date of the bill’s enactment, no federal funds may be used to cover any operating loss associated with providing food and beverage service on a route operated by Amtrak.  Furthermore, this bill requires Amtrak, within 180 days of enactment, to issue a request for proposals seeking private sector persons or entities to utilize Amtrak-owned right-of-way for telecommunications systems, energy distribution systems, and other activities considered appropriate by Amtrak.  Within one year of the bill’s enactment, Amtrak is authorized to enter into an agreement to implement any such proposal or proposals.  H.R. 749 also requires Amtrak to report to Congress within one year on options to enhance development around Amtrak stations.  H.R. 749 further amends the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 to extend indefinitely the authority to restructure long-term Amtrak debt and capital leases.  This legislation also directs Amtrak to develop a pilot program to allow passengers to transport domesticated cats or dogs on certain Amtrak trains, and directs the Amtrak Inspector General to evaluate Amtrak’s boarding procedures at its 10 busiest stations.

H.R. 749 also makes a number of changes to intercity passenger rail policy.  First, it directs the Secretary of Transportation to develop and implement a program for issuing grants to applicants, on a competitive basis, for the purpose of financing rehabilitation and improvement projects included in the Northeast Corridor Priority Project List.  Furthermore, this legislation revises the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program requirements, and modifies application procedures for direct loans and loan guarantees for railroad improvement projects.  In granting applications for such loans, the Secretary is required to give priority to projects for the installation of a positive train control.  The Secretary is further directed to make direct loans and loan guarantees to projects included in the Northeast Corridor’s NEC Fast Forward Program.  For state intercity passenger rail grant program, any grant in excess of $1 billion, H.R. 749 sets requirements aimed at increasing rail performance and accessibility and improving safety.

H.R. 749 further directs the Secretary of Transportation to conduct a nationwide disparity and availability study on the availability and use of small businesses owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals in FRA-funded intercity rail passenger transportation projects.  Furthermore, it directs the FRA to develop a working group to evaluate the restoration of intercity rail passenger service in the Gulf Coast region between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Orlando, Florida.  This legislation directs the Secretary to streamline environmental reviews including concurrent reviews, setting hard deadlines, and establishing categorical exclusions.  Finally, the Secretary is directed to pursue program alternatives to promote a consistent approach in the treatment of railroad and rail-related properties for historic preservation review; and develop mechanisms for streamlining compliance with other transportation project requirements.

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[1] The Northeast Corridor main line runs between Boston, MA and Washington, DC.  The Northeast Corridor branch lines correct to Harrisburg, PA, Springfield, MA, and Spuyten Duyvil, NY.

Background

“[…] Passenger rail represents one of the best hopes for relieving the country’s congested highways and airspace.”[2]  The United States’ population reached 300 million people in 2006, and will rise to 400 million in 2039.[3]  Much of this population growth will occur in urban areas, particularly the northeast between Washington, DC, and Boston.[4]  Poor infrastructure and congestion cost commuters about $115 billion a year in wasted time and fuel, while Americans spend more than 4 billion hours annually stuck in traffic.[5]

The National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) began providing service in 1971, and has relied upon federal funds to remain solvent.[6]  In addition to funding from the federal government, Amtrak generates revenue from operation of the Northeast Corridor (NEC), state-supported routes, and long-distance routes.  Amtrak operates approximately 150 of 2,000 daily trains on the NEC (a vast majority of the daily NEC trains are run by commuter railroads serving major cities), and manages the infrastructure of the NEC.[7]  Amtrak also operates 21 state-supported routes in 19 states, where states contribute funding to provide additional passenger rail services.  State-supported routes carry approximately 15.1 million riders annually.[8]  Finally, Amtrak operates 15 long distance routes over a network of 18,500 miles of privately owned freight rail track, carrying more than 4.8 million passengers annually.[9]  “These routes are primarily legacy routes taken over by Amtrak from the freight railroads when Amtrak was formed in 1971, and are the only Amtrak trains in 23 of the 46 states in the network.”[10]

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[2] House Report 114-30, at 2.
[3] Id. at 2.
[4] Id. at 2.
[5] Id. at 2.
[6] Id. at 2.
[7] Id. at 2.
[8] Id. at 3.
[9] Id. at 3.
[10] Id. at 3.

Cost

CBO estimates that enacting this legislation would cost approximately $7.0 billion over the 2015-2020, assuming appropriation of the specified and necessary amounts.  The bill would not affect direct spending or revenues.

Amendments

1)         Rep. McNerney (R-CA) Amendment #4 – Amendment ensures that socially and economically disadvantaged businesses request for proposals are considered for station development opportunities under Section 208 of the bill.

2)         Rep. Fitzpatrick (R-PA) Amendment #1 – Amendment adds veteran-owned small businesses to the participation study required under Section 305.

3)         Rep. Mica (R-FL) Amendment #14 – Amendment requires the Northeast Corridor Infrastructure and Operations Advisory Committee, in consultation with Amtrak and within 180 days of the bill’s enactment, to submit a report to Congress that analyzes the implementation of non-stop, high-speed express passenger rail service between Washington, DC and Boston, Massachusetts.

4)         Rep. Brownley (D-CA) Amendment #2 – Amendment requires each state to develop a grade crossing action plan, identifying specific solutions for improving safety at crossings, including highway-rail grade crossing closures or grade separations; and focuses on crossings that have experienced recent grade crossing accidents or multiple accidents, or are at high risk for accidents.

5)         Rep. Perlmutter (D-CO) Amendment #13 – Amendment requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to submit to Congress a report evaluating the effectiveness of the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) 2005 rule on the use of locomotive horns at rail crossings.

6)         Rep. McClintock (R-CA) Amendment #17 – Amendment restricts operating subsidies for Amtrak.

7)         Rep. Lipinski (D-IL) Amendment #15 – Amendment clarifies that passengers using or transporting non-motorized transportation are to be considered in the Amtrak Office of Inspector General’s report on boarding procedures in Section 211.

Additional Information

For questions or further information contact the GOP Conference at 5-5107.