Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Includes Wins for Southern Rail Commission
BATON ROUGE (press release) – From the Southern Rail Commission:
The U.S. Senate finalized a bipartisan infrastructure bill over the weekend which includes $66 billion for rail programs, projects, and operations, representing an unprecedented investment in the nation’s passenger rail system. The Senate will begin debate today on the infrastructure bill that in total authorizes $1 trillion in new spending for roads, bridges, broadband, electric, water, and rail infrastructure. The bill also fundamentally redirects Amtrak’s mission as defined by Congress from one of “achieving a performance level to justify expending public money” to meeting the urban and rural passenger rail needs across the entire United States.
The bill contains numerous items related to passenger rail that wholly align with the Southern Rail Commission’s strategic priorities:
- Provides billions in new annual funding for Amtrak operations and network upgrades.
- Allocates $1.5 billion per year for the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grants program with a 50 percent match required, which could be used for the proposed service between Baton Rouge to New Orleans.
- Allocates up to $1 million per year of federal matching funds for interstate rail compacts such as the SRC.
- Provides $15 million for the U.S. Department of Transportation to analyze the restoration of long-distance trains that have been terminated by Amtrak.
- Boosts funding levels for rail grant programs such as Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program ($1 billion per year), and the Restoration and Enhancement Program ($50 million per year).
- Makes the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program more financially useful to eligible entities.
- Allocates $500 million per year for rail grade-crossing removals.
- Allocates $1.5 billion per year for Local and Regional Project Assistance Program.
- Provides $50 million per year for ensuring train stations are ADA compliant.
- Changes to the composition of the Amtrak Board of Directors, designating one seat for a representative of the disability community, two seats for Northeastern Corridor service, two seats for long-distance service, and two seats for state-supported rail service representatives. In addition, the CEO of Amtrak can no longer serve in the role as President of the Board.
- Directs Amtrak’s business goals to include “competitive fares, mail and express, make certain food served meets the needs of its customers, provide economic benefits to communities, support and maintain established long-distance routes.”
- Creates a working group to recommend food changes that will address the dietary needs of long-distance passengers, provide local food and beverages on state supported trains, survey the passengers for input with a goal of increasing ridership.
- Directs the Surface Transportation Board to set up a passenger rail decision desk and staff with up to ten people with passenger rail expertise.
“This bill is a defining moment in the history of the Southern Rail Commission’s work, and we thank our congressional leaders whose support of this bill will deliver monumental direct benefits to our Gulf Coast region,” said Mississippi Commissioner Knox Ross. “New funding will not only support and expand the ongoing work of our commission but will also allow for new passenger rail projects and create sustainable opportunities for growth, connectivity, and economic development along the Gulf Coast and throughout the region.”
The SRC is currently working with local elected officials and leaders across the South, as well as with its federal delegation and Amtrak, to restore passenger rail service to the Gulf Coast and expand connection opportunities throughout the region.