Infrastructure Bill Good for Gulf Coast Passenger Rail Restoration

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BATON ROUGE – From the Southern Rail Commission:

The U.S. Senate passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill today that includes investing an unprecedented $66 billion for the nation’s passenger rail programs, projects, and operations. The bill in total authorizes $1 trillion in new spending for roads, bridges, broadband, electric, water, and rail infrastructure. The unprecedented funding in passenger rail signifies a win for the Southern Rail Commission as numerous items in the bill align with the SRC’s strategic priorities.

“The Senate’s action today in passing this bill provides historic levels of funding for passenger rail that allow for unprecedented expansion and development,” said Knox Ross, Mississippi Commissioner for the SRC. “This bill’s passage coupled with the Surface Transportation Board’s decision last week to move forward with Gulf Coast passenger rail service brings the SRC one step closer to turning the commission’s aspirational goals for the South into a reality.”

A distinguishing component of the final infrastructure bill is the redefining of Amtrak’s mission to be one of a valuable service to the American people which should be invested in to serve the entire nation rather than selected portions of the country. Items directly impacting the SRC include:

  • 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 a 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.

The SRC looks forward to seeing the bill debated in the House and anticipates ultimate passage by both chambers.

The SRC is currently working with local elected officials and leaders across the South, as well as with their federal delegation and Amtrak, to restore passenger rail service to the Gulf Coast and expand connection opportunities throughout the region.

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