November 9, 2021 - TRA Newswire -

The infrastructure bill waiting for President Biden's signature contains a number of critical policy reforms and new programs that could be beneficial for Texas and for the national passenger rail carrier, Amtrak.

The funding ushers in a new era for investment in passenger rail. The legislation means new and refurbished equipment for long-distance trains that serve Texas, increased service in corridors, and upgrades in rail infrastructure that keep freight trains moving and shortening Amtrak train delays. There are subtle policies the public will not notice but will have a lasting impact on how passenger rail service is shaped and delivered. The upgrades will touch virtually all parts of the existing system.

$16 billion over five years will be allocated to the National Network with eligible projects to:

Acquire new passenger rolling stock to replace obsolete equipment in the long-distance and state-supported services (think Texas Eagle, Sunset Limited and Heartland Flyer)
Bring Amtrak-served stations to compliance with the Americans with Disability Act
Update systems for reservations, security, training and technology

At least $12 billion over five years for Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grants

$50 million annually for Restoration and Enhancement Grants to restore discontinued passenger rail service

Policy reforms will change the landscape for passenger rail:

Section 22201 - amends Amtrak's mission and goals to emphasize service to rural communities and maximize benefits of federal investment rather than trying to minimize costs that degrade service
Sec. 22202 - requires the Amtrak Board to be composed of more regional Directors, which should give flyover country a stronger voice in policy direction
Sec. 22203 - requires a ticket agent for each Amtrak station averaging at least 40 passengers a day (some Texas stations were shuttered under the Anderson regime)
Sec. 22204 - in its annual report to Congress, Amtrak must include information on route changes, frequency of service or station stops
Sec. 22206 - makes changes in how Amtrak reports spending in its annual report to Congress and should improve how the company allocates costs between service lines
Sec. 22208 - establishes a working group that includes rail advocacy organizations to improve onboard food and beverage services
Sec. 22210 - prohibits Amtrak from altering service if adequate funding is received for that route (especially protects rural communities)
Sec. 22211 - establishes a State-Supported Route Committee and cleans up accountability and transparency on cost methodology that states have widely complained about
Sec. 22212 - requires Amtrak to report to Congress on challenges like custom delays and how to improve cross-border rail service
Sec. 22214 - directs the USDOT to evaluate discontinued routes and trains with less-than-daily service (Sunset Limited) in a long-distance service study
Sec. 22304 - extends federal support for a route to six years from three and widens eligibility for restoration and enhancement grants to include Tribes
Sec. 22306 - establishes a competitive grant program providing federal funding for Interstate Rail Compacts (Texas should be a player in this!)
Sec. 22307 - allows other than states and Amtrak to be eligible for grant programs to upgrade, expand or establish new intercity passenger rail service
Sec. 22308 - requires the USDOT to establish a program to add and improve intercity passenger rail corridors and determine capital needs to establish service
Sec. 22309 - directs the Surface Transportation Board to hire additional full-time employees to carry out its passenger rail responsibilities