BY RICHARD HARNISH
Executive Director, High Speed Rail Alliance
The U.S. House has just passed the INVEST in America Act. It authorizes roughly $550 billion for investments in U.S. transportation systems over the next five years—including $109 billion for transit systems and about $100 billion for passenger and freight trains.
The bill—which authorizes but does not actually allocate funds—establishes budget priorities and policies for U.S. transportation systems through 2026.
High-speed and high-performance rail will especially benefit from a new program called the Passenger Rail Improvement, Modernization and Expansion (PRIME) program. Grants from the program will fund service expansions and upgrades to passenger-rail systems, as well as performance-improvement initiatives.
The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure passed a bill authorizing $25 billion for PRIME earlier this month. An amendment by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) increased the authorization by $5 billion (to $30 billion) in the bill that just passed.
The Act also triples Amtrak’s authorization—to $32 billion—over five years, and it gives Amtrak legal power to enforce its priority status on tracks owned by the freight railroads. Delays on those tracks affect on-time performance across Amtrak’s network.
And the INVEST Act targets another major source of headaches for passenger train traffic in the U.S. with a $2.5 billion grade-separation program that would create (or improve) grade-crossing separations across the country.
House leaders called the Act “a new approach to federal transportation policy” that makes record investments in passenger rail, public transit, cycling and walking infrastructure, and zero-emission options, while creating safer, more connected communities.”
The Senate’s surface transportation authorization bill is still moving through the Senate. We expect their version will authorize less funding for transit and passenger rail.
When the Senate’s work on its relevant bills is done, a reconciled version of the authorization bill will emerge from negotiations between the House and Senate. A strong push by advocates will help ensure that authorized funding for trains is closer to the higher levels in the House bill than the lower levels of the Senate bill.
The current surface transportation authorization act expires on Sept. 30.
HSRA is also pleased to note that 80 members of Congress have signed on to a letter from House and Senate members to leaders of their respective chambers, urging them to support “dedicated funding to develop international-standard high-speed rail with high-performance connections that feed into a larger network.” It notes that a “federal commitment to these modern and proven transportation systems will dramatically improve our environment, reduce inequity, and help grow cities and sustain vibrant downtowns across the nation.”
Please take a moment to send an e-mail to Congress right now, requesting more train investments in the upcoming infrastructure package. Customize the note and tell your representatives to support maximum funding levels for trains in both the INVEST Act and in a reconciliation bill that Congress is currently working on.
To add to your impact: Make a note of your representatives’ phone numbers when sending an email and give their offices a call. Calls from constituents are relatively rare—and a guaranteed way to get their attention.