Thursday afternoon, the House of Representatives voted on the first group of amendments to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations bill. The House began consideration of the bill Wednesday evening and debated the amendments late into the night.
Several amendments affecting public transportation were offered and adopted by voice vote. Representative Charlie Dent (R-PA) offered an amendment to increase Amtrak’s Capital and Debt Service Grants by $9 million for the purpose of installing inward facing cameras. The amendment was offset by cuts to the Department of Transportation (USDOT) Secretary's salaries and expenses, the Federal Transit Administration's administrative expenses account, the Saint Lawrence Seaway administrative expenses. This amendment was adopted by voice vote. In addition, Representative Jim Langevin (D-RI) proposed an amendment, adopted by voice vote, which increased Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Technical Assistance and Training by $2 million, offset by cuts to the FTA Administrative Expenses account.
Representative Bob Dold (R-IL) offered two amendments sought to increase funding for Amtrak Capital and Debt Service Grants by $200 million, increase FTA Capital Investment Grants by $200 million, with both offset by cuts to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Operations Account. These proposals were defeated by voice vote. Representative Glenn Grothman (R-WI) offered an amendment which proposed to cut Capital Investment Grants by $230 million and apply the same amount to the spending reduction account (deficit reduction). This amendment was also defeated by a voice vote.
Other amendments were offered which sought to increase TIGER Grants, Amtrak Capital and Debt Service Grants, and funding for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), all of which were not offset. As these amendments would increase funding above the overall allocation to the bill, a point of order was sustained on each and they were not subject to a vote.
Of the amendments that were decided by recorded vote, three amendments failed. The first, by Representative Scott Garrett (R-NJ) sought to increase funding by $16.9 million for FRA Safety and Operations through an $83 million reduction in the FTA’s Capital Investment Grants account. This amendment was defeated 160-266. In addition, two amendments offered by Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL) would have eliminated funding for Amtrak Operating Grants, as well as Amtrak Capital and Debt Service Grants. These amendments were defeated 143-283 and 139-266 respectively.
The House suspended action on the Transportation-HUD appropriations bill, in order to allow members to return to their districts for the weekend. The remaining amendments for which votes were requested will be voted on next week, along with a vote on final passage of the bill, when the House returns on Monday.
Among the amendments that remain pending and will be voted on next week are the following:
An amendment offered by Representative Bill Posey (R-FL) prohibiting funds from being used by DOT to finance a new passenger rail project that runs from Orlando to Miami through Indian River County, Florida. The amendment’s sponsor seeks to prevent funding from being provided for the “All Aboard Florida” project.
An amendment offered by Representative Posey (R-FL) prohibiting funds from being used to make a loan in an amount that exceeds $600 million under title V of the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976. Again, the amendment’s sponsor objects to the approval of a Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) Program loan application for the “All Aboard Florida” project. APTA’s Recommendations for Surface Transportation Authorization seek to greatly expand, rather than limit the use of the DOT/FRA RRIF loan program.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Holds Hearing on Amtrak Accident
On Tuesday, June 2, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing on the tragic Amtrak derailment that occurred in Philadelphia, PA on May 12, 2015. The witnesses that testified before the Committee included:
Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) voiced strong concerns over the continuing underinvestment in infrastructure, citing Amtrak’s $21 billion backlog in maintenance to bring the Northeast Corridor (NEC) to a state of good repair, the growing age of bridges and tunnels, and other investments which have not been made. Representative DeFazio also noted the benefits of Positive Train Control (PTC) and the role it may have had in preventing this accident.
Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R-CA) urged for the implementation of PTC as soon as possible, noting the similarity of the Emergency Order that was issued after last year’s Metro North accident compared to the more recent Amtrak derailment.
Acting Administrator Feinberg stated in her testimony that the deadline for implementation of PTC is quickly approaching and that most major railroads have said they will not be able to implement it by the end of the year. The FRA is having internal conversations on how to enforce this deadline, ranging within their discretion of very little enforcement to daily civil penalties. She also noted that this would be done on a merit basis, with the most compliant railroads receiving the most leniency. In addition, FRA will be releasing a package of actions to address train speed, distraction, and training in the coming weeks.
Mr. Boardman spoke about the difficulty of acquiring spectrum in order to implement PTC on the NEC. He stated that Amtrak had experienced delays from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in approving the spectrum necessary to fully implement PTC on the NEC, which they have since expedited in the past several weeks. Boardman projected that Amtrak will have PTC fully functional on the corridor by the deadline.
Other topics discussed in the three hour hearing included inward-facing cameras, work schedules, cell phone usage, implementation of seatbelts, among others. To view the hearing in its entirety or to read the prepared remarks offered by the witnesses, please visit the committee website here
House Committee on Small Business Holds Hearing on the Need for a Long-Term Transportation Reauthorization
On Wednesday, June 3, the House Committee on Small Business held a hearing which focused on the impacts of short-term authorizations on small businesses. Chairman Steve Chabot (R-OH) highlighted the economic impact of patchwork fixes to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and their detrimental effects on the infrastructure that small businesses are reliant on. Ranking Member Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) noted the cost of traffic delays and congestion, as well as the uncertainty created by short-term funding, especially in construction, which are generally smaller businesses.
One of the topics that was discussed thoroughly was funding sources to fill the gap in the HTF, and mechanisms that could remedy this. The federal gas tax, vehicle miles traveled, gas indexing, tolls and other user-fee structures were among the several discussed. In addition, public-private partnerships (P3s), TIFIA loans, and Private Activity Bonds (PABs) were raised as viable options for financing sources of projects. The witness that testified before the full Committee are below:
Mr. William Schmitz, Vice President, Sales and Quality Control, Gernatt Asphalt Company, Collins, NY
Mr. Don Shilling, President, General Equipment and Supplies, Fargo, ND
Mr. Matt Davis, Director, Build Our New Bridge Now Coalition, Cincinnati, OH
Dr. Jonathon Gifford, Professor and Director, Center for Transportation Public-Private Policy, George Mason School of Public Policy, Arlington, VA
To view the hearing in its entirety or to read the prepared remarks offered by the witnesses, please visit the committee website here
Upcoming Hearing: Senate Commerce Committee to Hold Hearing on Amtrak Accident
On Wednesday, June 10, 2015 at 10 a.m., the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold a hearing titled, “Passenger Rail Safety: Accident Prevention and On-Going Efforts to Implement Train Control Technology”. This hearing will be focused on the efforts to prevent passenger rail accidents, particularly through the use of train control technology. The witnesses that will give testimony are below:
Mr. Robert Lauby, Associate Administrator for Safety / Chief Safety Officer, U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration
Mr. Charles Mathias, Associate Bureau Chief, Federal Communications Commission, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau
Senate Commerce Committee Approves TSA Nominee
On Thursday, the Senate Commerce Committee approved, by voice vote, the nomination of Coast Guard Vice Admiral Peter Neffenger to lead the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Chairman John Thune (R-SD) and Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL) both stated their confidence in Neffenger’s ability to lead the TSA and urged for his expeditious confirmation. The nomination will now be considered by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs before being considered by the full Senate for confirmation.