On January 3, 2019, at the outset of the 116th Congress, the House of Representatives elected Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as Speaker of the House with 220 votes, surpassing the votes necessary for victory by a few votes. In addition, the House elected Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD) as Majority Leader and Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as Minority Leader. In the Senate, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) remains Majority Leader and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) continues as Minority Leader. Senator John Thune (R-SD) was elected as Majority Whip.

House Adopts New Rules for the 116th Congress

At the outset of the Congress, the House of Representatives also adopted Title I of H. Res. 6, which provides the Rules of the House for the 116th Congress. There are several notable changes to House Rules from the previous Congress.

First, the House established a new committee, the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, to investigate, study, and help respond to the negative impacts of environmental pollution. The Select Committee will include 15 Representatives. The Select Committee will have the authority to hold public hearings and is required to provide detailed findings and policy recommendations to the full House by December 31, 2020. The Committee does not have legislative authority.

Second, House Rules did not include special authority to create a Subcommittee on Infrastructure Financing of the Committee on Ways and Means, an idea championed by Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). The Committee on Ways and Means has jurisdiction over revenues of the Highway Trust Fund (including the Mass Transit Account) and these issues will remain within the jurisdiction of the Subcommittee on Tax Policy.

Finally, House Rules include several important changes to budget rules, which may affect the ability to increase funding for surface transportation programs. The Rules eliminate a requirement that budget transfers from the General Fund to the Highway Trust Fund be offset by other budget cuts. This change eliminates one impediment to increasing funding for the Highway Trust Fund.

However, the Rules also restore the House Pay-As-You-Go (PAYGO) rule, which requires that new mandatory spending be offset with tax increases or mandatory spending cuts. Therefore, under the PAYGO rule, a bill that increases public transportation contract authority (e.g, infrastructure investment legislation) will need to be offset by other spending cuts or revenue increases. Lastly, the Rules include a provision that makes it easier to increase the nation’s Debt Limit without a specific vote on the issue in the House of Representatives. If the House adopts a Budget Resolution, a bill suspending the Debt Limit is automatically sent to the Senate for legislative action. In total, these changes to budget rules are a “mixed bag” for increasing public transportation investment. It remains likely that any significant increase in infrastructure investment will need to be offset by budget cuts or increases in revenues.

Commuter Rail Successfully Meets 2018 PTC Congressional Milestones

As of December 31, 2018, all commuter rail systems have successfully met the 2018 Positive Train Control (PTC) statutory milestones, including

  • Installing all PTC hardware (wayside and onboard equipment);
  • Acquiring all necessary spectrum for PTC implementation;
  • Completing all employee training;
  • Initiating testing on at least one territory subject to the PTC requirement (or other criteria); and
  • Submitting a revised plan and alternative schedule to the Secretary of Transportation for implementing a PTC system.

APTA President and CEO Paul Skoutelas issued a press release regarding commuter railroads’ success at achieving these important milestones.

In the next two years, one of the biggest challenges is interoperability. Commuter rail systems will need to ensure that their PTC implementation is seamlessly operational for both host and tenant operators. Interoperability will require thorough communication and coordination between the various host and tenant railroads.

PTC implementation technological challenges have included: a limited number of PTC-qualified vendors simultaneously in demand by both the passenger and freight railroad industries to develop, design, and test this complex safety technology; diagnosing and resolving software issues, securing adequate access to track and locomotives for installation and testing, and achieving interoperability, as commuter rail systems operate in mixed traffic with other freight and passenger railroads.

To assist in the effort to implement PTC, on December 21, 2018, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) awarded more than $46 million for PTC deployment projects, including more than $36 million for commuter rail PTC projects.

To date, four railroads have reported fully implementing an FRA-certified and interoperable PTC system.

House Passes Appropriations Bills to End Federal Government Shutdown; President Trump Threatens Veto

Last night, the House of Representatives passed two bills to end the Federal Government shutdown. Today marks the 14th day of the partial government shutdown.

The House passed H.R. 21, the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019”, by a vote of 241 – 190. H.R. 21 provides full-year funding for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and other departments and agencies, except the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Separately, the House also passed H.J. Res. 1, which provides a Continuing Resolution for DHS programs through February 8, 2019.

The Consolidated Appropriations bill represents bills passed by the Senate (or reported by its committees). Thus, the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations Division of H.R. 21 reflects the THUD bill as passed by the Senate. The bill provides $16.1 billion for public transportation and intercity passenger rail, including $13.6 billion for public transportation and $2.5 billion for intercity passenger rail grants. These total funding levels are slightly less than the historic fiscal year (FY) 2018 funding levels but $1.3 billion more than authorized by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act for FY 2019. For a full funding table, please click here. Please note that the THUD funding included in H.R. 21 is the “Senate THUD Appropriations” (5th column of table).

However, President Trump has indicated that he would veto these bills if they do not provide significantly increased southern border wall funding. Given the Administration’s opposition to the bill, Senate Majority Leader McConnell has indicated that he will not allow a vote on the bill. Currently, there is no immediate plan to resolve the ongoing standoff and reopen the Federal Government.​​

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