Tuesday evening, the House of Representatives finished floor debate and passed, by a vote of 216 - 210, the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations bill. The House voted on the first series of amendments to the bill last week, and completed amendments before voting for final passage late Tuesday night.
As with the Committeeapproved bill, the final House THUD FY 2016 Appropriations bill funds the core Federal Transit Administration (FTA) formula programs at the FY 2015 enacted level of $8.595 billion (funded from the Highway Trust Fund Mass Transit Account). The measure provides another $2.15 billion for transit programs funded from the General Fund, including $1.92 billion for FTA Capital Investment Grants (New Starts and Core Capacity). Other programs such as TIGER Grants, Amtrak Capital and Debt Service Grants, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), as well as many programs funded by General Funds saw cuts. A chart showing FY 2015 enacted levels compared to the President’s request, as well as the House FY 2016 appropriations can be found here
Below are the results of the amendments postponed from last week and voted on Tuesday:
- An amendment offered by Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) that would reduce spending for all accounts in the bill by 1 percent. This amendment was defeated by a roll call vote of 163 – 259.
- 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. This amendment was defeated by a roll call vote of 163 – 260.
- An amendment offered by Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX) prohibiting funds from being used by Amtrak to support the route with the highest loss, measured by contributions/(loss) per rider. The amendment would eliminate the "Sunset Limited" line from New Orleans to Los Angeles. This amendment was defeated by a roll call vote of 205 – 218.
- An amendment offered by Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX) prohibiting funds from being used by Amtrak to operate any route whose operating costs exceed two times its revenues based on the National Railroad Passenger Corporation FY2014-2018 Five Year Plan from April 2014. The amendment sponsor seeks to eliminate funding for Amtrak’s long distance routes. This amendment was defeated by a roll call vote of 186 – 237.
- An amendment offered by Representative Bill Posey (R-FL) prohibiting funds from being used to authorize private activity bonds to finance passenger rail projects that do use vehicles reasonably expected to be capable of attaining a maximum speed in excess of 150 mph. The amendment’s sponsor objects to the approval of private activity bonds for the “All Aboard Florida” project. APTA’s Recommendations for Surface Transportation Authorization seek to broaden eligibility and encourage greater use of private activity bonds in public transportation. This amendment was defeated by a roll call vote of 148 – 275.
- An amendment offered by Representative Bill 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. This amendment was defeated by a roll call vote of 134 – 287.
In addition to the votes postponed from last week, several new transit amendments were offered late in the day on Tuesday. Representative Patrick Meehan (R-PA) offered an amendment prohibiting funds from being used by Amtrak for projects off of the Northeast Corridor (NEC) until the amount spend on capital projects on the NEC in FY 2016 equals the amount of Amtrak’s profits from that line in FY 2015. This amendment was defeated by a roll call vote of 199 – 227. Representative Tom Emmer (R-MN) also offered an amendment prohibiting funds from being used to carry out enrichment for any New Start grant request. This amendment was also defeated by a roll call vote of 212 – 214.
Another amendment adopted by voice vote was one offered by Representative Jeff Denham (R-CA) prohibiting funds from being used for high-speed rail in California or for the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
This legislation will now be sent to the Senate, where the Appropriations Committee has not yet scheduled a mark-up of their version of a Transportation-HUD bill.
Senate Commerce Committee Holds Hearing on Passenger Rail Safety
On Wednesday, June 10, 2015, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will held a hearing titled, “Passenger Rail Safety: Accident Prevention and On-Going Efforts to Implement Train Control Technology”. The hearing focused on the efforts to prevent passenger rail accidents, particularly through the use of train control technology. Witnesses included:
- The Honorable Tho "Bella" Dinh-Zarr, Vice Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board
- 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
- Mr. DJ Stadtler, Executive Vice President / Chief Operations Officer, Amtrak
Chairman John Thune (R-SD)
acknowledged the challenges that many railroads have faced in their PTC installation efforts. He stated, "While I fully support the implementation of PTC, for years I have noted the complexity of its full implementation for both passenger and certain freight railroads.” He went on to say, "Many challenges weren’t fully understood or appreciated when PTC was mandated in 2008 following the tragic Metrolink accident in California or when railroads drafted their initial PTC implementation plans following the final implementing rule in 2010.” And, lastly, he affirmed the need to for Congress to extend the current PTC installation deadline stating, "Understanding that there is broad agreement on the need for a deadline extension, I hope Congress can soon come together on a thoughtful, revised implementation framework for this important safety technology.”
Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL)
also conceded that railroads have endured PTC implementation challenges and was steadfast on the need to move forward. He stated, “Undoubtedly, the installation of PTC is complex. However, talking about the technical challenges will not make them go away. If we want to get this technology installed quickly, then we must do more.” He also commented on the need to protect victims of rail accidents stating, “It is time to reevaluate the (compensation award) cap to ensure that victims of these crashes are adequately compensated.”
Associate Administrator Lauby also noted implementation challenges specifically regarded funding. He testified that the FRA has long stated that a lack of public sector funding may cause unwanted delays in fully implementing PTC. He also reiterated the Administration’s position that the FRA be granted authority to review, approve, and provisionally certify PTC plans on a railroad-by-railroad basis. Most notably, he clarified that the FRA is preparing take a range of enforcement actions against railroads that do not meet the 12/31/15 PTC implementation deadline.
Federal Communications Commission Associate Bureau Chief Mathias offered an overview of some complexities of acquiring the spectrum necessary for PTC systems and issues surrounding the installation of PTC-related infrastructure including PTC poles. Numerous issues and questions related to PTC spectrum were raised during the hearing. Inexplicably, Mathias from the FCC indicated in several instances that as far as the FCC was aware, commuter railroads had access to all of the communications spectrum they needed. However, according to a recent APTA survey of the nation’s commuter railroads, 54 percent do not have complete access to all of the necessary spectrum required to fully implement PTC. This point was made during the hearing in clarification of the FCC statements. APTA data was used at numerous points throughout the hearing clarifying costs and challenges our commuter railroads face in completing the implementation of PTC.
To view the hearing in its entirety or to read the prepared remarks offered by the witnesses, please visit the committee website here
Hearings Scheduled in House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees on Highway Trust Fund Finance Needs
Under rather short notice, each of the tax-writing committees in Congress has scheduled a hearing for next week to examine transportation funding needs and the challenges facing the Highway Trust Fund and its revenue stream.
On Wednesday, June 17, the House Committee on Ways and Means will hold a hearing on Long-Term Financing of the Highway Trust Fund. The hearing will take place at 10:00 a.m. in room 1100 of the Longworth House Office Building. As this Legislative Alert was being completed, the witness list for the hearing had not yet been announced. For more information on this hearing, visit the committee website here.
On Thursday, June 18, the Senate Committee on Finance will hold a hearing titled “Dead End, No Turn Around, Danger Ahead: Challenges to the Future of Highway Funding”. The hearing will take place at 10:00 a.m. in room 215 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. For more information on this hearing, visit the committee website here. The witnesses will include:
- Dr. Joseph Kile, Assistant Director for Microeconomic Studies Division, Congressional Budget Office
- The Honorable Ray LaHood, Senior Policy Advisor, DLA Piper
- Mr. Stephen Moore, Distinguished Visiting Fellow, The Heritage Foundation