On Thursday, Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the “Railroad Reform, Enhancement, and Efficiency Act”. This bipartisan bill aims to improve passenger rail safety, reauthorize Amtrak services, and improve existing rail infrastructure. The legislation would authorize Amtrak for four years at an average of $1.65 billion per year, starting with $1.45 billion authorized in FY2016 and increasing to $1.9 billion in FY 2019. The bill also authorizes an additional $570 million (4 year average) in grant funding, beginning in FY2016 with $350 million and increasing to $900 million in 2019 (by comparison, a similar House bill authorized $300 million per year). These grants would be available for a variety of purposes including help with PTC compliance, grade crossing improvements, congestion mitigation and relocation of rail lines. Addressing safety concerns, the bill also prioritizes loan applications for implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC), requires speed limit and grade crossing action plans, encourages confidential close call reporting programs, and addresses safety issues such as signage, alerters, and track inspection. Lastly, the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program was revised to enhance efficiency, accessibility, and flexibility of the application process. To view the full bill text, please click here.
House Ways and Means Committee Holds Hearing on Highway Trust Fund
The House Committee on Ways and Means held a hearing on the funding of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) on Wednesday morning. The purpose of the testimony was to discuss potential funding sources to fill the estimated $168 billion gap in the HTF over the next 10 years. Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) opened with a finite declaration, “I want to make something very clear. We are not going to raise the gas tax. There’s not much happening in this economy to help it grow, but lower gas prices, that’s one thing that’s happening that’s good for consumers.” While the general consensus among members of the Committee was that a general fund transfer was inevitable in the short-term, there was little agreement on where a longer-term solution would come from. Some of the proposals discussed were general fund transfers, raising the gas tax, repatriation, tolling, and a Vehicle Miles Traveled fee.
To view the hearing in its entirety, click here
. In addition, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures David Reichert (R-WA) has scheduled a hearing on Repatriation of Foreign Earnings as a Source of Funding for the Highway Trust Fund. This will take place on Wednesday, June 24 at 2 pm. For more information on this hearing, please visit the committee website here.
Senate Finance Committee Holds Hearing on Highway Trust Fund
The Senate Committee on Finance also held a hearing on the challenges of funding the HTF on Thursday. During this hearing, former Secretary of the Department of Transportation Ray LaHood (R-IL) advocated for the raising of the gas tax. He noted, "It has not been raised in 20 years. None of you can think of anything that hasn't been raised in 20 years — the cost of a stamp, cost of an automobile, cost of a gallon of milk. Everything's gone up, except the gas tax." Much like the House Ways and Means hearing, several other funding options were discussed with none rising as the clear favored method. During the hearing, Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) stated that he does not believe repatriation raises the necessary funds for the HTF, pointing out that the Congressional Budget Office has scored various plans as losing money over 10 years.
To view the hearing in its entirety or to read the prepared remarks offered by the witnesses, please visit the committee website here. The committee also announced that they would be holding a hearing titled, “Unlocking the Private Sector: State Innovations in Financing Transportation Infrastructure”. This will take place on Thursday,June 25 at 10 am. For more information on this hearing, please visit the committee website here.
The House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials will be holding a hearing titled “The State of Positive Train Control Implementation in the United States” on Wednesday, June 24 at 10 am. The full witness list has not been publicly released, but the Chair of APTA’s Commuter Rail CEOs Subcommittee Donald A. Orseno will be testifying. For more information on this hearing, please visit the committee website here.