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NARP issued the following statement in response to the Senate rail bill, released yesterday. Make sure to check out the NARP Blog for a full analysis of this exciting bill!
June 18, 2015
WASHINGTON, D.C. —The National Association of Railroad Passengers applauds the pro-expansion ideas contained within the Railroad Reform, Enhancement, and Efficiency Act of 2015 (RREEA 2015), released today by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
This bill — which serves as a response to the House’s Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015 (PRRIA 2015) — covers a series of preventable train accidents by creating prioritizing grants to implement Positive Train Control technology and identifying common sense steps to quickly improve safety, such as creating speed limit action plans and addressing crew communication.
The bill also outlines a forward-thinking plan to invest in a robust, national passenger rail network. In what is a victory for passenger rail advocates—who have worked tirelessly to educate members of Congress on the important role trains play in creating a truly connected America—the Senate has rejected the embrace-the-status-quo mentality on display in the U.S. House’s proposal in favor of a bold vision for expansion and improvement of the U.S. rail system.
“NARP has worked closely with Senators and committee staffers in drafting this bill. It is not a perfect bill, but it is a huge leap forward in instituting a concrete framework for passenger rail predicated on growth, not contraction,” said NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews. “And it was created in a thoroughly bipartisan way, so we have every expectation that the Senate will advance this bill in as timely a fashion as possible.”
The bill provides $1.8 billion for Amtrak and passenger rail grants in Fiscal Year 2016, steadily increasing funding levels over the duration of the authorization to $2.8 billion in FY 2019.
“The funding levels identified by the Senate bill are far below what is required to meet the investment needs of the national rail network, and we will work with Senators to improve those numbers. The upward funding trend, however, is a positive one, and serves as a much-needed antidote to cuts proposed in the House,” said Mathews. “There are a number of incremental investments that Amtrak and states have identified, and if the U.S. were to spend on passenger trains a fraction of what it spends on highways and bridges, America’s passengers would see a dramatic increase in reliability and frequency. It would also allow Amtrak and commuter rail systems to move ahead with the much-needed installation of Positive Train Control, ensuring that American passengers have access to the best safety technology on the market.”
The bill contains a number of extremely promising provisions that—with the proper funding levels—could be used to build the efficient intermodal transportation network that American businesses will need to compete globally in the 21st Century. They include:
  • Authorizes the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop a program for issuing three-year operating assistance grants to launch or restore intercity rail passenger transportation, emphasizing projects that would restore service over routes formerly operated by Amtrak, as well as projects that provide daily or daytime service where such service does not previously exist;
  • Authorizes a 50/50 federal-state partnership for passenger rail rehabilitation and improvement, designed to address the state of good repair backlog that is hindering the efficient operation of U.S. trains and preventing growth across the national network;
  • Creates a Gulf Coast Rail Service Working Group to restore intercity rail passenger service in the Gulf Coast region between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Orlando, Florida;
  • Reorganizes Amtrak’s Board of Directors to ensure regional regional representation in the railroad’s leadership; and
  • Establishes a committee to promote mutual cooperation and planning on state-supported routes.