MIPRC's first take on U.S. House's version of transportation reauthorization bill, a.k.a. the INVEST Act
A transformative investment in passenger rail took the first step toward becoming law this week in Congress when the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee's transportation re-authorization bill was considered in committee. The INVEST (Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation) in America Act, introduced on June 4 by Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio, was marked up by the full Committee on June 9 and passed, by a 38-26 vote, in the early hours of June 10.
A number of amendments to weaken the rail portion of the act were defeated during the mark-up. Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb offered a successful amendment to establish a University Rail Climate Institute.
Upon our preliminary examination before mark-up, it looks like the passenger rail title of H.R. 3684, known as the TRAIN (Transforming Rail by Accelerating Investment Nationwide) Act, which begins on p. 1043 of this PDF version of the bill incorporates much from MIPRC’s renewal principles, but omits some of our key “asks.”
First, the good news.
The bill provides the rail title (the TRAIN Act) which was missing from the Senate-released reauthorization bill. It also provides substantive funding for Amtrak as well as for most of the grant programs created under the FAST Act. It creates a new PRIME grant program similar to the one unveiled last year which MIPRC supported. The INVEST Act also provides several of MIPRC’s major “new” asks for this reauthorization:
• provides funding for interstate passenger rail compacts such as MIPRC;
• gives Amtrak the right to bring its own actions to enforce its legal rights;
• dedicated intercity passenger rail planning funding is distributed to states via formula;
• empowers the State-Amtrak Intercity Passenger Rail Committee (SAIPRC) to undertake a comprehensive review of Amtrak’s cost distribution system;
Now for the not-so-good-news.
The bill doesn’t amend Section 209 of PRIIA to lower the threshold for state-supported services (MIPRC has recommended that threshold be lowered from 750 miles to 250; our reasons for doing so are detailed here). It also doesn’t address the “states are not railroads” question. And a study of the National Network’s future isn’t mandated (nor does it include a mandate to preserve existing long-distance routes).
We’ll keep pushing. It’s possible that the proposed “Cost Methodology Update & Implementation report” required to be made to Congress within 18 months of enactment (p. 1117) could be the vector for furthering our argument to lower the mileage threshold for state-supported service. MIPRC believes this is a conversation the states should and need to have with Amtrak, the U.S. Department of Transportation and Congress, and we will continue pursuing this.
The bill now goes to the full House of Representatives; a floor vote is expected to occur before the Fouth of July holiday.
The U.S. Senate's version of rail-related authorization, Title II of S.2016 (the Surface Transportation Investment Act of 2021) is scheduled for a June 16 hearing in the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. A MIPRC analysis of this bill will be forthcoming.
The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee's INVEST Act web page can be seen here.