MIPRC asks Congress to include PRIIA Sec. 209 reform in final federal transportation reauthorization bill
In a July 23 letter to Midwestern members of Congress, the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission (MIPRC) endorsed the planned $66 billion allocation to rail in the bipartisan infrastructure framework and reaffirmed its strong support for passenger rail policies in both the House (H.R. 3684) and Senate (S. 2016) reauthorization bills, but asked federal lawmakers to include reforming the 13-year-old law requiring states to pay for Amtrak services on routes that 750 miles or shorter.
MIPRC also thanked Congress for including key aspects of its reauthorization principles in the current reauthorization legislation, including retaining rail/passenger rail as a separate title and continuing strong levels of funding for extant and new grant programs, as well as funding dedicated to regional passenger rail planning efforts.
In the letter, MIPRC asks that – as U.S. representatives and senators merge the bipartisan infrastructure framework into the extant bills and ultimately welds them together in a conference committee – Congress give strong consideration to another MIPRC key priority: lowering the threshold established in Section 209 of the 2008 Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) of 750 miles for state-supported service.
“That is one aspect on which both reauthorization bills are currently silent – and which MIPRC believes changing is essential to creating the strong, national passenger rail system necessary for our country’s multi-modal transportation infrastructure needs,” the letter says.
In the letter, MIPRC offers two options to address the outdated 750-mile threshold:
1. Substantially lower the Section 209 threshold for state-supported passenger rail service to 250 miles or service entirely within a state, with some qualifications. Specifically, all new routes and increased frequencies initiated by a state or states that are entirely within a state or are multistate corridors less than 250 miles in length would continue to require state funding per the Section 209 law. For all existing, new or expanded state-supported routes over 250 miles in length, operating support funding should transition to Amtrak’s national network grant, unless states opt to retain control and ownership of those services and continue 209 state payments, given the public investments that some states have made in corridors.
2. Amtrak assumes the responsibility for funding initial operating costs of new or expanded service, covering the operating costs of the first frequency or frequencies of new service, with state support responsibility kicking in with subsequent frequencies. Similar to the proposal above, states could also opt to initiate and pay for new service.
A detailed explanation of our rationale behind this ask can be found here.
“While new corridor services and frequencies are now part of Amtrak’s vision for what its national network can and should be, many of these new corridors will traverse multiple states and should be funded under Amtrak’s national network grant along with its long-distance services,” the letter says. “It may not be feasible for multiple states to identify state funding resources and jointly fund a new longer distance route.
“Addressing this challenge can help facilitate development of regional networks of multi-frequency corridors connecting key urban and rural areas, verses a piecemeal system where development occurs only in situations where multiple states can agree to fund a new route.”