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What's in the newly-signed IIJA for passenger rail?
Jon Davis
/ Categories: News

What's in the newly-signed IIJA for passenger rail?

President Biden signed the historic Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act (IIJA) into law on Nov. 15. Now that IIJA is law, what exactly is in it for passenger rail?

The IIJA (H.R. 3684) includes both the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework – which will provide $66 billion to passenger rail over the next five fiscal years on top of regular annual appropriations – and the Surface Transportation Act of 2021, the long-awaited renewal of the FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act, which is Division B of the new law.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework appropriates additional funds that can be spent as soon as the relevant agencies can do so. The Surface Transportation Act of 2021 (STA21) authorizes annual spending through FFY 2026 subject to annual appropriations. 

Surface Transportation Act of 2021

STA21 contains the annual federal funding authorization for Federal Fiscal Years 2022-26 and, as with the FAST Act, its spending is subject to follow-on appropriations bills. Rail is covered by Title II and its four subtitles which cover authorization of appropriations for Amtrak and rail grants, Amtrak reforms, intercity passenger rail policy and rail safety. It includes $12.65 billion for the National Network and $6.57 billion for the Northeast Corridor from FFY 2022 to 2026.

From these amounts, however, there are myriad carve-outs. For example, the Secretary of Transportation may designate up to $6 million annually for the Northeast Corridor Commission and up to $3 million annually for the State-Supported Route Committee.

In addition, the secretary can take another $3 million per year for a new grant program to help interstate rail compacts conduct regional planning, cover administrative costs and prepare federal grant applications, or promote intercity passenger rail operations. Up to 10 grants, each no more than $1 million, will be awarded per fiscal year. A 50 percent non-federal match is required. This is a new grant program that will likely take some time for the Federal Railroad Administration – which is responsible for developing it – to get a first Notification of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) issued.

Furthermore, $50 million of Amtrak’s annual grants must be spent on capital projects to increase the system’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Amtrak also may use up to 10 percent of its annual National Network grants (up to a total of $1.265 billion for the five-year period) for corridor planning, capital costs and operating assistance. 

STA21 also authorizes $15.25 billion over those five years (subject to annual appropriation bills) for competitive grant programs:

•    $7.5 billion ($1.5 billion per year) for the Federal-State Partnership for Passenger Rail program (replacing and expanding upon the Federal-State Partnership for Good Repair program). Forty-five percent of funds must go to projects on the NEC and 45 percent to projects outside the NEC, and 20 percent of non-NEC funds must help long-distance routes.
•    $5 billion ($1 billion per year) for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure & Safety Improvements (CRISI) grants.
•    $2.5 billion ($500 million per year) for Railroad Crossing Elimination; and
•    $250 million ($50 million per year) for Restoration & Enhancement grants, which now will cover projected net operating costs for six years instead of five, starting with 90 percent in the first year, stepping down annually to 50 percent in the fifth year, and ending at 30 percent in the sixth.

STA21 mandates a study of Amtrak’s long-distance services, which must examine the potential restoration of services discontinued before November 15 (when the IIJA was signed), and potential increase of non-daily routes – the Chicago-Washington, D.C. Cardinal, for example – to daily service.

The law forbids Amtrak from discontinuing or substantially altering service on any long-distance route in any year in which it’s gotten “adequate Federal funding” for that route. The law also now requires Amtrak to provide 210 days’ notice to Congress of its intent to cancel a long-distance route.

Amtrak also must restore ticket agents at stations that were staffed as of Oct. 1, 2017, and which averaged 40 or more daily boardings in FY 2017.

Other provisions will change the makeup of Amtrak’s board of directors, increase oversight of its accounting procedures, and aim to improve passengers’ food and beverage experience.

Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework is the Senate’s version of President Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan for additional infrastructure investments to help the nation recover from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The oft-cited $66 billion for passenger rail comes from this part of the IIJA; this money is in addition to five-year authorized funding found in STA21.

The Framework appropriates an additional $16 billion over five years for Amtrak’s National Network and $6 billion for the Northeast Corridor, along with:

•    $36 billion ($7.2 billion per year) for the Federal-State Partnership for Passenger Rail program, of which not more than $24 billion can be obligated to the Northeast Corridor.
•    $5 billion ($1 billion per year) for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure & Safety Improvements (CRISI); and
•    $3 billion ($600 million per year) for Railroad Crossing Elimination.

The Department of Transportation must, within six months, file a plan with Congress addressing how it will oversee the spending of IIJA-authorized funds. Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu was named in mid-November as a senior advisor tasked with coordinating implementation of the IIJA.

Click here for a chart showing what funding the combined surface transportation reauthorization and Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework provides for intercity passenger rail, over five years.

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