Amtrak Requests $2.34 Billion in FY21 Appropriations

Amtrak Requests $2.34 Billion in FY21 Appropriations

February 26, 2020  | Jeff Davis

The National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) has submitted its own request to Congress for $2.34 billion in federal appropriations in fiscal year 2021, a 17 percent increase over their FY 2020 enacted appropriations and 57 percent ($854 million) above the amount the Trump Administration requested on behalf of the railroad.

Amtrak’s own budget request comes in several parts: the FY21 grant request document, a detailed five-year service line plan, and a detailed five-year asset line plan.

The Amtrak authorization statute expires at the end of FY 2020, so there are no legal targets for 2021’s appropriations levels (yet).

Amtrak requests the FY 2020 enacted appropriations levels for the Northeast Corridor grant and the National Network grant, plus 2.0 percent inflation increases, which makes the 2021 requests $714 million and $1.326 billion, respectively. In addition, Amtrak requests that Congress create a new “Corridor Development” grant program to be funded at $300 million in 2021.

FY20 FY20 FY21 FY21
FAST Enacted DOT’s Amtrak’s
Authorized Appropriation Request Request
Northeast Corridor 600.0 700.0 325.5 714.0
National Network 1,200.0 1,300.0 611.0 1,326.0
Nat. Network Transformation 0.0 0.0 550.0 0.0
Corridor Development 0.0 0.0 0.0 300.0
Total Amtrak Appropriations 1,800.0 2,000.0 1,486.5 2,340.0

Of the new $300 million grant program (which would, like the existing NEC and NN programs, be appropriated to USDOT to then be passed through to Amtrak), the funding would be used “to plan, develop, construct and operate reliable, multi-frequency, and trip-time competitive new or additional intercity service in high-potential corridors which connect major metropolitan areas with nearby cities, towns and other communities.” Specifically:

“Amtrak shall, after consultation with the Department of Transportation (DOT), states, local municipalities, host railroads, and other stakeholders, develop and submit initial implementation plans to DOT and the House and Senate authorizing committees for high-potential corridors. Such plans shall contain proposed route, schedule and frequency information; estimates of ridership, revenue, and capital investment requirements; projected benefits to congestion, safety and the environment; descriptions of access and cooperation required from host railroads; facility needs; community and economic benefits; a schedule for development and service implementation; existing or anticipated state and local commitments towards capital and operating expenses; and other information required to develop and implement these corridors. Amtrak shall consider market conditions, stakeholder funding commitments, public subsidy per passenger, and host railroad cooperation when selecting routes.

“Amtrak will use the funding authorized for this program and pursuant to agreements with the relevant states regarding their long-term commitments to supporting a service. Once a memorandum of agreement is in place between Amtrak and a state entity, Amtrak may pay up to 100% of the capital costs necessary to initiate new or additional services in high-potential corridors to encourage states and regions to grow passenger rail. As the nation’s passenger rail provider, Amtrak takes a system-wide lens to these investments to ensure efficiencies in operations, procurement, and supporting services.”

Amtrak would use funds under the grant program to pay for up to 100 percent of the initial capital costs of a new corridor and would then pay 100 percent of the operating and ongoing capital costs of the new corridor for the first two years of operation. This would be lowered to 90 percent in year three, 80 percent in year four and 50 percent in year five. After five years, it becomes regular PRIIA section 209 service.

The proposed new $300 million program is not shown in the rest of the Amtrak budget for 2021. The proposed $2.04 billion in grants for the two ongoing accounts would be 27 percent of the total $7.35 billion Amtrak budget in 2021. The requested Northeast Corridor grant would not subsidize any operational costs but would offset 27 percent of Amtrak’s planned NEC capital expenses. For the National Network trains, the requested federal subsidy would offset 26 percent of anticipated operational losses and would pay for 62 percent of anticipated capital expenses.

Amtrak breaks down its budget into five “service lines” – three types of train routes (Northeast Corridor Intercity, State-Supported Routes, and Long-Distance Routes), plus “Infrastructure Service” (primarily dealing with Northeast Corridor usage by local commuter railroads) and “Ancillary Services” (all other Amtrak financial activity). The service line plan indicates that $261 million will actually be transferred from the NEC Intercity line to the Infrastructure Service line, and that Amtrak plans to spend $676 million of its RRIF mega-loan in 2021.

The FY21 budget request also reveals the actual operating profit (or, much more often, loss) numbers for each Amtrak route. The good news: Amtrak’s Acela trains made a $334 million operating profit in 2019 ($93.45 per passenger!), and the other Northeast Corridor trains made a $238 million operating profit ($26.58 per passenger). Also qualifying as good news: the 29 state-supported trains, collectively, almost broke even, with collective operating losses of just $58 million (just $3.75 per passenger).

The bad news: Amtrak’s 15 long-distance trains posted collective operating losses of $475 million in 2019, or $104.23 per passenger. This ranges from a $21.30 per passenger operating loss on the Palmetto to a $339.36 per-passenger operating loss of $339.36.

In addition, pages 31 through 39 of the legislative grant request contain Amtrak’s “wish list” for non-Amtrak appropriations and this nugget: “Later this year Amtrak will transmit a comprehensive reauthorization proposal, but in the meantime, below are some key legislative proposals that may be of interest to Members of Congress seeking either appropriations or authorizing language.” The wish list includes:

  • Enact a $2.9 billion appropriation for Federal Transit Administration – Capital Investment Grants, $922 million more than the FY 2020 appropriation.
  • Enact a $500 million appropriation for the FRA Federal-State Partnership grant program, $300 million more than the FY 2020 appropriation.
  • Enact of Senator Durbin’s bill (S. 2922) giving Amtrak the right to take host railroads to court to enforce Amtrak’s access rights.
  • Enact a mandate that the Surface Transportation Board study the impact on Amtrak, commuter railroads and freight rail shippers of changes in freight railroad operating and scheduling practices as a result of precision scheduled railroading.
  • Enact a provision of law making it a federal crime to assault a passenger rail employee.
  • Create consistency in the requirements attached to FHWA, FTA, and FRA grants, since some projects for Amtrak’s benefit use grants from all three agencies.
  • Establish of a new Passenger Rail Trust Fund, to cover Amtrak capital costs (not operating costs) with multi-year contract authority.
  • Allow states to transfer Highway Trust Fund – Highway Account contract authority to Amtrak projects “up to the portion of funding they receive that equals the percentage of HTF funding that is provided from general revenues or borrowing.”
  • Create a new tax credit for all freight railroads (including Class I’s) of up to $10 million per railroad per year for up to 25 percent of the cost of projects that increase rail line capacity or allow passenger trains to operate at speeds higher than those in effect (excluding speed reductions attributable to slow orders) at the time of enactment.
  • Create a new mode-neutral “megaprojects” program, with a minimum project cost of $2 billion and a maximum federal share of 80%. It would be funded via a trust fund and “would require robust funding levels for the life of reauthorization.”
  • Amend the Passenger Facility Charge statute to allow airports to use PFC money to build rail-airport connections.
  • Amend the INFRA grant program to allow eligible projects that increase intercity passenger rail ridership along a corridor that parallels portions of the National Highway Freight Network with significant highway congestion.

Of course, the budget request and wish list had to be approved by the Amtrak Board of Directors. Per 49 U.S.C. §24302, the eight Board members who are not ex officio serve for fixed five-year terms, but then, “Such term may be extended until the individual’s successor is appointed and qualified.” As of this writing, the only Board member left serving their original five-year term is Anthony Coscia. Everyone else is a holdover. And, while the Trump Administration had nominated four replacement members, those nominations (like most others) were automatically returned to the President when the First Session of the 116th Congress expired at noon on January 3, 2020.

For some reason, the White House has not yet re-submitted any of its four previous Amtrak nominees to the Senate of the Second Session of the 116th Congress.

Current Members of the Amtrak Board of Directors
Member Tenure
Elaine Chao Ex officio as Secretary of Transportation
Richard Anderson Ex officio as Amtrak CEO (non-voting)
Christopher Beall Term expired Jan. 2018.
Yvonne Braithwaite Burke Term expired Jan. 2018.
Thomas C. Carper Term expired Aug. 2018.
Anthony Coscia Term expires Dec. 2020.
Albert DiClemente Term expired Sept. 2017. Former nominee: Joseph Gruters
Jeffrey Moreland Term expired June 2015. Former nominee: Rick Dearborn
vacancy (was Derek Kan) Term expires Jan. 2021. Former nominee: Todd Rokita
vacancy Former nominee: Lynn Westmoreland
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