The “CV3” Bill’s $1 Billion for Amtrak – How Would It Work?
The third coronavirus response bill appropriates $1.018 billion from the general fund of the Treasury for two grants to Amtrak “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus” – a $492 million grant for the Northeast Corridor account and a $526 million grant for the National Network account.
But each separate appropriation contains language saying that the appropriation “may be transferred to and merged with” the other appropriation.
With Amtrak ridership having dropped by around 90 percent since the onset of coronavirus a few weeks ago (especially on its most money-making routes in the Northeast Corridor), the national passenger railroad certainly needs some kind of additional operating assistance.
But a key part of the Amtrak appropriation is about financial support for state governments, not Amtrak itself.
Under section 209 of the PRIIA rail act enacted in 2008 (starting on page 4917 here), state governments pay certain portions of the cost of certain Amtrak corridors within those states (called “State-supported routes”). In Amtrak’s recent FY 2021-2025 service line plan, section 209 payments were anticipated to bring $239.5 million in revenues to be deposited in Amtrak’s National Network account (see the table on page 144).
The $526 million National Network appropriation in the bill contains this proviso: “a State shall not be required to pay the National Railroad Passenger Corporation more than 80 percent of the amount paid in fiscal year 2019 under section 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (Public Law 110–432) and that not less than $239,000,000 of the amounts made available under this heading in this Act shall be made available for use in lieu of any increase in a State’s payment.”