Make Your Voice Heard on Capitol Hill

October 14, 2011

On Friday, October 21, decisions on Capitol Hill will be made—actions that could have a devastating impact on intercity passenger rail (IPR) service in our country. This is the date the Senate will vote on the FY2012 Transportation-HUD (THUD) Appropriations Act.

To convince federal legislators to support passenger rail, the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA) let Congress know that our IPR service strongly opposes the House of Representatives’ proposed THUD Appropriations Act because it includes a provision that eliminates Amtrak’s ability to use federal funds to support the operation of state-supported IPR trains. Such a drastic change to federal policy is short-sighted and would force cuts and eliminate critical Amtrak resources to support popular state IPR trains (like the Capitol Corridor) at a time when those routes are experiencing historic ridership levels.

States have invested millions of dollars to make these IPR routes, which have resulted in these state routes carrying half of Amtrak’s 30 million riders a year. But the House THUD proposal would eliminate Amtrak funding support for state IPR routes effective immediately in FY2012.  Of the twenty-seven (27) state IPR routes in the nation, eleven (11) are either partially state-funded or solely Amtrak-funded and could not under such short notice absorb the burden of the full operating cost of IPR service on such short notice.

What You Can Do
As a voting member of the public, we ask that you contact your Congressional leader or Senator to let them know what you think of IPR services in our country—but do it soon as the deadline for public input is October 21, 2011.

As CCJPA’s Managing Director, I’ve been closely involved with other IPR managers to develop strategies to move states towards funding their own IPR costs. The answer is in Section 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008. It’s a mouthful, but worth reading about.

Section 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008
The House provision undermines the current efforts by Amtrak and states to implement a policy that will increase state participation and financial contribution to the Amtrak system, significantly reducing federal financial support of state IPR corridor train operations. Amtrak, working in partnership with the states, has developed a standard methodology to allocate, in a fair and equitable manner, the direct operating costs of IPR routes that are to be supported by states.  This methodology is found in Section 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) (P.L. 110-432, Division B).

The Section 209 policy has been approved by the Amtrak Board of Directors and was released to the affected IPR states for concurrence with an implementation date of October 16, 2013 (FY2014). This two-year transitional period is necessary, particularly for those states that have not funded the operation of their routes in the past. Under the current proposal in the House FY2012 THUD Appropriations Act, the immediate shift of IPR costs to deficit-ridden states will force the reduction or outright elimination of these popular state IPR services, leaving millions of citizens without an affordable intercity travel option.

As the House and Senate works on reconciling the final THUD spending bill for FY2012, the CCJPA respectfully requested that this committee reject the House provision and allow the states and Amtrak to move forward with the Section 209 policy so that states can begin to fund Amtrak costs directly associated with the operation of the their IPR routes in a timely manner. The CCJPA also requested that our federal leaders appropriate funding to Amtrak that will allow it to provide critical core services and facilities to support the operation of the national IPR network.  Thirty million passengers a year clearly demonstrate that Americans want IPR as a transportation option.

How CCJPA Fits in the Funding Puzzle
As background, the CCJPA currently pays all the operating support for the Capitol Corridor service, however, the implementation of Section 209 will stabilize (and perhaps reduce) the CCJPA operating costs as more states participate in the funding of Amtrak-operated IPR corridor trains. Some state IPR corridors are in a less fortunate situation because Amtrak provides direct funding support to 11 out of 27 state IPRs in the nation. Our main concern is that funding cuts or limiting language to Amtrak could have implications in Amtrak’s indirect support for Capitol Corridor service such as ticketing channels, training and supervisory and management level staffing.

Again, if you want your voice heard about this very important public transportation issue, please contact your Congressional leader or Senator before October 21, 2011.