May 4, 2005 – The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA), the regional agency that manages the Capitol Corridor intercity train service, endorsed the ‘Laney Plan’ submitted to Congress on Thursday, April 21st. The Capitol Corridor route spans 170 miles linking three of northern California metropolitan areas (San Jose, Oakland/San Francisco, and Sacramento). The trains are operated under contract by Amtrak with funded support from the State of California and are the third busiest Amtrak passenger rail corridor in the nation.
The ‘Laney Plan’ (named after David Laney, Chair of the Amtrak Board) was submitted to Congress in response to US Secretary of the Department of Transportation Norman Mineta’s plan which proposed zero funding for the Amtrak system for fiscal year 2006. It includes a $1.82 billion grant request to Congress, much of it earmarked for capital renewal and debt service.
“The Laney Plan embraces most of the ‘reforms’ called for by US DOT Secretary Norman Mineta, but distances itself from the components contained in the US DOT plan that would be extremely difficult to implement,” said CCJPA Board Chair and Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickinson.
Some aspects of the ‘Laney Plan’ that are of significance to California include:
- Retaining Amtrak’s right-of-access to the private freight railroads. Train operation by any other rail operating entity on the same terms and conditions as Amtrak currently enjoys can occur only after Congressional changes to current law, and only after the owning freight railroad approves any train operator other than Amtrak
- Amtrak would continue to provide liability coverage, as it does now, for all services that it operates, and contracting states/agencies would continue to pay a share of the insurance costs as part of the operating expenses. This is important for California as it contracts with Amtrak for train operations.
- The ‘Laney Plan’ also protects California’s four national long-distance routes (California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Southwest Chief, and Sunset Limited) and clearly defines these routes as a federal responsibility for operation and funding.
- As opposed to the Mineta plan, the ‘Laney Plan’ calls for establishment of standard ‘performance criteria’ for these routes, as well as for possible new long-distance routes that may be established.
“Perhaps most importantly for California,” pointed out Roger Dickinson, Sacramento County supervisor and chair of the CCJPA, “is that the ‘Laney Plan’ echoes one component also included in the US DOT plan by calling for establishment of a federal matching program for capital investments, on terms similar to the federal highway program. The ‘Laney Plan’ proposes a matching program on an 80-20 basis (80 percent federal, 20 percent state and local funds), as opposed to a 50-50 matching program endorsed in the US DOT plan.” Still unknown is the amount of annual funding that would be available under a federal capital matching program, and if states like California, whose investments in passenger rail systems have come entirely from state dollars, will be allowed to use the amounts already invested to apply for the new federal capital matching funds.
Concurrently, bi-partisan bills have been introduced by Congress that would dramatically improve the nation’s passenger rail system. HR 1630 would authorize annual funding of $2 billion over the next three years to finance Amtrak’s operating and capital expenses and HR 1631 would provide $60 billion for high-speed rail and related infrastructure projects.
Dickinson credits the California Legislature with Congresses’ renewed efforts to revamp and support the Amtrak system. “I have to believe that the introduction of the bi-partisan joint resolution in the California Legislature, AJR-18, has had the desired positive impact in Washington already, even though the resolution has not yet been adopted by the full Legislature,” noted Dickinson. “Without this joint bipartisan resolution being introduced, our message would not have been heard in the right places in Washington.”
“CCJPA will be working for Congressional adoption of the ‘Laney Plan’ for Amtrak and the funding bills which will make implementation possible,” Dickinson affirmed. “And we will be doing this as part of a nationwide effort of local, regional, and state transportation officials and business leaders. California has built a successful intercity passenger rail system, especially the Capitol Corridor, operated by Amtrak. The Amtrak partnership works for California, and can continue to work for us if it is properly funded.”