How rail fares in spending bill

Written by Mischa Wanek-Libman, editor
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The House and Senate's effort to keep the federal government operating through the end of fiscal year 2015 was revealed late Tuesday in the form of a trillion-dollar-plus spending bill, Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015.

 Update: As of Sunday, Dec. 14, the omnibus spending bill has passed both houses of Congress and now heads to the desk of President Obama for a signature.

The $1.01-trillion bill provides a total of $53.77 billion in discretionary budget authority for Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and related agencies for FY15.

According to the summary by of the bill, it “includes funding for a broad range of transportation infrastructure, including roads and bridges, railroads and transit systems. The bill ensures that Amtrak continues to deliver passenger rail transportation throughout the country, a system on which both urban and rural communities depend.”

Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants will see a $100 million reduction from FY14 numbers in the current spending bill with $500 million available. The amount is well below the president’s requested $1.25 billion for the program, but is $400 million above what the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee approved for the program in May 2014.

Amtrak’s $1.39 billion in funding in FY15 will remain level with FY14 levels. According to the bill’s summary, “this level of funding will allow Amtrak to make investments in the state-of-good repair infrastructure projects and to operate a safe and reliable passenger rail network for the nation. The agreement provides $1 billion less than the budget request, which assumed the mandatory funding would be provided through new legislation authorizing surface transportation programs instead of the appropriations process.”

Transit investments will fare well should the bill pass both houses of Congress with a total of $10.9 billion available for transit programs, which is $141 million more than FY14 levels. The bill includes $8.6 billion for formula grants, $37.5 million for research and technical assistance and $150 million to continue modernizing the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. In addition, it provides $2.12 billion for the transit capital investment grants, to help build new rail and bus rapid transit capacity in California, Maryland ($100 million for Purple Line; $100 million for Baltimore Red Line), North Carolina, Colorado, Florida, Texas and other states.

The bill also provides $10 million in grants for railroad grade crossing and track improvements on routes that transport energy products.

The bill’s summary makes special note of an initiative to protect the safety of crude oil shipments saying, “the sharp increase in domestic energy production has also meant a rapid increase in oil shipments by rail instead of ocean tankers. This change in the shipment of crude oil poses new challenges for USDOT as it works to ensure the safety of our railroads and the communities close to their tracks.”

The bill provides USDOT with funds “to deliver a comprehensive prevention, mitigation and response safety strategy for the shipment of energy products.”

These targeted investments include 15 additional Federal Railroad Administration inspectors; $3 million to expand the use of automated track inspections and the bill supports the establishment of a Short Line Safety Institute.

Additionally, funding is included for a web-based hazardous materials emergency response training curriculum to train public sector emergency response personnel based on or near rail lines that transport a significant amount of high-risk energy products or toxic inhalation hazards.

On the mechanical side, the bill directs the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to finalize new tank car design standards by January 15, 2015. The bill also includes funding for testing shale crude oil to determine the most appropriate criteria, sampling methods and testing procedures for energy products.