May 7, 2012
Representatives and Senators on the Surface Transportation (S. 1813/H.R. 4348) Conference Committee
The National Association of Railroad Passengers – representing over 22,000 individual members and all Americans who want a more balanced transportation system – congratulates you on your appointment to the conference committee. We draw your attention to the provisions noted below.
(1) We strongly support the Amtrak provisions in S. 1813, which would make Amtrak directly eligible to receive grants through Sections 301 and 302 of the Passenger Rail Investment & Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA), let Amtrak use its own revenues to provide the 20% match for federal grants, and create a 100% federal grant program for improvements to routes over 750 miles long.
Adoption of the above could help preserve the current route of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief through western Kansas, southeastern Colorado and northern New Mexico. More generally, Amtrak’s national network trains form the foundation of today’s national passenger train network. They connect congested urban areas and bring mobility and economic development benefits to smaller communities, many of which are becoming more isolated as regional airline and intercity bus service disappears.
(2) We support S. 1813’s provisions to extend the Positive Train Control (PTC) deadline by up to three years. We remain concerned that PTC is being installed – with FRA approval – in a manner that will not prevent restricted-speed, rear-end collisions. FRA safety advisory 2012-02 (April 25 Federal Register) listed six such collisions over the past year which caused four employee fatalities, six employee injuries and over $6 million in property damage. Thankfully, these collisions did not involve passenger trains. The proposed time extension should be used in part to correct this problem.
(3) We oppose S. 1813 provisions regarding the Alaska Railroad (ARR). We support the language in current law and in the House T&I Committee-passed H.R. 7 that maintains Federal Transit Administration (FTA) formula funds for this state-owned railroad. We understand that the public transportation title in S.1813 (Division B) would cut these formula funds by at least 75%, forcing a dramatic reduction in ARR passenger train service, lay-offs of about 33% of the railroad’s employees, inability to comply with the PTC mandate, and default on ARR’s FTA-approved GARVEE bonds, which are backed by its current level of FTA formula funds. ARR’s passenger trains provide reliable, year-round service to remote communities. These trains also fuel the state’s tourism industry and keep busloads of tourists off the highways.
(4) Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ): We support language in S. 1813 (Section 1113) that lets states continue to use CMAQ funding for operating intercity passenger trains. We also favor giving states additional flexibility by eliminating the three-year limit on the use of
CMAQ funds for operating support. Emission reduction benefits increase over time as ridership grows.
(5) University Transportation Centers Program: We support modifying S.1813’s language to include administrators of the FRA and the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) in the competitive grants decision making process along with administrators of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and FTA. Due to the demographics of the railroad industry and anticipated retirements, the nation and the railroad industry face a huge challenge in securing the talent needed to maintain as well as expand both passenger and freight operations. The requested change in language should be helpful in meeting that challenge.
(6) We support S. 1813’s National Rail Plan language. This gives states and FRA better guidelines for crafting effective plans for the long-term growth of train service that improves inter-regional and intermodal connectivity and achieves numerous public benefits.
(7) We support S. 1813’s language restoring Transit and Parking Commuter Benefits Parity. A bipartisan letter from House members to Ways & Means Committee leaders states that failure to restore parity would “force many commuters out of trains, buses, and vanpools, and back into their cars, leading to increases in congestion, fuel consumption, lost production and wasted time.”
(8) With regard to the requirement in S. 1813 that all passenger train operators be licensed by the Surface Transportation Board, our core concern is that operators be required to maintain – as Amtrak already is – at least $200 million in insurance per passenger train accident. Not imposing this requirement means it is left to host railroads to enforce public policy (the existence of insurance coverage); conceivably, a situation could develop in which the insurance did not exist.
Thank you for considering our views. If I can provide further information, please let me know.
Ross B. Capon
President and CEO