Amtrak Send Ambitious FY23 Grant Request to Congress
April 15, 2022
Amtrak released its Fiscal Year 2023 budget request to Congress, outlining a budget request for the coming year and establishing goals to return ridership to pre-pandemic levels. The document identified how Amtrak will utilize increased funding from the Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act (IIJA), laying out an itemized list of projects. The railroad also recommitted to the Amtrak Connects US vision, an ambitious plan to add frequencies and expand the National Network.
Amtrak released its Fiscal Year 2023 budget request to Congress, outlining a budget request for the coming year and establishing goals to return ridership to pre-pandemic levels. The document identified how Amtrak will utilize increased funding from the Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act (IIJA), laying out an itemized list of projects. The railroad also recommitted to the Amtrak Connects US vision, an ambitious 15-year plan to connect up to 160 communities throughout the U.S. by building new or improved rail corridors in over 25 states.
Amtrak President & CEO Stephen Gardner prefaced the grant request by pointing out that, in spite of the increased capital funding flowing out of the IIJA, Amtrak is still reliant on the annual appropriations process for its operational needs.
"Our requested FY2023 annual grant will allow Amtrak to continue operating our long-distance trains, which connect communities across the nation; to continue partnering with states to provide short-distance corridor service; and to continue normalized replacement (necessary maintenance and sustainment) of aged assets on the Northeast Corridor, all while facing new levels of uncertainty and disruption from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic," said Gardner.
Amtrak’s funding request for its annual operations and key rail grant programs matches what Rail Passengers Association has outlined to Congress. Please take a few minutes to join our campaign by asking your members of Congress to support Amtrak and passenger rail in the coming appropriations cycle. Using our VoterVoice platform makes advocacy easy as the click of a button.
Ridership Returning, But Still Below Pre-Pandemic Levels
Amtrak’s ridership is slowly returning, reaching nearly 60 percent of pre-COVID-19 levels at the end of FY2021, up from a pandemic low of 25 percent. Amtrak projects that ridership will rebound to 23.2 million by the end of FY2022, reaching 28.8 million customer trips in FY2023. For context: the railroad posted its best annual ridership in FY2019 by carrying 32.5 million passengers.
We believe that for Amtrak to hit these goals will require a transparent restoration of full service levels across the network, restoring critical connections and providing certainty for passengers looking to book during the busy summer travel season. Rail Passengers is encouraged by the ridership goals Amtrak has set in its FY23 legislative grant request, but is still asking Congress to use its oversight powers to ensure Amtrak publicly issues a clear timeline for the full restoration of State-supported and Long-Distance service.
Join us in calling for a full restoration of service!
Outlining an Ambitious Capital Investment Plan
No one can accuse Amtrak’s FY23 grant request of a lack of ambition. Amtrak resisted the Biden Administration’s proposed $100 million limit on the National Network grant that can be used for corridor development. Amtrak instead supported “the amount that Congress authorized in the IIJA, which is 10% of Amtrak’s National Network grant ($220 million in FY 2023), which would allow Amtrak the flexibility to support jumpstarting multiple corridor development initiatives when suitable opportunities arise.”
Amtrak also requested an additional $3.5 billion above authorized levels in funding for the Federal-State Partnership Grants, which they envision accelerating work on the NEC Connect 35 and Amtrak Connects US investment blueprints. The railroad argued that the increased figure better reflects the immense scale of currently unfunded needs:
- The NEC Commission estimates that $117 billion in capital investments will be needed over the next fifteen years to implement the most recent NEC service development plan.
- On the National Network, fully carrying out Amtrak’s vision for corridor expansion and development would require roughly $75 billion in additional capital investments over that same time-frame.
The railroad also detailed how it would spend increased funding provided by the IIJA through direct grants to Amtrak, as well as competitive grants administered by the FRA (Amtrak will need to partner with states to access these funds). We’ve highlighted a selection of projects below; you can access the full list here.
(It’s worth noting that many of the projects identified for the National Network are located on the NEC. While this makes sense, given how the network operates, it does highlight how the effort to artificially separate the NEC and NN into separate funding categories is largely futile.)
- Next Generation Acela - $277,318,323
- Amfleet I Coach/Café/Club Heavy Overhaul - $37,496,468
- Amfleet II Coach/Diner Heavy Overhaul - $97,395
- Amfleet Replacement Trainset Acquisition - $85,939,355
- Engineering ROW Equipment Acquisition - $153,448,508
- Facility Improvements & Upgrades - $27,367,286
- B&P Tunnel Replacement Program (MD) - $85,289,483
- Connecticut River Bridge Replacement (CT) - $118,365,647
- Gateway Property Acquisition & Program Mgmt. - $172,364,451
- New Portal Bridge (NJ) - $110,017,945
- Gray 30th St. Station (Philly) Redev’t Partnership - $15,795,564
- Baltimore Penn. Station – Master Development - $34,817,291
- NYC Penn. SOGR Upgrades - $62,335,501
- NYC Penn. West Reconfiguration - $40,236,661
- Wash’n Union Station – 2nd Century Master Plan - $61,604,380
- Wash’n Union Station SOGR Upgrades - $32,504,820
- Amfleet I Coach/Café/Club Heavy Overhaul - $28,612,258
- Amfleet II Coach/Diner Heavy Overhaul - $17,027,843
- Amfleet Replacement Trainset Acquisition - $106,749,781
- Diesel Locomotive Acquisition - $61,790,110
- Engineering ROW Equipment Acquisition - $93,471,762
- Facility Improvements & Upgrades - $50,026,321
- Superliner I Coach/Diner/Lounge/Sleeper Overhaul - $34,849,276
- Superliner II Coach/Diner/Lounge/Sleeper Over-haul - $33,601,883
- Viewliner Sleeper/Diner Overhaul - $32,584,539
- 14th St. Yard Retaining Wall Replace’t (Chicago, IL) - $3,508,151
- B&P Tunnel Replacement Program (MD) - $20,837,995
- Coatesville, PA – New Station Design - $10,945,133
- Chicago Union Station SOGR Upgrades - $12,516,411
- Burlington, IA – Canopy & Platform Improvements - $6,826,000
- Harrisburg, PA – Train Shed Rehabilitation - $10,000,000
- Ottumwa, IA – Platform, Canopy & Drainage Improvements (Construction) - $6,826,000
- Wash’n Union Station – 2nd Century Master Plan - $8,545,620
- Wash’n Union Station SOGR Upgrades - $5,375,589
Amtrak Seeks Greater Control
Amtrak also argued that the IIJA had erred in delegating sole responsibility to the U.S. Department of Transportation for the development of detailed, annual spend plans for direct grants to Amtrak's NEC and National Network.
"As Amtrak is an independent government-owned corporation governed by a presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed Board of Directors, which is responsible for making investment and capital allocation decisions for the company, the development of these plans is properly a dual responsibility of Amtrak and the Secretary, reflecting their joint role in programming and overseeing Amtrak expenditures," argued the railroad.
This change, which Amtrak labeled a "technical correction", was also paired with other proposals that would give Amtrak greater leeway in how it uses direct grants to compete for discretionary grant programs, allowing the railroad more flexibility in how it partners with states in developing corridors. That change could be a boon for states that are having difficulty identifying local funds for passenger rail development.
"Saving the Pennsylvanian (New York-Pittsburgh train) was a local effort but it was tremendously useful to have a national organization [NARP] to call upon for information and support. It was the combination of the local and national groups that made this happen."
Michael Alexander, NARP Council Member
April 6, 2013, at the Harrisburg PA membership meeting of NARP