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Moving America’s Trains Forward:​ Answering Your Questions about H.R. 2 | July 22, 2020

View a PDF of the presentation here

Questions & Answers

A number of attendees submitted questions about HR 2 in the chat box of our video webinar. Rail Passengers staff has researched the answers, and we wanted to share them with you.

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From Davies : Since we lost the Hoosier State (Indianapolis to Chicago), which covered a segment on the Cardinal, is there any push to make the Cardinal a daily?

There is currently a campaign in development by members of the Rail Passengers Association, in conjunction with partner organizations and certain elected officials along the route, to use the increased investment in Amtrak in HR 2 to restore daily service. We’ll be sharing details of this campaign as it develops.

From Stu Nicholson : What portion of these funds will be available to service expansions to corridors like Chicago-Columbus-Pittsburgh?

The amount of federal funding available to corridor development would be from two primary sources in this table (which we’ve bolded):

Millions ($)

FY2021

FY2022

FY2023

FY2024

FY2025

Total - By Program

Amtrak - Northeast Corridor

2,900

2,700

2,500

2,500

2,500

13,100

Amtrak - National Network

3,600

3,400

3,200

3,000

3,000

16,200

PRIME Grants

3,800

3,800

3,800

3,800

3,800

19,000

CRISI Grants

1,400

1,400

1,400

1,400

1,400

7,000

RRIF Financing - CRC

30

30

30

30

30

150

Restoration and Enhancement Grants

20

20

20

20

20

100

Grade Crossing Separation Grants

450

475

500

525

550

2,500

Total - By Year

12,200

11,825

11,450

11,275

11,300

58,050

PRIME and CRISI are both grant programs overseen by the U.S. DOT, so it would be necessary for the states along the route to coordinate with each other and the federal government to engage in the necessary planning and environmental reviews.

From Roger Asplund : Congress seems to be moving in one direction regarding additional funding for AMTRAK. AMTRAK leadership seems to be moving in a different direction, i.e. reducing services, holding back on capital improvements. HOW CAN THESE TWO BE RECONCILED?

Congress has the ultimate say in how Amtrak spends federal funds. We can see a practical application in the case of the Southwest Chief, which still operates all the way from Chicago to Los Angeles. To his credit, Amtrak’s new President & CEO, William Flynn, seems to have taken this fact to heart in official statements he’s made since taking the helm of the railroad.

From Jacob Adams : Sean on slide about appropriations protections, I take it the third line that FY 2019 would be FY21. Please clarify?

FY2019 is correct. It was used by appropriators to ensure that frequencies were properly benchmarked at full service levels (FY2020 would conceivably include the 4x service currently in place on the Silver Services).

From Sue Ravenscroft : How safe is riding right now? What is Amtrak doing to protect passengers during COVID?

Amtrak has introduced a number of precautions to protect passengers, including:

  • Facial coverings: All customers and employees must wear a face covering or mask while on trains or thruway buses. Face masks can be removed when customers are in their private rooms. Amtrak reserves the right to remove customers or ban them from future travel in the event of noncompliance with Amtrak's face covering policy.

  • Enhanced cleaning protocols: Amtrak is following industry recommendations for deep cleaning and sanitizing of its trains prior to service, with additional en-route cleaning to disinfect restrooms and frequently touched surfaces along the journey.

  • Limiting bookings: Amtrak is limiting bookings on reserved trains to allow for more physical distancing in seating areas. Individuals traveling alone may use the seat next to them for personal belongings, while friends and family members will easily find seats together.

  • Cashless service: Amtrak is currently accepting cashless payments only.

  • Air Quality: All AMtrak trains are equipped with onboard filtration systems with a fresh air exchange rate every 4-5 minutes.

  • Reducing exposure: All non-safety materials have been removed from seatback pockets.

  • Physical distancing: Signage has been displayed at the busiest stations to indicate safe distances in high traffic areas. In addition, protective plastic barriers have been installed at customer counters at the busiest stations.

  • Trip flexibility: Amtrak is waiving all change and cancellation fees for reservations made by August 31, 2020. This includes reservations booked with points. To modify a reservation, log in to your account, go to ‘Modify Trip’ on Amtrak.com, or find your reservation from your account on the home screen in the Amtrak app. A fare difference may apply to your new itinerary. If you want to cancel your reservation without a fee, you must call 1-800-USA-RAIL and speak with an agent (not available via Amtrak.com or the Amtrak app).

  • Station Arrival: Except for the Auto Train, customers are encouraged to arrive 30 minutes before departure and 60 minutes if in need of ticketing and/or baggage assistance. Priority boarding will be discontinued and boarding procedures will be adjusted at stations in Washington, DC, Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York Penn Station.

  • Seamless gate service: To reduce crowds at departure boards, Amtrak app users automatically receive boarding gate and track information via push notification at select stations.

From Shirley : Why October 1 if the 3x per week service happens to long distance trains? Will extra trains be added for holiday travel?

October 1st is the first day of the new fiscal year in the government budget calendar. The additional funding Congress provided for Amtrak in the CARES Act (March 2020) was premised on preserving service and preventing furloughs for the remainder of the year.

We don't know what holiday schedules will be implemented, but our association will certainly advocate for increased frequncies if infection rates are at manageable levels.

From barry : is there something Senate Republicans want in order to approve levels of funding close to what the House is considering?

We won’t know what the Senate Committee on Appropriations is considering for funding levels until it releases its draft T-HUD bill. We have been communicating to Senate offices about the need for increased funding on a daily basis and have received communications from these offices that they understand the seriousness of the crisis. A number of western and southern offices have conditioned additional funding on preserving daily service and preventing furloughs, while northeastern offices have said they don't want to see the budget for Northeast Corridor state of good repair infrastructure work transferred to operations. A successful compromise will almost certainly give both groups something they can be satisfied with.