The Honorable Joseph C. Szabo
Federal Railway Administrator
US Department of Transportation
Subcommittee on Railways, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials
Transport and Infrastructure Committee
US House of Representatives
March 11, 2011
Chairman Shuster, Rank Member Brown and Members of the Subcommittee: I am honored to appear before you today to discuss the implementation of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act 2008, also known as the PRIIA.
In response to the tragic Metrolink accident in Chatsworth, Calif., in 2008, Congress enacted most of the legislation targeting the FRA and the programs we have administered since the agency was established in the Department of Transportation Act of 1967. one piece of legislation, both parts of the FRA's mandate, security and infrastructure investment, were comprehensively addressed. Section A of this legislation, the Rail Safety Improvement Act 2008 (RSIA), was the first re-pass of the FRA's safety program in 14 years. It identified significant new directions, responsibilities and resources for the FRA's security program. Section B of that legislation, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act 2008 (PRIIA), began to transform the FRA's investment programs. The PRIIA was Amtrak's first reauthorization in 11 years, but it was in the broader context of intercity passenger rail service, which went beyond the traditional view that Amtrak was synonymous with this mode of transportation.
As a result of this legislation, the FRA, a comparatively small agency, was challenged with taking on significantly increased tasks, which explains why the subcommittee decided to review this legislation in two hearings. While much remains to be done, the FRA has made significant progress towards achieving the PRIIA's goals.
PRIIA implementation - progress so far
The PRIIA has begun to transform the federal role into investments in intercity passenger transport – which we believe should be on an equal footing with other land transport modes. In this regard, the PRIIA can be seen as addressing three critical issues for the future of intercity rail passenger transport.
The PRIIA addressed Amtrak's mission: to define the national rail passenger transportation system, improve and provide transparency into Amtrak's business processes, and set expectations for intercity passenger transportation performance, as well as the roles and responsibilities of Amtrak and the railroads that provide Amtrak services. expectations. The PRIIA addressed a new perspective on the investment relationships needed to provide intercity passenger rail services. Since 1971, this has been a bilateral relationship between the US Department of Transportation and Amtrak. The PRIIA envisioned a trilateral relationship involving relationships between DOT, Amtrak and the States. Finally, the PRIIA addressed high-speed intercity passenger rail transport from both a public and private investment perspective.
The roles and responsibilities for implementing the PRIIA are as varied as the issues addressed by the law. Amtrak, FRA, Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General, Council on Surface Transportation, the states and others noted that the PRIIA had significant mission changes and expansions in store for them.
PRIIA implementation - the challenges
The PRIIA envisaged roles, responsibilities and relationships that did not previously exist or have significantly changed. In many ways, the PRIIA began to establish a new paradigm for intercity passenger rail transport that the Obama administration has continued to expand.
None of the stakeholders, and I include the FRA in this group, initially had the resources and capabilities to fully engage in the new intercity rail environment created by the PRIIA. The FRA was designed for a financial assistance program that routinely provided Amtrak with annual operating and capital grants and evaluated requests for financial assistance under the Rail Improvement and Rehabilitation Financing (RRIF) program, along with a handful of other grants. .
In addition to the challenge of the very extended mandate of the FRA financial assistance team, there are new and significant responsibilities imposed on our security program, which will be the subject of discussion with this subcommittee next week. By aligning resources and priorities, we initially focused on the security initiatives required by the RSIA. Safety is and will remain our top priority. However, I would like to assure this subcommittee that we are now quickly turning our attention to the pending rulemaking required by the PRIIA.
When the PRIIA was enacted, Amtrak was in a defensive position. It had just come through another decade of limited funding, deteriorating assets, declining punctuality at its visitor lanes, threats to its very existence, and was in the midst of a leadership change. While capable in many areas, Amtrak focused on day-to-day tactical actions to maintain a national system of intercity passenger rail service in a resource-constrained environment. His ability to envision a new model for intercity passenger rail service, with new relationships and stakeholders, was limited by decades in which planning and tactical survival took precedence over planning for a strategic vision.
Most states did not have rail passenger investment programs, and those that did were primarily focused on continuing the existing state-supported Amtrak service. Most states also lacked a long-term or very limited vision of a more robust role for rail in meeting their needs for intercity passenger mobility and limited rail know-how. As such, most states lacked the pipeline of intercity passenger rail projects that had undergone the rigorous planning, environmental assessment, design, and construction that would make them "operational" once PRIIA-approved funding was available. Likewise, most states lacked relationships with their private freight railroads that would play a critical role in implementing these projects.
Freight railroads were unprepared for public investment in their assets, obligations imposed on the FRA and states that required a tangible public benefit for federal investment, or the growing interest in passenger rail investments by several states.
The good news is that because of the efforts of the PRIIA and the Obama administration on rail transport, all parties have rapidly expanded their capabilities. Public sector and private sector railways have agreed on the roles, responsibilities and duties that result from public investment in private assets. Indeed, I am pleased to report that states and rail have reached agreement on the development of most of the major intercity passenger rail corridors where high-speed passenger service will use freight rail infrastructure.
Under the leadership of Joe Boardman and a new board of directors, on which I serve as Secretary LaHood's representative, Amtrak is now thinking strategically without forgetting the essential tactical elements that are important to rail travel today. Amtrak enjoyed 16 consecutive months of record ridership while delivering a visionary plan for high-speed trains in the Northeast Corridor and innovative partnerships with states to participate in high-speed train development elsewhere.
The advances made in intercity passenger transport over the past two years are largely due to the rail commitments of the PRIIA and President Obama. The president's commitment brought new meaning to intercity passenger transport stakeholders. It also makes us think about the next steps in the development of intercity passenger transportation in the United States.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama laid out a bold vision for intercity passenger rail. To achieve this vision, we must continue to develop the PRIIA. I look forward to discussing the railroad's role in the context of increased land transportation soon, but because Secretary LaHood is so passionate about this, today I want to highlight the proposed budget for fiscal 2012 and how it proposes a better passenger rail system. for the nation.
Section 201 of the PRIIA defined the National Passenger Rail Transport System. In doing so, the PRIIA recognized Amtrak's service on the Northeast Corridor, long-distance routes greater than 750 miles, and short-haul corridors (routes greater than 750 miles) separately. However, Section 101 of the PRIIA consolidates all of these into a single authorization. The president's budget proposal considers each of these different services important for the country's mobility, but each must be seen as units or lines of business that receive differentiated treatment by federal resources. Therefore, the President's proposal would concentrate the operating surplus of the Northeast Corridor to finance necessary capital improvements in the Northeast Corridor. Long-distance trains and certain capital and operating costs necessary to maintain national connectivity, including the national reservation system, security, training and other national backbone systems, would be funded as part of a new National Grid Service program.
Section 209 of the PRIIA requires the adoption of a single, nationally standardized methodology for allocating operating and capital costs between states and Amtrak for trains operated on corridors less than 750 miles in length or by the Secretary of State as high-speed corridors. . We support this provision, but in many cases it imposes additional burdens on States that may compromise valuable services that rely on current rail passenger services. The President's Budget recognizes this and is providing temporary support to states for operating and capital grants for these shorter corridors. As state rail transport evolves with greater government control over passenger service, federal concessions will be transferred to high-speed corridor services during the "boom" period of passenger numbers.
Section 205 and Section 211 of the PRIIA address the legacy of limited investment in intercity passenger transportation that left Amtrak's infrastructure and equipment in a deteriorating state and saddled the company with debt obligations incurred more than a decade ago. The public values safe, clean and reliable transport systems, including passenger rail. Doing so, and attracting new drivers, requires a commitment and priority to finance fleet, equipment and infrastructure replacement. The President's Budget does this in a new system maintenance account. Once improved, the means must be in place to ensure that they remain so.
Section 305 of the PRIIA initiated efforts that resulted in the development of a standardized pool of intercity passenger rail equipment that would provide the cost-effective capacity for rail passenger transport. We have to take the next step. The President's Budget proposes to do this by providing the seed capital necessary to acquire, maintain, and make available to the States and Amtrak standardized, interoperable, 100% American-made state-of-the-art rail vehicles and locomotives. The freight industry is already doing this and we believe the passenger side should do the same.
PRIIA section 501 defines high-speed rail as “intercity passenger train services that can reach speeds of at least 110 miles per hour”. This high-speed rail definition must be revised if we begin to develop a system that will provide 80% of Americans with access to a quality intercity passenger rail network with high-speed service within 25 years. The president's budget uses three different descriptions of high-speed trains - Core Express, which would connect large densely populated metropolitan areas less than 500 miles apart with journey times of three hours or less at speeds of 125mph-250mph; High-speed regional service connecting mid-sized metropolitan areas with frequent, fast service at speeds from 90mph-125mph, and high-speed emergent/feeder service connecting smaller communities with enhanced conventional rail service up to 90mph. This three-tiered approach better aligns fast service with our country's time, distance, speed and geographic dynamics.
High-speed services around the world, including our Northeast Corridor, thrive because they have frequent and conveniently located connections to intermodal stations where people live and do business. As we transition from PRIIA-authorized programs to those that align with our expanded vision, we must ensure that this essential element of successful transportation is addressed. For that reason, the President's Budget lets no one down by fully funding ADA accessibility at all train stations.
Finally, the President's Budget proposes that resources allocated to intercity passenger transport be made with the same level of predictability and multi-year commitment that helps define our successful highway and transit programs.
Competition and the role of the private sector
PRIIA section 502, intended to encourage private sector initiatives in high-speed rail development, has not resulted in many proposals, in part due to the role of the federal government, states and the private sector in high-speed rail development, which are is still being worked on. Realizing the President's vision for bullet rail America will require significant capital investments, but also long-term commitments from government and private business.
California's High Speed Rail Program anticipates that one-third of project costs will come from non-federal and non-state sources. Before finally turning down funding for high-speed trains, Florida was preparing to solicit expressions of interest from private sector consortia for a Design, Build, Operate, Maintenance and Financing (DBOMF) agreement, in which the private sector would assume the construction and operation risks of the Venture would lead to high speed service in the state. These prospects looked good for the passenger rail industry. More work needs to be done to identify and develop programmatic frameworks that are effective in attracting private sector interest. Secretary LaHood and I look forward to working with Congress to further define these structures.
One of the specific issues you would like to address at this hearing is the potential for competition in the provision of intercity passenger rail services. I understand that this subcommittee has a particular interest in Section 214 of the PRIIA. Section 214 would allow for a pilot program with competition on up to two Amtrak routes. Mr President, I want to assure you that we will make rapid progress on this regulation. Assuming we have sufficient resources in the current fiscal year, we plan to begin an announcement of the proposed rule later this year.
As you know, states currently have the option of choosing their own rail operators. Additional competition can have the potential to improve efficiency and reduce costs. Key considerations include a commitment and dedication to safety, tangible benefits to passengers in the form of fast and efficient service, effective accountability for all responsibilities associated with operations, and a level playing field within which all providers of intercity passenger rail services are railroads, which are covered by the full range of railroad laws under Section 301 (49 U.S.C. 24405(b), (c) and (d)) and Section 214 (49 U.S.C. 24711(c)(3)) of the PRIIA .
At FRA, we want to work with you to ensure that the private sector is an active partner in the success of intercity and high-speed passenger transport.
Finally, Mr. President, I have spent my entire adult life in the railroad industry. I have known and observed the FRA for over 30 years. There has never been a period of greater transformation in the agency's mission and its ability to impact the safety and mobility of the American public and the cargo on which the world's largest economy depends. Secretary LaHood and I look forward to working with Congress to ensure that America reaps the full benefits of rail travel.
I am happy to answer any committee questions.
What is Section 209 of the passenger rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008? ›
Section 209 of PRIIA requires the establishment of a single, nationwide standardized methodology for allocating the operating and capital costs among the States and Amtrak for trains operated on corridors of less than 750 miles in length or designated as high-speed corridors by the Secretary.What was the rail passenger Service Act? ›
Fifty years ago today, President Nixon signed into law the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970 (Public Law 91-518), relieving the nation's railroads of the requirement that they continue passenger service and creating a new National Railroad Passenger Corporation to carry on that service starting in May 1971.What is Priia 209 policy? ›
PRIIA Section 209 legislated a “single, nationwide standardized methodology for establishing and allocating the operating and capital costs among the states and Amtrak.”10 This agreement on and development of a costing methodology required a monumental effort and cooperation from a variety of agencies.What will Amtrak do with the infrastructure bill? ›
The law also made policy changes to several key grant programs, making them more attractive to eligible recipients. $41.5 billion of the law's $102 billion for rail will go to Amtrak, and a majority of those funds ($27.5 billion) will go to Amtrak's national network.
Authorizing the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroad companies to construct the lines, the legislation provided government bonds to help fund the work, in addition to vast land grants.In what date the rail passenger Service Act became a law? ›
President Nixon Oct. 30 signed into law a bill (HR 17849—PL 91-518), the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970, creating a semipublic corporation to operate a nationwide railroad passenger system beginning March 1, 1971.What were the main reasons that rail passenger transportation declined? ›
- With the advent of the automobile and airplane in post-WWII American life came the decline of the passenger railroad. ...
- The advent of the automobile and the post-WWII suburb caused a similar decline in ridership on interurban rail.
Traffic Club, September 28, I933: "The Emergency Act provided elaborate machinery for searching out economies in railroad operation and putting them into effect, and particularly those economies which can be brought about by proper co-operation and co-ordination.Why was railroad regulation needed? ›
The law sought to prevent monopoly by promoting competition, and also to outlaw discriminatory rate-setting. Its most successful provisions were a requirement that railroads submit annual reports to the ICC, and a ban on special rates the railroads would arrange among themselves.What four states does Amtrak not service? ›
|Locale||Contiguous United States (except South Dakota and Wyoming) British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec in Canada|
|Dates of operation||May 1, 1971–present|
Does Amtrak have a future? ›
WASHINGTON – Built for the future, visuals of Amtrak's newest trains reveal a modern customer experience. The new trains, Amtrak AiroTM, will start debuting in 2026 and operate on routes throughout the country.Does Amtrak pay into railroad retirement? ›
The Amtrak 401(k) plan provides you with a variety of investment options to help you save money for retirement.What was the economic impact of the Pacific Railway Act? ›
The Pacific Railway Act of 1862 had three major effects. It released money to the railroad companies at a faster rate than had previously been arranged. It also increased the size and frequency of the land grants given to the companies and allowed them to sell bonds on their own behalf.Why did the government give railroads subsidies? ›
To entice investors into building a continuous line from the Mississippi River to the Pacific shore, Congress agreed to give the railroads 10 square miles of land for every mile of track. In addition, it would loan builders $16,000 a mile for construction on flat lands and $48,000 a mile in the mountains.Which 2 companies benefitted from the Pacific Railroad Act? ›
The Act divided the huge job of constructing the railroad between two companies – the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific. The Central Pacific Railroad would start it Sacramento and build east, and the Union Pacific Railroad would start at Omaha and build west.When was the railroad implemented? ›
1830: The first regularly-scheduled steam-powered rail passenger service in the U.S. begins operation in South Carolina, utilizing the U.S.-built locomotive The Best Friend of Charleston.When did the first passenger service open? ›
On Jan. 1, 1914, the world's first scheduled passenger airline service took off from St. Petersburg, FL and landed at its destination in Tampa, FL, about 17 miles (27 kilometers) away. The St.When was the time that the first passenger train service began? ›
On 25 March 1807 the track saw its first paying passengers, who paid two shillings to ride in a horse-drawn twelve-seater carriage that was the world's first passenger train. Steam power was just beginning to be introduced and an early version of a steam-engine powered train was briefly tested on this track.What is check rail necessity? ›
Thus, the main function envisaged for check/restraining rails is to control wheel wear and to provide a mechanism against derailment caused due to wheel climbing on sharp curves.What is a rail asset? ›
Rail Assets means locomotives, railcars, maintenance of way equipment and any leases or lease receivables or accounts or notes receivables related to such property.
Did the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act pass? ›
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and originally in the House as the INVEST in America Act (H.R. 3684), is a United States federal statute enacted by the 117th United States Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden on November 15, 2021.What is a railroad furlough? ›
As BNSF reduces jobs and employees exhaust their contractual seniority, some junior employees may no longer be able to hold a job. When this happens, those employees are considered furloughed and/or inactive.