December 09, 2021

Chairs DeFazio, Payne, Jr. Statements from Hearing on Leveraging the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to Expand Intercity Passenger Rail

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-NJ) during today’s hearing titled, “Leveraging IIJA: Plans for Expanding Intercity Passenger Rail”

Videos of DeFazio and Payne, Jr.’s opening statements are here and here.

More information on the hearing can be found here.

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you, Subcommittee Chair Payne and Ranking Member Crawford, for holding this hearing.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is a major victory for the American people, making the largest-ever single investment in America’s crumbling infrastructure. While it doesn’t include exactly the policies or the funding I wanted, the bipartisan bill ushers in a new era for intercity passenger rail.

During the entirety of my congressional career, intercity passenger rail has suffered through funding stops and starts and endured the whims of the annual appropriations process. Following enactment of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, the states anticipated a federal partner supporting their work with $90 million.

That number shot up to $8 billion when Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, with an additional $2.5 billion the following year, only to see it drop for the next couple of years, before climbing once more during the FAST Act years when Congress authorized hundreds of millions of dollars. In the meantime, Amtrak has limped along since we created the national passenger railroad, at times receiving barely enough to keep its lights on. But that ends now.

The IIJA is revolutionary, providing guaranteed and robust funding levels over the next five years—largely based on this committee’s INVEST Act and President Biden’s American Jobs Plan. The IIJA provides more than $100 billion for rail programs, including $66 billion in appropriated, reliable funds and another $35 billion in authorizations through fiscal year 2026.

For comparison: the appropriated funds alone in this bill are nearly six times the amount Congress appropriated during the years of the FAST Act—and that’s in addition to the five years of funding the bill authorizes, which is more than triple the FAST Act authorization totals. These funding levels were made possible by the path we chartered, first in last year’s Moving Forward Act, and in this year’s INVEST Act.

Recognizing the vast needs across the rail sector, the IIJA provides significant funding for Amtrak, supports competitive grant funding for states to lead the development of new and expanded corridors, incentivizes interstate compacts, and creates inventories of projects in the Northeast Corridor for major infrastructure investments including bridges, stations, and tunnels. Additionally, intercity passenger rail projects are eligible for several formula and multi-modal discretionary grant programs. These programs were all included in the bipartisan IIJA, but they first appeared in this committee’s INVEST Act, and I’m proud that our visionary work led the way.

I’ve long supported Amtrak and additional investments in intercity passenger rail because doing so is a no brainer. It’s good for the environment: traveling by Amtrak trains on the Northeast Corridor emits 83% fewer greenhouse gases than driving, and up to 55% fewer on travel outside of the Corridor. It helps reduce congestion: earlier this year, Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation told this subcommittee that by the time the Commonwealth could complete constructing one new lane in both directions along I-95, the corridor would be as congested as it is today. Yet, pursuing a transformative rail plan could provide the additional capacity and at just one-third of the cost. Again, it’s a no brainer.

Like the INVEST Act before it, the IIJA maintains longstanding, commonsense funding conditions that maximize the benefits of these historic investments for U.S. workers, by helping to ensure these dollars support domestic manufacturers, pay prevailing wages, and provide railroad workers access to the traditional employment laws that have built middle-class careers in the industry for decades. This bill offers more Americans a cleaner, safer, and cheaper intercity travel option that sustains good paying jobs and generates economic activity along its path.

With the bipartisan IIJA now law, we must focus on turning these dollars into prudent projects. You all have exciting work ahead of you and funding and operating partnerships to forge with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Amtrak, states, workers, regional commissions, and host railroads.

I look forward to hearing from the witnesses today about their plans to leverage and implement the long-term investment envisioned by the IIJA. And I am hopeful we can quickly move the quality projects that are ready to go without getting bogged down in bureaucracy. I hope officials at FRA, DOT, and OMB are listening and working to help get shovels in the ground.

Chair Payne, Jr.:

Good morning.

Three weeks ago, President Biden signed the most consequential infrastructure bill of the 21st century into law.

The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) will modernize America’s decaying infrastructure while making the biggest investment in intercity passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak.

IIJA is the culmination of the work that, along with Chair DeFazio, I started with the INVEST in America Act.

I would like to take an opportunity to recognize Chair DeFazio’s distinguished service to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, this body, and this country.

Chair DeFazio has been a champion for advancing the state of transportation in America and making meaningful efforts to address climate change.

I am proud to have accomplished many great things with him and the privilege of chairing this subcommittee.

Chair DeFazio will be sorely missed, and I wish him and his family well in their next chapter.

The IIJA contains $35 billion in authorized funds for competitive intercity passenger rail and freight rail grant programs, as well as Amtrak.

It also contains an historic $66 billion in reliable investments for our national rail system—roughly the amount that Congress has appropriated to Amtrak since we created the railroad fifty years ago.

Of the appropriated amounts, Amtrak will receive $22 billion in dedicated funding, which will enable it to address its significant maintenance backlog across all three of its services—the Northeast Corridor, state-supported services and long-distance trains that connect rural areas to urban centers.

In the next few years, I expect we will see new and improved accessible stations, rolling stock and associated maintenance facilities.

Another $44 billion is made available for competitive grant programs to create new, or expand or improve, intercity passenger rail corridors across the country; jump start previous service; eliminate and improve highway-railroad grade crossings; and improve the safety, efficiency, and reliability in freight rail and intercity passenger rail networks.

This is truly a once-in-a-generation investment that will change the course of intercity passenger rail transportation in America, and it is an honor to be chair of this subcommittee at this extraordinary moment.

We will hear from Amtrak today about its Connects US plan, which proposes to partner with states across the U.S. to improve existing or add new state-supported service routes that could add tens of millions of riders annually, creating new travel opportunities while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

And today’s other witnesses representing various states, agencies, and regions will talk about their proposals for leveraging these funds to carry out their plans for growing intercity passenger rail.

In my region of the country, one of the most consequential projects that investments in IIJA can address is the Gateway Program.

The Gateway Program is a collection of the nation’s most pressing infrastructure projects along the nation’s busiest rail corridor—the Northeast Corridor.

Chief among the Gateway Program is the rehabilitation and replacement of the rail tunnel that runs under the Hudson River, connecting New Jersey with New York City.

The tunnel is 111 years old and in an advanced state of decay due to its age and the damage sustained during Superstorm Sandy.

If the tunnel were to shut down for any reason, it would cost the economy $100 million per day in lost economic output.

Throughout my time in Congress, I have been a vocal advocate for the need to repair the existing tunnel and build a new one to keep trains running and allow for additional capacity.

I am proud that IIJA provides funding that could be used to finally complete the project.

I am also grateful to the Biden administration and Secretary Buttigieg for their supportive efforts to do so.

In addition to the Gateway Program, IIJA will facilitate other critically important intercity passenger rail projects in the country.

These investments will create good jobs, opening a path for many to choose a career in the railroad industry.

I will fight to ensure that these quality jobs are available to all Americans and that everyone has a fair shot at obtaining work created from these investments.

I was particularly pleased that Mr. Corbett, Secretary Kim, and Mr. Gardner address these issues head-on in their testimony.  I continue to urge all of our federal grant recipients of this importance.

I thank the witnesses for being here today and I look forward to their testimony.