November 29, 2023

Ranking Members Larsen, Payne, Jr. Statements from Hearing on Passenger Rail

Washington, D.C.—The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Rick Larsen (D-WA) and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-NJ), during today’s hearing, titled, “Getting on the Right Track: Navigating the Future of Intercity Passenger Rail in America.”

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) made over $100 billion available for freight and passenger rail, strengthening and expanding intercity passenger rail service across the country. Riders and states with existing passenger rail want to expand service and the benefits it provides to riders and local economies. After defeating severe proposed cuts to passenger rail, Congress must build on the success of the BIL and continue to invest in building and rebuilding intercity passenger rail service.

Video Payne, Jr.’s opening statements can be found here.

More information on the hearing can be found here.

Ranking Member Larsen:
Thank you, Chairman Nehls and Ranking Member Payne, for holding today’s hearing on improving intercity passenger rail across the country.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) was a monumental achievement that supercharged our nation’s investment in rail. Congress supported $102 billion in planned funding for rail in the BIL.

The BIL boosted investment in transportation and infrastructure that are creating jobs and growing our economy.

For intercity passenger rail, the BIL guaranteed multi-year funding for state of good repair investments and corridor development.

It makes possible, for the first time ever, dedicated, reliable federal fundingdispersed over five yearsto improve and expand intercity passenger rail.

The BIL is already investing in over 700 rail projects.

Earlier this year, the first round of competitive rail grants from BIL was announced.

Among the recipients was the City of Burlington, Washington, in my district, which was awarded a $2 million planning grant to identify which one of its 16 at-grade crossings is most suitable for grade separation, a critical investment that will help reduce congestion and improve safety.

Burlington Mayor Steve Sexton brought the idea of improving at-grade crossings in the city to me nearly a decade ago, and I am pleased to see the City is able to move forward with this project, thanks to BIL funding.

Earlier this month, the FRA announced funding for 25 projects along the Northeast Corridor totaling over $16.4 billion dollars. These investments include new bridges, tunnels, and track improvements over the busiest passenger rail route in the nation.

I expect great results for communities will come from this grant and the additional rail funding to come.

I look forward to the National Network funding and the Corridor Identification announcements expected by the end of this year. These grants will build on the investments states across the country have been making for years.

The States, Amtrak and the FRA can now enact long-term plans for passenger rail expansion and improvement, secure in the knowledge that the funding will be there in future years.

I’m looking forward to hearing from our witnesses today about the difference this budget certainty has made for them in developing and sustaining programs, and how this will ultimately improve service for rail passengers.

This funding is not only intended to improve existing rail service, but to expand it. Cities and counties across the nation want more frequent and more reliable passenger rail service, and increased access to the national network.

Local leaders know that this will help their communities grow and thrive and provide a cleaner and greener way to move people.

The communities that have rail service want better service. The communities that do not, want service to start.

The FRA’s Corridor Identification Program received more than ninety applications, including two from the State of Washington, demonstrating the need for additional service.

This Committee is committed to helping communities get the regular and reliable passenger rail service that they want.

I will continue to push for Congress to fully fund its intercity passenger rail commitments to create more jobs, grow regional economies, reduce congestion and carbon emissions, and build a cleaner, greener, safer and more accessible transportation network.

The BIL is also an investment in our workforce. Federal rail funding will grow a well-trained, diverse workforce to build, operate and maintain a national intercity passenger rail network.

The transformational investment in the BIL is a great start, but Congress needs to build on this by ensuring reliable funding for intercity passenger rail in the future.

At a minimum, we need to ensure that rail service is not hurt by reckless cuts in appropriations negotiations.

Beyond that, highways, transit, airports and harbors all have access to dedicated funding streams, enabling them to fund their long-term major capital projects without being subject to the ups and downs of the annual appropriations process.

Providing steady funding for intercity passenger rail will allow states and communities the certainty they need to plan and deliver more and better rail service.

I look forward to hearing from witnesses today who will provide the Committee with useful perspectives on what it takes to run intercity passenger rail, the outstanding demand for passenger rail, and the benefits rail brings to communities nationwide.

Ranking Member Payne, Jr.:
Good Morning. Thank you, Chairman Nehls, Chairman Graves, Ranking Member Larsen, and our four witnesses for being with us today.

Intercity passenger rail is on the brink of transformation, thanks to the $100 billion in funding for rail projects in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Over $4.6 billion is soon to be awarded across the nation through FRA programs, including Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grants and the eagerly awaited Corridor ID program, with 92 proposals from 33 states under consideration, announcements for awards are expected by year-end.

Earlier this month, the FRA awarded over $16 billion in funding for projects along the Northeast Corridor, Including funding for the Gateway Program.

Almost $4.5 billion of that funding would directly impact my constituents in New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District.

This influx of funding for intercity passenger rail projects would not be possible without the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which was passed by this chamber and signed into law by President Biden this month two years ago.

This funding is already enabling Amtrak and local governments to focus on sustainable, long-term projects rather than short-term patches.

While project funding is crucial, it's equally vital to secure operational and network maintenance funding.

It was unfortunate to see a majority of my colleagues across the aisle either vote to cut funding to rail programs by 57 percent, or completely axe funding for the Amtrak National Network as we considered the Fiscal Year 2024 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill earlier this month.

The bill was already flawed, with a 64 percent cut in funding to Amtrak, including a 35 percent cut to the National Network and a staggering 92 percent cut to the Northeast Corridor.

If these funding levels were adopted, Amtrak would likely significantly cut service across the national network, disconnecting passengers in both rural and urban communities who are reliant on Amtrak to go visit family, travel for work, or attend an event in another city.

The bill also eradicates funding for critical programs like the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grants, vital for capital improvements and establishing new routes. 

And if those cuts weren’t enough, the bill also had a 50 percent cut in funding to the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements program, which is used to fund safety improvement projects for both intercity passenger rail and freight rail projects.

Fortunately, these drastic cuts were too severe to pass the House, allowing the Senate to pursue a more balanced bill aligned with the success of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Mr. Chairman, While I’m glad to see your interest in intercity passenger rail and I am thrilled that we have had multiple hearings on this issue this Congress, I want to note that today marks the 300th day since the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, Ohio and this subcommittee has yet to have a hearing on freight rail safety.

We have a representative from the CSX freight railroad in the room – to talk about passenger rail, but not to talk about how a small town in Kentucky was evacuated last week due to a CSX derailment involving molten sulfur. Instead of being at home to celebrate Thanksgiving with family, these families were forced to spend part of the day in a middle school gym.

There is a freight rail derailment practically every day in this country, and every day we go without addressing this issue here in Congress is another day communities across this country are at risk for a preventable catastrophic incident.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on how the $100 billion in funding for rail projects in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will benefit our nation’s communities.

I yield back.