June 06, 2023

Ranking Members Larsen, Payne, Jr. Statements from Hearing on Strengthening Amtrak Service

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 “Amtrak Operations: Examining the Challenges and Opportunities for Improving Efficiency and Service.”

Video of Larsen’s and Payne, Jr.’s opening statements can be found here and 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 Amtrak operations across the country.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) was a monumental achievement that supercharged our nation’s investment in rail with $100 billion in funding.

The BIL provided bold, long-term investments across transportation systems and infrastructure that are creating jobs and benefiting our economy.

Just last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the economy added 339,000 jobs in May, including 25,000 construction jobs and 24,000 transportation and warehousing jobsa sign that the economy is on the move.

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

It makes possible, for the first time ever, dedicated, reliable federal funding–dispersed over the next few yearsto improve and expand intercity passenger rail.

Just this week, the first round of competitive rail grant funding from the BIL was announced.

Among the recipients was the City of Burlington, in Washington’s Second District, which was awarded a $2 million planning grant to remove a grade crossing, which will in turn increase mobility for all rail traffic.

Burlington Mayor Steve Sexton brought this idea to me nearly a decade ago, and I am pleased to see the project awarded the funding it needs to improve safety and reduce congestion.

Projects like this are improving quality of life and creating jobs, and Washington state has led the way in executing BIL funding so far.

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

Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration 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.

The Bipartisan Budget Agreement protected BIL funding from cuts, including this vital rail funding, and demonstrated support on both sides of the aisle to maintain these investments.

I’m looking forward to hearing from both 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.

However, the funding is not only intended to improve rail service, but to expand it. The demand for more frequent and more reliable passenger rail is real. Cities and counites across the nation want increased access to the national passenger rail network.

They know that this will help their towns grow and thrive and provide a greener way to move people.

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

Communities in my district were frustrated that the COVID pandemic shuttered state-supported Amtrak routes like Cascades, which connects communities like Everett, Edmonds, Stanwood, Mount Vernon and Bellingham in my district to cities like Seattle, Spokane, Portland, Eugene, and Vancouver, British Columbia. I celebrate the return of this service—and note that it took three years to restore.

Mr. Payne referred to the Gulf Coast—it took 17 years to get agreement there to restart service after Hurricane Katrina.

To my colleagues on this Committee representing Gulf communities, I share the frustration you and your constituents have undoubtedly experienced.

As we did in fighting for rail funding in the BIL, this Committee is committed to helping communities get regular and reliable passenger rail service.

Of the $100 billion provided for rail in the BIL, $66 billion was provided in the form of advance appropriations. The remaining $34 billion is subject to future appropriations legislation. I think we should 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. The funding will be used to 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 securing a reliable funding stream for intercity passenger rail.

Highways, transit, airports and harbors all have access to trust funds, enabling them to fund their long-term major capital projects without having to wait for the annual appropriations process.

It’s past time that intercity passenger rail was brought into parity with the other modes.

Today, this Committee will have the opportunity to hear from two witnesses who are on the front lines, turning historic investment into tangible improvements to rail service that communities can rely on. 

We will have the opportunity to specifically examine Amtrak’s plans for service improvements and growth.

We will also be able to hear from one of Amtrak’s key partners, the Northeast Corridor Commission, on how the BIL will improve passenger rail nationwide.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about their vision for the future of passenger rail.

Ranking Member Payne, Jr.:

Good Morning.

Thank you, Chairman Nehls, Chairman Graves, Ranking Member Larsen, and our two witnesses for being with us today.

We are here today during an exciting time for Amtrak and, more broadly, intercity passenger rail across the country.

For the first time, this mode of transportation has guaranteed funding for multiple years. The value of this certainty is not to be understated. This is akin to the beginning of the interstate highway system, which we continue to support.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, signed by President Biden in November 2021, provides $22 billion in funding to Amtrak through Fiscal Year 2026, $16 billion of which is to be invested in the national network while the remaining $6 billion goes towards infrastructure improvements along the Northeast Corridor. Another $19 billion is authorized for Amtrak’s capital investments nationwide.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law further invests $36 billion in the Federal State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Program, with $24 billion allocated explicitly to the Northeast Corridor. Another $7.5 billion in funding is also authorized for this grant program.

Amtrak recently submitted grant applications for multiple projects through this program totaling roughly $9 billion. Together, these projects will assist in increasing rail capacity while reducing service interruptions.

Projects like the Gateway Program in my home state of New Jersey will improve the passenger experience along the Northeast corridor by digging a new pair of tunnels under the Hudson River and replacing Portal Bridge. Both of these chokepoints are over one hundred years old, and maintenance problems here often cause delays for passengers riding Amtrak and NJ Transit.

Other projects along the Northeast Corridor, such as the Frederick Douglass tunnel in Baltimore, need restoration. This tunnel is 150 years old, the oldest along the corridor. Water damage, and tight curves, force Acela trains to slow down to thirty miles per hour, adding precious minutes to trips for travelers across Maryland and the rest of the corridor.

Similarly, there is much work to be done on intercity rail projects across the country including bringing stations into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, refreshing Amtrak’s fleet of aging railcars and locomotives, and replacing older rail bridges like the 100-year-old San Luis Rey River Bridge in San Diego County, California.

I look forward to new and improved corridors that can be advanced with this funding. The Federal Railroad Administration recently received numerous proposals for the Corridor ID program. This will be the template for passenger rail expansion in the coming years.

Established corridors in North Carolina and California will finally have a consistent federal partner. New corridors are ripe for development in Texas, Nevada, and along the Gulf Coast.

I also look forward to the Federal Railroad Administration’s project pipeline that will identify the capital projects needed to develop these, and other, corridors.

All of this funding, all of these projects, and all the benefits that future generations will enjoy would not be possible without our efforts in the 117th Congress when we passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in this chamber and sent it to President Biden for his signature.

The $100 billion in funding for rail projects included in this monumental law is a game changer for communities nationwide. I look forward to diving into some details with our witnesses shortly.

I yield back.