Mixed Reviews on New Passenger Rail Reauthorization Act

Six years ago Congress passed the first Passenger Rail Reauthorization Act, known as PRIIA. Reauthorization was introduced on September 11, in a bill (known as PRRIA) praised by some but also criticized for decreasing Amtrak funding by 40 percent.
September 28, 2014, 11am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"The U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee approved the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2014 (PRRIA, H.R. 5449)" by voice vote on September 17, writes Mischa Wanek-Libman, editor of Railway Track & Structures.

She also wrote about the passage of the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2014 by a Senate subcommittee.

PRRIA [PDF] reduces Amtrak's funding by 40 percent, requires that Amtrak eliminate losses from food and beverage service and mandates Amtrak carry out a business case analysis for all major procurements. Additionally, the legislation allows for profits made on the Northeast Corridor to be reinvested in the line.

The act was praised for being bi-partisan by many groups (not the norm for the House) including James Corless, director of Transportation for America, who stated in the group's blog, “We are pleased that Chairmen Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Ranking Members Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Corrine Brown (D-FL) were able to work together to draw up a bill that preserves funding for our national rail network."

Similarly, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) "expressed support for the bill's focus on greater accounting transparency and streamlining environmental reviews," writes their Journal editor. Their letter [PDF] "expressed support for the bill's focus on greater accounting transparency and streamlining environmental reviews."

That support was not shared by the Midwest High Speed Rail Authorization. PRIIA "would authorize Amtrak and other intercity passenger rail service for the next five years at a piddling $1.8 billion per year," writes Shira Orlowek. "That means another five years of declining service when the system should be rapidly expanding."

The most extensive analysis I found was from the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP). According to their press release, they "found many commonsense regulatory and governance reforms" (which are listed), they determined that "more significantly, this bill ignores the funding gap that is holding back the U.S. national rail network, and legislatively enshrines Congress’ 'kick the can down the road' mentality that is threatening America’s infrastructure." 

Wanek-Libman also noted that "(t)he Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation passed the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2014 (S. 2777) which, among other things, "would expand the STB Board from three to five members."

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) expressed its concern that should the legislation pass, it would hinder U.S. railroads' ability to reinvest capital into capacity and expansion projects.

However, according to Railway Age, this bill also appears to be the product of bipartisan cooperation.

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Published on Thursday, September 18, 2014 in RT&S (Railway Track & Structures)
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