Legislative Principles, Adopted September 7, 2014

Mission

The mission of the States for Passenger Rail Coalition, Inc. (S4PRC) is to promote the research, development, implementation, operation, sustainability, and expansion of publicly-supported intercity passenger rail services.

Principles

·         Intercity passenger rail represents a viable, energy efficient, and economically attractive transportation option. States and intercity passenger rail operating agencies are, and will continue to be, the primary agencies responsible for the initiation, implementation, oversight and/or operation of new or enhanced intercity passenger rail service.

·         Many states are currently operating and/or developing intercity passenger rail services, often with similar needs and goals, in both rural and urban areas of the country.

·         The development, operation and expansion of intercity passenger rail services must feature a strong federal financing role in partnership with states.

·         Mutual benefits are anticipated when states unify efforts on common interests and share information on policy initiatives, technical developments and innovative implementation methods for intercity passenger rail programs and services.

·         The Coalition offers a centralized forum to interact with stakeholders and advocacy groups to share information and offer direction in support of intercity passenger rail.

In alignment with these organizational principles, the S4PRC supports the following with respect to intercity passenger rail:  S4PRC urges a timely reauthorization of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) or other authorizing legislation, incorporating the recommendations included here-in or, as an alternative, within a new rail title for intercity passenger rail, that would be included in the authorization of an all modes federal surface transportation act.  Sustainable, dedicated funding should be established from new revenue sources, not the current gas tax that funds the Federal Highway Trust Fund or sources that support the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund. Programs under a new rail fund should include both formula and discretionary funding.

 

Funding and Finance

1.     Funding Partnerships:  The federal share for capital projects should be 90 percent, consistent with the early construction of the Interstate Highway program.  High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) corridor projects should be financed through a combination of federal, state, local, regional and private funding.  To attract greater private capital, expedited project delivery methods should be adopted and risk sharing methods further defined.  The use of public private partnerships (PPP’s), along with a full breadth of finance, tax, and revenue approaches, should be authorized.

2.     Programs:  Funding for projects should be based on a National Rail Plan (NRP) developed in consultation with States and multi-state regions, or in the absence of a NRP, upon individual rail plans adopted by State and multi-state regions. Funding for projects should result in independently operable segments.  Funding should specifically be made available for planning activities that will ensure a continuance of projects being developed for implementation.  There should be an account to fund operating costs of the existing long distance intercity passenger rail network.  There should be two accounts established to address capital needs:  one to establish a state of good repair; the other for improvement and expansion.  Both accounts should include formula and discretionary programs.  State of good repair should include separate programs for the Northeast Corridor (NEC), state-supported, and long distance routes.  High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) formula funding and discretionary grants should be awarded to states, groups of states, Amtrak, or public authorities authorized by states or groups of states pursuant to sections 301, 302 and 501 of PRIIA.  HSIPR projects should remain eligible for future TIGER programs.

 

3.     Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ):  Intercity passenger rail projects and other public transportation projects that reduce air pollution emissions should be eligible for funding from the CMAQ program beyond any limitation of years whenever such benefits can be shown to be sustained over time.  Specifically, the three year cap currently in place for operating costs should be removed.  Public Law 113-076 amended existing law for which CMAQ funding was made available, obligated or expended in fiscal year 2012, to have no imposed time limitation.  The cap should be lifted in its entirety for on-going operating costs of sustainable CMAQ projects.

 

4.     Transportation Development Credits (TDC):  An allowable use for TDC’s should be to provide local/state match to high-speed and intercity passenger rail funds.  TDCs allow states to use federal obligation authority without the requirement of providing matching dollars.  This supports the concept of state flexibility.

 

5.     Tax Credits/Safe Harbor Leasing:  Allow for the tax benefit of ownership to be “strippable” or transferred from public to private sector for depreciation.   Such a strategy could contribute to new assets such as a modern fleet of intercity passenger rail equipment and contribute to achieving longer-term economic re-industrialization.

 

6.     Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program (RRIF):  Establish measures to streamline the RRIF program.  Emulating the best practices from the TIFIA program could improve the value and use of the RRIF.

a.       Bring RRIF, historically a non-appropriated program, more in line with TIFIA and appropriate funds to subsidize credit risk premiums.

b.      Require new rules/regulations to encourage participation and make the loan approval process more timely and efficient.

c.       Specify/clarify eligible projects to include: High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail, Positive Train Control (PTC), engineering/environmental Reviews and pre-construction activities, Transit Oriented Development (TOD) around intercity, commuter and light rail projects.

d.      Mandate collateral valued at 100% of liquidated valuation (vs 80%).

e.       For PTC loans, mandate collateral valued at cost of equipment and labor.

f.        Allow the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to count the Net Present Value (NPV) of future stream of subsidy income or dedicated revenue as collateral.

g.       Allow use of private insurance to fund credit risk premiums.

h.      Allow payment of credit risk premium over the term of the loan.

i.         Allows repayment deferral costs to be financed over length of loan.

j.         Require OMB decisions to take place during same existing 90 day decision window.

k.       Require FRA to acknowledge that an application is complete within 45 days of submission or otherwise provide specific feedback.

 

7.     At-Grade Crossing Hazard Elimination:  Grow and adequately fund the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Section 130 at-grade-crossing hazard elimination program to accommodate the needs of high-priority passenger rail corridors and high-risk grade crossings within those corridors.  Project prioritization should be based on a cost-benefit analysis approach.  The $7,500 cap on use of Federal funding for closure incentives should be raised to one-half the estimated cost of installed signal devices.

 

Vision and Planning

1.     National Vision, Plan and Map:  There should be continued Federal investment for maintaining existing intercity passenger rail in the NEC, in state -supported corridors, and long distance routes, as well as improving intercity passenger rail service in general.  Congress has the opportunity to describe this role more clearly through the establishment of national goals, but such clarification should not have the effect of jeopardizing current services.  The National Rail Plan (the Plan) should include the federally supported long distance trains, in order to maintain the “backbone” of the national passenger rail network.  Connected to the “backbone” would be corridors established by multi-state/regional plans.  The Plan should be developed in cooperation with the freight railroads, where applicable, and should be a product of local, state and multi-state/regional planning.  It should include the NEC and define a work program with adequate funding sources to bring the corridor into a state of good repair and to assure its capacity for growth.  The Plan should also include proposed work programs with independent funding sources for both maintaining the existing intercity passenger rail network, and for the opportunity to expand where demand indicates improvements or expansion are needed.

 

2.     Local and Regional Planning/Decision-Making:  Projects to improve travel time and increase service frequencies should be defined at the multi-state, state and local level, but should be consistent with national goals.  The State planning process should determine the type of project currently most appropriate for the particular region and market. Over time, increased service levels and improved travel times may become local and regional objectives.  Public involvement is a key element.  State rail plans should address each state’s funding needs, service integration issues, short and long-term sustainability, and should establish the terms of private sector involvement consistent with the National Rail Plan.

 

3.     Expediting Project Delivery/Environmental Streamlining:  Similar provisions should be enacted for rail projects as are contained in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) concerning expedited project delivery and environmental clearance for both freight and passenger rail services.  The reduction in the amount of time it takes for a rail project to move from planning to actual construction could be reduced significantly and thus save millions of dollars in project costs, by adopting a common set of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) standards which would be applied consistently across all modes.  Agencies of the USDOT should accept lead federal agency responsibilities on state transportation projects of the type that would typically fall under the purview of their specific USDOT modal agency, even when the project does not yet appear as fully funded in the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) with a portion of the funding passing through that USDOT agency at the time of the environmental document.

Appropriate environmental documentation for transportation projects is typically determined by the known or anticipated source of the project funds. For those projects that anticipate use of federal funds, a federal environmental document (CE, EA or EIS) is generally prepared. In many cases, application for federal funding sources requires a completed federal environmental document.

 

A federal environmental document requires the cooperation of a federal lead agency. The difficulty for state transportation agencies is that funding may not be available to construct the project at the early stages of project planning when the environmental document must be completed. Because the future federal funding has not yet been committed, the federal transportation agencies do not want to commit to be the lead federal agency on a project where it does not appear as fully funded in the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). While this reticence is understandable because of the resource requirements associated with being the lead federal agency on any transportation related environmental document, it is a detriment to timely project development.

 

4.     Connectivity:  Multi-modal connectivity with existing transportation systems and networks must be a key element of project plans and should be considered in funding decisions.  Project scopes may include activities which establish and support local and regional public transportation services and highway connections to facilities.  All corridor projects should include a plan outlining strategies for connecting with current passenger rail, urban transit, regional and intercity bus, airports, highways, bicycle networks, and pedestrian networks and should include funding strategies to achieve these connection objectives.

 

5.     Shared Facilities:  Common, incidental benefits afforded commuter and regional passenger rail systems, as a result of investments in HSIPR corridors, should be an eligible part of the corridor investment on a locally determined shared cost basis.

 

6.     Access to Rail Freight Corridors:  Access to freight railroad rights-of-way is a significant issue in the implementation and the eventual outcome of the federal HSIPR program.  Currently only Amtrak has the right of access over a host railroad corridors, but this right should also vest in the public where Amtrak is not an operator or where a new service is proposed. The Surface Transportation Board or the Federal Railroad Administration could exercise this authority. Federal policies should encourage development of a high performance rail network with both rail-passenger and rail-freight operations, as there are substantive public benefits to both.  Within this context, an equitable and fair process for negotiating passenger rail operational access on freight railroads and in the use of adjacent freight rail rights-of-way must be established.  Many passenger rail corridors have the potential for a blended service with a shared track operating plan for portions of corridor services while operating on exclusive track or right-of-way where necessary.  The blended service approach should be considered as an effective approach for project delivery and for minimizing project and future track maintenance costs.

 

Operations

1.     Equipment Standards:  PRIIA Section 305, the Next Generation Corridor Equipment Pool Committee (NGCEC) should be reauthorized to ensure the continued development and currency of standardized intercity passenger rail equipment specifications; multi-state procurements, and a continuation of its oversight of document control and management of those specifications to ensure continued PRIIA compliance as well as keeping pace with technological advancements. The continuing emphasis on standardization will result in lower costs and the rebuilding of the rail equipment manufacturing and supply industry in America and the creation of sustainable jobs.  Additionally, funding should be authorized for the maintenance and updating of the American Public Transit Association Passenger Rail Equipment Safety Standards, which form the foundation for the PRIIA Section 305 equipment specification work.  The NGEC should be given specific authorization to assist the states and Amtrak in developing the 5-year maintenance of equipment capital plan in compliance with the Section 209 Cost Methodology.

2.     Long Distance Trains:  Long distance trains operated by Amtrak should continue to be managed and financed at a national level.  The federally supported long distance trains would continue as the “backbone” of the national passenger rail network.  The NEC and state-supported corridors connect to this backbone to provide for a national network with a regional travel focus.  The most active markets for intercity passenger services are between points of less than 500 miles which falls within multi-state regions, such as New York City to Washington, DC or the intrastate Dallas to Houston corridor, or connects point to point between multi-state regions, such as Charlotte to Washington, DC or Kansas City to Chicago.  Long Distance trains with routes of more than 750 miles in length, such as Kansas City to Los Angeles (Southwest Chief) or Chicago to Seattle (Empire Builder), connect between the regions at longer distances to complete the national network, similar to the national interstate system.

 

PRIIA Section 209

1.     Oversight and Accountability:  A formal working group should be established to coordinate key issues between the states and Amtrak such as a Section 209 State Corridor Advisory Commission.  The FRA should be authorized to establish a PRIIA Section 209 Commission consisting of State intercity passenger rail agencies, Amtrak, and the FRA, which will be responsible for the review, update, and modification of the agreed upon Section 209 Policy including, but not limited to, cost methodologies, operating and capital contracts, and budget, accounting and reporting practices.  This commission will resemble, in principle, the NEC Commission that was established in Section 212 of the PRIIA Act of 2008 to develop and implement a policy for the allocation of costs for train services along and within the NEC, including committee support and operating funds.

 

2.     Funding:  Sufficient funding should be made available to states for the purposes of transitioning from current costs of state supported Amtrak routes to post-Section 209 implementation costs.  This additional funding should focus on the new requirement for states to pay equipment capital costs in addition to the fully allocated operating costs.

 

3.     Cost Allocation:  As a follow-up to the findings and recommendations of the Offices of Inspectors Generals (OIG) Report on the Amtrak Performance Tracking (APT) (CR 2013-056) cost accounting and allocation system, ensure that Direct and Route costs charged or allocated to State intercity passenger rail (IPR) services are only those costs directly associated with the operations of that particular route and do not include either overhead charges (separately captured in the Additive Rates) or charges affiliated with Amtrak’s backbone long distance network costs. 

 

4.     Performance Standards:  Pursuant to the agreed Policy, Amtrak will allow for States and IPR agencies to implement performance standards that will help endure Amtrak’s adherence to the terms of the operating contract; and recognize that State and IPR agencies may seek alternate service providers for some services or service components.

 

5.     Cost Limitations: To provide stability and consistency with basic operating cost standards, at no time will Support Fees (overhead) be greater than their associated Direct and Route Costs.

 

6.     Budgets and Forecasts:  To ensure transparency, fairness, and equity in the development of pricing of State IPR services, Amtrak will provide the following information to sponsors of state IPR services:

 

a.       Quarterly Budget Updates:  Amtrak should provide states with quarterly updates on budget/actual performance, with a fiscal year to date summary, which will enable States to have ongoing data to incorporate into their own budgeting cycles.  This should include APT workbooks verifying actual costs compared with projected costs for each period.

 

b.      State Budget Forecasts:  A comprehensive budget forecast, which will adhere to zero-based budgeting principles, should be provided to States eight months in advance of the beginning of the next contract period.  It should include projected costs for each Route and Third Party cost category defined in the agreed upon PRIIA Section 209 Cost Methodology Policy as well as costs associated with Equipment Capital Investments identified in the 5-Year Equipment Capital Program.

 

c.       Monthly Invoices:  Monthly invoices to States should include sufficient documentation to verify Revenue and 3rd Party Costs.

 

7.     Reports:  Amtrak should provide States with daily operating On-time Performance (OTP) and Ridership reports (by train), as well as monthly ridership, revenue and train performance reports for each route and train.  Information should include, but not limited to fare code, ticket type, station boardings and alightings, city pairs, multi-ride pass riders by pass type, distribution channel, etc.

 

8.     Representation of State-Supported IPR Services on the Amtrak Board: As State IPR services now represent nearly 50% of Amtrak’s total annual ridership and more than 30% of its budget, it is responsible and practical that at least one director on the Amtrak Board be appointed to represent the interests of the State IPR services.  The States for Passenger Rail Coalition and/or American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials will assist in nominating the person/s to serve on the Amtrak Board.

 

 

Other

1.     Research, Technology and Standards:  The federal HSIPR program should support standards development, technology and university research, a cooperative research program, job training, career development, data collection, information management and international exchange.  As with the interstate highway program, consideration should be given to establishing common standards to be consistent throughout the national program, to assure interoperability and other national transportation goals.  Continuation of the National Cooperative Railroad Research Program (NCRRP) at a minimum $5 million annually.  This program was established in PRIIA and the NCRRP conducts applied research on problems important to freight, intercity and commuter rail operators.  AASHTO and its members participate in the NCRRP through selection of research proposals.  An ongoing national railroad research program is necessary to solve common operating problems, to adapt appropriate new technologies from other industries, and to introduce innovations into the rail industry.  The NCRRP carries out applied research on problems that are shared by freight, intercity passenger, and commuter rail operating agencies which are not being adequately addressed by existing federal research programs.  One example is to better define impacts that high-speed and intercity passenger rail, as well as freight rail, have on the economy.  The NCRRP undertakes research and other technical activities in a variety of rail subject areas, including design, construction, maintenance, operations, safety, security, policy, planning, human resources, and administration.

 

2.     Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program:  A DBE program for HSIPR comparable with the current Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) programs should be established drawing on the disparity analyses available for those modes.

 

3.     Access for Persons with Disabilities:  In reauthorizing PRIIA, Congress should recognize and provide funding to Amtrak, States and IPR agencies for implementing the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Care must be given to realistic applications of requirements to the unique issues on passenger rail systems that share corridors with freight rail operators or that have made accommodations for access by people with disabilities prior to the adoption of recent regulatory requirements.  Level-boarding should be addressed on a case by case basis instead of trying to develop a one-size fits all standard.

 

4.     Sustainability:  Establish a new program that addresses severe weather capital investments in railroad infrastructure that will promote resiliency.  Congress should allow for an increase in the federal match on investment in capital projects related to the enhancement of intercity passenger rail system's ability to sustain service during severe weather. 

 

5.     Buy America:  The “Buy America” provisions for FRA should be revised to be consistent with the FTA’s Buy America provisions while preserving a reasonable waiver process.

 

6.     Cross Border Pre-Clearance:  Lengthy clearance times for international intercity passenger rail service continues to be a detriment to reliable and timely cross-border Operations. The Government Accounting Office has been directed to conduct an assessment of best practices that can be used to reduce rail border crossing times and especially reduce the blockage of street crossings.  The S4PRC requests that this analysis include both freight and intercity passenger trains.