More funding for passenger rail? Yes, please, according to President Joe Biden’s proposed budget for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for next year.
The proposed $4 billion budget includes a 35% increase in financial support for Amtrak as well as the creation of a new grant program aimed at modernizing and developing passenger rail service.
The Amtrak funding and the grant programs would comprise $3.7 billion of the $4 billion budget. The budget would seek to “jump-start” the construction of new and upgraded intercity passenger rail corridors, as well as fund congestion relief and safety projects for passenger and freight rail through grade separations and the adoption of clean rail energy rail propulsion systems such as near-zero emission diesel locomotives, battery technology and electrification.
Breaking it down by category, the budget seeks to provide Amtrak with $2.7 billion to address track infrastructure needs, rehabilitate stations and replace its aging passenger and railcar fleet, according to Biden’s budget released last week. This would consist of $1.3 billion to conduct repairs along the Northeast Corridor and $1.4 billion for national network grants.
The budget also includes $625 million for a new grant program that would be known as Passenger Rail Improvement, Modernization and Expansion or PRIME grants, with funding aimed at developing and modernizing passenger rail service and expanding existing rail corridors.
Meanwhile, the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity program, or RAISE grants, would replace the TIGER/BUILD grant program and seek to help localities undertake infrastructure projects. Biden’s budget would supply $1 billion for this program.
The grant program aimed at helping short line railroads and freight freight railroads, the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program, would also continue, and Biden is seeking $375 million for the program. Within the CRISI program, at least $50 million would be proposed for grade separations, rail line relocation projects and other measures that would address quality-of-life issues of those communities living near rail lines, including low-income communities and communities of color. The CRISI program would also provide funding for short line railroads seeking to retire aging locomotive fleets and replace them with locomotives that use more environmentally friendly technologies.
Biden’s budget for FRA also seeks $24.7 million for the agency’s safety and operations work, which would include $16.5 million for an automated track inspection program, as well as $58.8 million for research and development.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is seeking $88 billion overall for fiscal year 2022.
Meanwhile, DOT’s budget is meant to complement $621 billion in transportation initiatives under the America Jobs Plan. Within this total is a request for $540 billion for DOT programs allocated over a five-year period.
Among these programs would be $80 billion to address Amtrak’s repair backlog, modernize the high-traffic Northeast Corridor, improve existing corridors, connect new city pairs and expand the passenger rail system, and provide $5 billion for rail safety and efficiency grants, including for projects that would promote the utilization of environmentally friendly technologies and the expansion of rural and local freight access.
Also, Biden is asking $6 billion for a “healthy ports” program, which would seek to provide grants aimed at mitigating the impacts of idling ships, trucks and equipment on local communities, electrifying port equipment and drayage trucks, and supporting landside rail and other projects that would facilitate intermodal connections and relieve congestion in and around ports, among other aims, according to Biden’s budget.
The White House and congressional Republicans have been dueling over the America Jobs Plan, with the White House recently releasing a trimmed-down version of the original plan after Republican criticism.