• Secretary Buttigieg speech to DOT

  • General discussion of passenger rail proposals and systems not otherwise covered in the specific forums in this category, including high speed rail.
General discussion of passenger rail proposals and systems not otherwise covered in the specific forums in this category, including high speed rail.

Moderators: mtuandrew, gprimr1

  by electricron
 
prokowave wrote: Wed Feb 10, 2021 3:12 pm The secretary may not be able to print money, but he needs to address the endless delays, obstruction, and cost overruns seen by most projects as well as take a more aggressive stance in negotiations with the host railroads.

The New Orleans-Mobile Amtrak project has been studied since 2015 and has 100% of both infrastructure and operating funds committed through a combination of federal grants and state matches for a year and to my knowledge not a single shovel has been turned yet. We as a nation have to reform our study-everything-to-death approach to infrastructure. Every excessive delay dooms most projects whenever a new president, governor, city council, etc. takes office.
I will agree, when a project takes longer than the adminstration responsible of implementing it, the next administration has a chance to kill it or defund it so it dies a very slow death, unless the third adminstration gives it new life.

I used the term administration responsible of implementing it for a reason. the USDOT never builds anything. It has not built even one foot of road anywhere in the country, ever. The Federal Highway program relies upon States to administer highway projects, likewise other grants the DOT makes relies upon airport boards to administer airports, seaports to administer port facilities, railroads and transit agencies to administer rail projects, etc. All the USDOT does is allocate federal grants to qualified projects somebody else jumped through all the paperwork and hoops to get it done. It is difficult to manage the construction of thousands of projects nationally when you do not join or have any voice in the construction contracts. You are the far away rich uncle and aunt giving out luxurious presents every Christmas, in the form of many, many dollar bills. They have no ability to determine what and how you spend those dollar bills on. About the only power the USDOT has is to pull funding on projects not following all the laws already in place; those hoops I mentioned earlier. Even then you will probably end up in court defending yourself and your department in a lawsuit.
  by eolesen
 
All true, and perhaps all the more argument for Amtrak being a marketing company instead of an operating company...
  by scratchyX1
 
prokowave wrote: Wed Feb 10, 2021 3:12 pm The secretary may not be able to print money, but he needs to address the endless delays, obstruction, and cost overruns seen by most projects as well as take a more aggressive stance in negotiations with the host railroads.

The New Orleans-Mobile Amtrak project has been studied since 2015 and has 100% of both infrastructure and operating funds committed through a combination of federal grants and state matches for a year and to my knowledge not a single shovel has been turned yet. We as a nation have to reform our study-everything-to-death approach to infrastructure. Every excessive delay dooms most projects whenever a new president, governor, city council, etc. takes office.
It occurs to me, how much has bright line, and Texas HSR spent in studies, compared to public sector projects?
Or is the the excessive studying to make it look like something is being done, instead of actually doing it?
  by electricron
 
scratchyX1 wrote: Thu Feb 11, 2021 12:11 pm It occurs to me, how much has bright line, and Texas HSR spent in studies, compared to public sector projects?
Or is the the excessive studying to make it look like something is being done, instead of actually doing it?
They do the studies because the law requires it to receive any FTA funding grants. For those really interested, the latest FTA Act defining the process was passed in 2015, during the Obama's administration, was called the FAST Act.
Summary https://www.transit.dot.gov/funding/gra ... r-fast-act
Legislation https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BIL ... r22enr.pdf
Fact Sheets https://www.transit.dot.gov/funding/gra ... r-fast-act

The FRA has many programs defining their own process, here is a list of most of them
https://railroads.dot.gov/grants-loans/ ... t-programs
Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Grants (FY 2009 – 2020) Totals since 2017* = $3.8 billion
2020 $979 million, 2019 $877 million, 2018 $1471 million, 2017 $504 million (*I'm not going to sum up all 12 years*)
Capital Assistance to States – Intercity Passenger Rail Service Program (FY 2008) Total to date $30 million
High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program (HSIPR) (FY 2008 – 2010) Total to date $10.5 billion
Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program (FY 2017 – 2020) Total to date $320 million
Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair Grant Program (FY 2017 – 2020) Total to date $291 million
Infrastructure For Rebuilding America (FY 2017 – 2020) Total to date $5.5 billion
Magnetic Levitation Deployment Grants Program (FY 2015, FY 2019, and FY 2020) Total to date $78 million
Positive Train Control (PTC) Grant Program (FY 2017) Total to date $199 million
PTC Systems Grants under the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program (FY 2018) Total to date $250 million
Rail Line Relocation & Improvement Capital Grant Program (RLR) Total to date $90 million
Railroad Rehabilitation & Repair (Disaster Assistance) (FY 2008) Total to date $20 million
Railroad Safety Grants for the Safe Transportation of Energy Products by Rail Grant Program FY 2015 Total to date $10 million
Railroad Safety Infrastructure Improvement Grant Program (FY 2016) Total to date $25 million
Railroad Safety Technology Grants for PTC Program (FY 2010, FY 2014, and FY 2016) Total to date $86 million
Restoration and Enhancement Grant Program Total to date $26 million

And the FRA has two loan program as well.
https://railroads.dot.gov/grants-loans/loan-programs
Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA)
The TIFIA program provides credit assistance for qualified projects of regional and national significance. Many large-scale, surface transportation projects -- highway, transit, railroad, intermodal freight, and port access -- are eligible for assistance.
Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF)
Under this program, the FRA Administrator is authorized to provide direct loans and loan guarantees up to $35.0 billion to finance development of railroad infrastructure. Up to $7.0 billion is reserved for projects benefiting freight railroads other than Class I carriers.

Lots of FTA and FRA funding grants are being made each and every year, some are more successful jumping through the red tape than others. Let's take the Gateway Tunnels as an example, it is not refurbishing existing infrastructure as it is adding to what exists. Which FRA program can it apply for funds from successfully?
BUILD grants - This flexibility allows BUILD and our traditional partners at the State and local levels to work directly with a host of entities that own, operate, and maintain much of our transportation infrastructure, but otherwise cannot turn to the Federal government for support. Amtrak can turn to the Federal government for direct support, so it does not qualify..
Capital Assistance to States - Amtrak us not a state, plus $30 million will never cover the $15 billion new tunnels costs, so it does not apply.
Infrastructure For Rebuilding America - The Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects (NSFHP) program provides Federal financial assistance to highway and freight projects of national or regional significance. Gateway tunnels are not a highway or for freight railroad usage, so it does not apply.
Restoration and Enhancement Grant Program - This program funds operating assistance grants for initiating, restoring, or enhancing intercity passenger rail transportation. Looks promising, but building new infrastructure is not what it is for. so it does not apply.
Projects eligible for funding under this grant program include:
additional frequency of current service
offering new on-board services
establishing new service
extension of current service
restoration of previously operated service

So, no FRA program fits, so lets now look at the FTA programs. Because the costs are well above the new starts threshold, that is the only FTA program that applies, only because NJT uses it. Federal transit law requires transit agencies seeking CIG funding to complete a series of steps over several years. For New Starts and Core Capacity projects, the law requires completion of two phases in advance of receipt of a construction grant agreement – Project Development and Engineering. This is what Amtrak and NJT has been doing for a while.
Here's the link for the process.
https://www.transit.dot.gov/sites/fta.d ... 0_2016.pdf
The Gateway Tunnels keep getting poor rankings in the FTA matrix. It does not help that their will be few additional riders upon opening up the new tunnels, that housing in Midtown Manhattan near Penn Station are not low rent, that the state of good repair for the NEC, and specifically the North River Tunnels are not great, and on and on it fails what the FTA must judge the project by law.

So, that leaves the FRA loan programs as the last solution, or funding earmarked by new legislation specifically for it. Good luck!
  by BandA
 
From Electrocon's digging, the most fun program is
Magnetic Levitation Deployment Grants Program (FY 2015, FY 2019, and FY 2020) Total to date $78 million
I wonder how the deployments are working. (Maglev is supposed to work well on grades that are steeper than allowed by steel-on-steel)
  by prokowave
 
In addition to the federal funding mess, the railroads have every incentive to hold Amtrak hostage and ask states and feds for ridiculous amounts of money for any new service. Here's what I would propose to cut through some of the red tape, at least with regards to expanding Amtrak's national network:

1. Hand Amtrak a big chunk of money, maybe $10 billion, that can only be spent on new or improved service
2. Develop a scoring system to rank projects based on utility to the network (new populations served, connectivity to existing services, lowering runtimes on existing routes, improving reliability)
3. Let the hosts bid; the projects with the best cost/benefit ratio are selected. States and cities would have the option to contribute directly or in-kind (e.g. grade crossing projects) in order to improve their rankings
4. Railroads have a set amount of time to make whatever improvements they deem necessary and then they get paid once Amtrak is cleared to run its new or improved service.
5. Any railroads not meeting their obligations will have the funds revoked and transferred to other projects

By mixing projects to speed up trains, add frequency to existing services, and new routes, Amtrak should be able to improve the budget enough so that it can reduce or eliminate the burden on states for operating subsidies.
  by eolesen
 
What happens when nobody bids to host service?.....

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  by justalurker66
 
Some states would bid. The more financially responsible that understand PRIIA leads to the state being responsible for operational costs a couple years after service launches would not bid and likely be upset that billions were going to other states. (Those states would gladly take billions for projects for those states - but not with the obligation to spend money they don't have to continue service.)

Since the money comes with the obligation to pay for operational it would be a reasonable idea for the billions to be given as matching funds. If the states can't come up with an amount of money equal to what will be needed for the operational subsidy while bidding for their cut of billions of dollars then money should not go to that state.
  by electricron
 
prokowave wrote: Fri Feb 12, 2021 6:59 pm In addition to the federal funding mess, the railroads have every incentive to hold Amtrak hostage and ask states and feds for ridiculous amounts of money for any new service. Here's what I would propose to cut through some of the red tape, at least with regards to expanding Amtrak's national network:

1. Hand Amtrak a big chunk of money, maybe $10 billion, that can only be spent on new or improved service
2. Develop a scoring system to rank projects based on utility to the network (new populations served, connectivity to existing services, lowering runtimes on existing routes, improving reliability)
3. Let the hosts bid; the projects with the best cost/benefit ratio are selected. States and cities would have the option to contribute directly or in-kind (e.g. grade crossing projects) in order to improve their rankings
4. Railroads have a set amount of time to make whatever improvements they deem necessary and then they get paid once Amtrak is cleared to run its new or improved service.
5. Any railroads not meeting their obligations will have the funds revoked and transferred to other projects

By mixing projects to speed up trains, add frequency to existing services, and new routes, Amtrak should be able to improve the budget enough so that it can reduce or eliminate the burden on states for operating subsidies.
If Amtrak was given $10 Billion to spend on just about anything, it would keep all of it for itself. It has far more than $20 Billion of construction left to do to make the NEC into a state of good repair. No project anywhere else would gain more points with the scoring system you propose.

https://www.rtands.com/passenger/interc ... 3-billion/
"April 01, 2019
There’s a lot of work to be done on Amtrak. The railroad said its state of good repair backlog (SOGR) has passed $33.3 billion, with $28.1 billion of that on the Northeast Corridor."

What scares me is what if Congress gave Amtrak all of that $33.3 billion all at once, in one stimulus package? Would Amtrak be able to manage all the work at once with the staff it has now?
  by eolesen
 
electricron wrote: Tue Feb 16, 2021 9:01 am What scares me is what if Congress gave Amtrak all of that $33.3 billion all at once, in one stimulus package? Would Amtrak be able to manage all the work at once with the staff it has now?
Doing that might look a lot like CAHSR.... unable to spend it all before the clock runs out. And Federal funds need a clock.
  by BandA
 
I would use the stick approach - any freight railroad that makes "trouble" for Amtrak or state passenger agencies isn't eligible for any federal grant or loan programs.
  by west point
 
prokowave wrote: Fri Feb 12, 2021 6:59 pm In addition to the federal funding mess, the railroads have every incentive to hold Amtrak hostage and ask states and feds for ridiculous amounts of money for any new service. Here's what I would propose to cut through some of the red tape, at least with regards to expanding Amtrak's national network:

1. Hand Amtrak a big chunk of money, maybe $10 billion, that can only be spent on new or improved service
2. Develop a scoring system to rank projects based on utility to the network (new populations served, connectivity to existing services, lowering runtimes on existing routes, improving reliability)
3. Let the hosts bid; the projects with the best cost/benefit ratio are selected. States and cities would have the option to contribute directly or in-kind (e.g. grade crossing projects) in order to improve their rankings
4. Railroads have a set amount of time to make whatever improvements they deem necessary and then they get paid once Amtrak is cleared to run its new or improved service.
5. Any railroads not meeting their obligations will have the funds revoked and transferred to other projects

By mixing projects to speed up trains, add frequency to existing services, and new routes, Amtrak should be able to improve the budget enough so that it can reduce or eliminate the burden on states for operating subsidies.
This is what we have been thinking as a partial solution of the present lack of Amtrak on time operation. This does need to just apply to contract freight RRs and some commuter operations Amtrak operates on. It should probably be some reduction for commuter agencies.
  by eolesen
 
BandA wrote: Tue Feb 16, 2021 2:12 pm I would use the stick approach - any freight railroad that makes "trouble" for Amtrak or state passenger agencies isn't eligible for any federal grant or loan programs.
I'm not aware of Federal grants/loans being used by the Class 1's aside from the Obama era high speed rail grants, which arguably shouldn't have ever happened in the first place.

Class 1's do get state grants, but that's usually for projects like grade crossing improvements that benefit the state's residents far more than they benefit the railroad.

Easy to track for yourself: https://subsidytracker.goodjobsfirst.or ... on-pacific