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Relief from Congress for public transit and passenger rail is welcome. But money isn’t the only issue

December 22, 2020

This week, Congress passed an omnibus bill that includes $14 billion in emergency relief for public transit agencies—in addition to roughly $15.5 billion in annual appropriations for public transportation and passenger rail. The $916 billion Covid relief package also includes $1 billion in emergency relief for Amtrak, in addition to Amtrak’s $2 billion appropriation for FY 2021.

Public transit in urban areas will receive $13.3 billion of the emergency funding. Rural areas will receive $679 million. New York City’s system, the MTA, will receive by far the most—$4 billion, the same amount it received in the CARES Act last spring. Chicago’s system will receive $450 million. The funds are expected to help transit systems across the U.S. avoid massive layoffs and service reductions. The MTA, for example, had proposed 9,000 layoffs and a 40 percent reduction in subway service. Some service reductions and fare hikes are still expected, however, and the agency has a projected $8 billion deficit through 2024.

Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor system will receive $655 million in relief funds. Its National Network will receive $345 million, and $285 million will be available to Amtrak to offset lost payments from commuter rail and state-supported routes.  Private motorcoach, school bus adn ferry companies will receive $2 billion.

The Alliance is disappointed that the bill does not require the restoration of Amtrak’s daily service on its long-distance routes, but we applaud its prohibition on further cuts to staff and service. And we agree with the call by leaders in Congress for additional relief. The emergency funding for public transit is less than half of the $32 billion that advocates sought to help public transit agencies survive the pandemic-induced collapse in ridership. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) noted that the current relief package is “certainly not the end of the story.” President-elect Joe Biden said that “starting in the new year, Congress will need to immediately get to work on support for our COVID-19 plan.’’ Sign the Alliance’s petition to Congress here.

But money isn’t the crux of the issue. Funding follows from priorities. Priorities follow from the vision of what a transportation system can be. When the U.S. buys into a compelling new vision of intercity travel—with trains playing a vital role in how people move around every day, whether they’re traveling cross-country or across town—the money will follow.

Creating and promoting that new vision is the mission of the Alliance. We’re guided by three principles: 1. It should be national in scope. 2. It should be optimistic, combining transformational projects with quick, near-term wins. 3. It must make business sense for the Class 1 railroads.

Check out the Alliance’s new Michigan page for a great example of our philosophy in practice. The Michigan vision combines several near-term, achievable projects with a big-picture vision that makes Michigan the heart of a high-speed corridor running from Chicago to Toronto—with Ford Motor Company’s new mobility hub as the anchor.

Trains must compete for a bigger share of a shrinking travel market in these anxious, uncertain times. That’s a huge challenge. But it also means that the old ways of doing business are open to rethinking and reform. And it means that there is incredible potential for creating a new vision of transportation in North America.

Please join us in making that potential the new reality.


Three ways to get involved


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Thank you for moving this vision forward.