DOT: New Funding to Improve Intercity Passenger Rail

RICHMOND, Va. – The Department of Transportation is taking a new approach to funding intercity passenger rail projects that will lead to improved service and better on-time performance across the country, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters said.

Peters released new data today indicating that Americans drove 3.6 percent less, or 9.6 billion miles fewer, in July 2008 than July 2007. Since last November, Americans have driven 62.6 billion miles less than they did over the same nine-month period last year.

Meanwhile transit ridership is up 11 percent, and in July, Amtrak carried more passengers than in any single month in its history, she said.

“At a time when transit and rail are seeing record growth, the very way we finance these systems is at risk. That is because our transit investments come from the same source as our highway investments – federal gas taxes,” Peters said. “Federal transportation policies that rely almost exclusively on gas taxes are failing our state and local governments.”

So as part of a new plan to improve intercity passenger rail service nationwide, Peters announced the DOT is providing $30 million to match local investments in 15 rail capacity projects across the country. These federal-state partnerships will support projects designed to cut delays and expand capacity on existing intercity passenger rail routes and help provide new services where none exist today.

Until now, Peters said, there has been no way for states to qualify for federal funds to match local investments in rail capacity as all federal funds have gone directly to Amtrak.

But, Peters said, comprehensive reform is needed across the transportation system. In July, Peters unveiled a new proposal to reform and target transportation investments where they can best reduce congestion and improve infrastructure, while beginning to move away from relying exclusively on unstable gas taxes to finance transportation in the future.

“A few weeks ago, we saw the folly of our antiquated federal transportation policies when the highway trust fund almost ran out of money. If we don’t evolve our policies, we will leave a sad legacy of old roads, crowded highways, and unfulfilled transit ambitions,” Peters said.

The 15 intercity passenger rail grants the Department is awarding will support planning and construction projects in Arizona, California, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.