AIPRO Support Competitive Rail Provisions in Senate Transportation Bill

Aug. 3, 2015

The Association of Independent Passenger Rail Operators (AIPRO) applauds the Senate passage of a 6-year long-term Surface Transportation bill that includes a Rail Title. Known as the DRIVE Act, the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 65-34.

Gregg Baxter, president of Keolis Rail Services of North America and newly elected chairman of AIPRO, celebrated the fact that “a fundamental goal of the Rail Title is to chart a sustainable course for passenger rail by facilitating competition and streamlining the permitting process for new and expanded service."

Ray Chambers, president of AIPRO commented, “This bill is completely consistent with the proposals we made to Congress.” Chambers said three major proposals put forward by AIPRO in Dec. 10 testimony included in the bill are:

  • Long Distance Routes – The Rail Title establishes a streamlined alternative passenger rail service pilot program for long distance service. Alternative operators, with support of the host railroads, may make proposals to replace Amtrak. Amtrak may make counter proposals to retain the service. Each Pilot operator may receive an operating subsidy up to 90 percent of that provided to Amtrak for the target corridors. Up to three pilots are permitted for up to 12 years without the necessity of being recompeted, with a checkpoint by the secretary after each 4-year period.
  • The State Supported Routes – The Title makes clear the states may engage in competition without limitation (such as the three pilot limit on long distance routes). It establishes a statutory working group that will develop options and best practices for obtaining state supported rail services and operations on a competitive basis.
  • Railroad Rehabilitation Improvement Financing Reform (RRIF) – The use of federal railroad grants to pay credit risk premiums for public interest rail projects. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) sponsored this proposal.

Chambers expressed strong support for the decision by Commerce Chairman Thune (R-SD) and Ranking Democrat Nelson (D-FL) to fold a Rail Title into the Surface Transportation Trust Fund reauthorization. In his testimony before the Senate, Chambers called for a unified surface transportation bill saying:

“A question before Congress is whether PRIIA should move as a stand-alone bill as has been suggested in the House. In the face of population and other demographic trends, enlargement of the rail mode can serve a major public interest. Thus when future federal surface transportation investment is considered rail should be at the same table with highways and transit. Thus instead of a stand-alone rail bill, there should be a Senate Commerce Committee Rail Title as a part of next year’s MAP-21 reauthorization”

Baxter noted the bipartisan Commerce Committee staff under the guidance of Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), Cory Booker (D-FL) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) essentially crafted these competitive provisions. “This bill can change the paradigm by introducing robust competition and private involvement into urban and intercity passenger rail corridors,” Baxter said. “AIPRO deeply appreciates the dedication and hard work of those Senators and their staff. This Rail Title is proof that this Congress can produce sensible legislation for the future of American transportation.”