Congress passes massive bill, including COVID relief for Amtrak, short-line tax credit

Article by progressiverailroading.com

Congress passed a $2.3 trillion legislative package that includes $1.4 trillion to fund the government and $900 billion in coronavirus emergency relief aid.

The bill provides $14 billion in pandemic emergency funding for public transit and $1 billion for Amtrak, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

Amtrak will receive $1 billion in grants to prevent, prepare for and respond to the pandemic, including $655 million in grants for the Northeast Corridor and $345 million in grants for Amtrak’s national network. Amtrak officials had requested 

“While this COVID funding is intended to be a temporary Band-Aid that will help Amtrak and our state and commuter partners, it is critical for minimizing negative impacts to our customers, employees and service between now and the end of March,” said Amtrak Chief Executive Officer Bill Flynn in statement.

Amtrak officials are looking forward to working with the next Congress and the Biden administration in 2021 on additional funding so that the railroad can restore service that was cut and bring back employees that were furloughed during the pandemic, as well as advance “vital” capital projects, Flynn added.

“This near-term support, coupled with significant new investments through our infrastructure or stimulus bill to expand the Amtrak network through new corridor routes, would create thousands of new jobs, reduce our nation’s carbon footprint and help the economy recover and flourish in the years ahead,” said Flynn.

In annual appropriations, the bill provides $15.5 billion for public transportation and passenger rail, a $10 million increase from fiscal-year 2020’s enacted levels, APTA officials said in a legislative alert message to its members.

Included in the relief funding for transit agencies is $4 billion for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in New York, which includes New York City Transit, Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road.

“This crucial funding will allow us to get through 2021 without devastating cuts and layoffs of over 9,000 colleagues,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye in a statement. “To be clear, we are still facing an $8 billion deficit in the years ahead, but this is a promising first step that will help protect the local, state and national economies in the short term.”

Meanwhile, the legislation as introduced in the House yesterday included a measure that would make permanent the Section 45G short-line tax credit that helps short lines and regionals pay for critical infrastructure projects.

When enacted, the law would provide a tax credit to support private investment in improving and building infrastructure up to a $3,500 cap per short-line railroad mile, according to the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA).

“With the passage of this bill, our mission to connect rural and small-town America to larger domestic and global markets in a safe, efficient and environmentally friendly way is set to a receive a significant boost,” said ASLRRA President Chuck Baker in a press release. “Creating long-term tax certainty will enable small business railroads to meet customer needs throughout the country, particularly in the energy, agriculture and manufacturing industries, immediately and far into the future.”

Since it was created in 2005, the tax credit has enabled short lines to invest more than $5 billion to improve safety and upgrade rail lines that had deteriorated due to deferred maintenance and were frequently on the verge of abandonment before becoming short lines, according to the ASLRRA.

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