Private funding only way to rescue US rail

US Transportation and Infrastructure Committee leaders cite successful P3s in other sectors as a model.

The only way to tackle the large capital needs for passenger rail is to partner with the private sector, US Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Bill Shuster said in his opening statements during a hearing on Tuesday.

“Other countries have shown us that this is possible and investors, right here in the United States, are eager to invest in the transportation system,” he said.

The Republican Representative from Pennsylvania referred to programmes such as the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) programme, as well as the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) as models that have worked successfully for highway and transit projects.

“I believe we can utilise similar models for intercity passenger rail,” he said.

Jeff Denham, a Republican from California and the chairman of the Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee, echoed Shuster’s comments.

“Innovative finance has been increasingly used in the United States for highway and mass transit projects, and one of my goals for the upcoming reauthorisation is to extend that trend to passenger rail,” he said, referring to the reauthorisation of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA), which expires later this year.

“One area the next rail bill will need to address is the role innovative financing tools can play to advance intercity passenger rail projects,” he said.

During the hearing, both Shuster and Denham expressed their commitment to passing the reauthorisation bill this year. Denham cited examples of creative financing, such as the use of RRIF and TIFIA for the expansion of Denver Union Station in Colorado.

“This is an excellent example of states, the private sector and the federal government partnering to build more infrastructure in new and creative ways,” he said.

The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act was enacted in October 2008 and reauthorised the national Railroad Passenger Corporation, also known as Amtrak, with the aim of strengthening the country’s passenger rail network by tasking Amtrak, the US Department of Transportation, the Federal Railroad Administration, states, and other stakeholders in improving service, operations and facilities.

The hearing, titled Role of Innovative Finance in Inner City Passenger Rail, is one of several held to allow various stakeholders to express their views about re-authorisation.