February 20, 2015
HB1077 - Passenger Rail Unbundling and Status Report
Moving Quickly through the Legislature
Unbundling would counter rapidly increasing Amtrak costs, due mainly to equipment leases. These leases were not a part of 2000s era contracts.
Non-Amtrak providers can provide alternative equipment at dramatically lower costs. The state could also choose to purchase its own equipment as has been done in North Carolina and the Pacific Northwest.
Services such as WiFi and dining car service could also be added. Amtrak has been reluctant to introduce such amenities due to their reliance on public funding.
Amtrak blames Congress for increasing costs. They claim Congress required states to pay for 100% of direct costs for routes of less than 750-miles.
In reality, federal law only requires Amtrak to create uniform metrics. Specifically, the intent of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) Section 209 was to lower costs for some states and raise them for others where inequities existed. Unfortunately, Amtrak and a state working group designed metrics to universally increase costs.
Under 2009 contracts the states of Oklahoma and Texas paid Amtrak $3.9 million for the daily Heartland Flyer service. A report from the Oklahoma Gazette, Ben Felder indicates the FY-2015 contract now requires $6.4 million. Texas has capped its contribution at $2.5 million with Oklahoma picking up the balance. Oklahoma only appropriates $2.85 million annually for the service.
September 15, 2014
Heartland Flyer Service Threatened
Amtrak Cost May Double
In an exclusive release, Texas Rail Advocates (TRA) reported Heartland Flyer costs could double over the next few years. TRA also reported that Amtrak's proposed increase triggered a Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Request for Information (RFI) Request for Information (RFI) process. RFI submissions were due August 18. TRA indicated that from five to eight carriers responded to the request. The announcement, including the questionnaire, are linked here:
The RFI included a survey of carriers, intended to provide TxDOT and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) with data necessary to make tough fiscal and operational decisions. Texas and Oklahoma have evenly split contractual costs since 2006. Amtrak has indicated they desire to incrementally increase shared Heartland Flyer costs to as high as $8 million annually. The RFI scope also requested that carriers provide information regarding increased levels of onboard service such as WiFi and proposals for service expansion.
Provide an efficient, safe, and cost effective alternative to personal vehicular and air travel,
Support future growth of intercity passenger transportation services in the Heartland Flyer corridor and beyond,
Operate an efficient, high-quality intercity passenger transportation service that will help minimize the need for state subsidies,
Provide flexibility for TxDOT and ODOT to manage service amenities and business costs,
Adequately address community and environmental impacts from implementation, operation, and continuation of the service, and
Integrate with local roadway, transit, bicycle, and pedestrian transportation networks.
Oklahoma appropriates just $2.85 million annually for the Heartland Flyer. The 2014 contract allows Amtrak to charge Oklahoma a maximum of $2.95 million. A $4 million cost for Oklahoma would jeopardize the train's operation.
contact Evan Stair at EvanStair@PassengerRailOK.org
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