Two House subcommittees held a joint hearing last week on a bill that would provide over $6 billion in grants for security improvements for transit, rail and bus facilities.
Jennifer Esposito, staff director for the Railroad Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, highlighted the measure at the Washington Briefing on Thursday, March 8, as a top priority for Committee Chairman Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.). She noted the chairman also wants to move an Amtrak reauthorization bill this year, and has asked the national passenger rail carrier to identify its needs in the Northeast Corridor.
The transportation security bill, H.R. 1269, was introduced on March 1, the same day that a similar bill was reported by a subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee. A major difference in the bills is that the Oberstar bill would have the security grant money distributed through the U.S. Department of Transportation, which already has grant mechanisms in place, to avoid lengthy delays.
Rep. Corrine Brown, chair of the Subcommittee on Rail, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, a co-sponsor of the bill said in a statement, "In 2006, we dedicated $4.7 billion to the airline industry for security, while 6,000 public transit agencies and one national passenger railroad, Amtrak, had to share a meager $136 million total for security upgrades. Nothing was provided to the 532 freight railroads for security upgrades."
She said, "Our bill requires comprehensive security plans; strengthens whistleblower protections for workers; mandates security training; improves communication and intelligence sharing; authorizes a higher-level of grant funding for Amtrak, the freight railroads and public transportation providers; and provides funding for life-safety improvements to the tunnels in New York, Baltimore and Washington."
The bill would fund $3.3 billion for transit security over four years, $600 million annually for rail security, $87 million for bus security and $140 million to upgrade security in Amtrak tunnels and $200 million for research.
At the hearing William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association, reportedly urged that the transit grants be distributed directly through the Federal Transit Administration to transit agencies, bypassing state DOTs.
High-speed rail forum set for March 30
Also addressing rail issues before Congress during the Washington Briefing was John Brennan, Republican staff director for the Railroad Subcommittee on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Brennan noted that Ranking Minority Member John Mica (R-Fla.) is holding a Forum on High Speed Rail on March 30, to examine "where do we go from here." He noted that true high-speed rail, such as the TGV train in France, has the potential to be an economic boon for regions and offers congestion relief for highways and airports in high-density corridors.
He and Esposito agreed that rail is overlooked as a potential solution to congestion, and was omitted entirely from the administration's Congestion Initiative. Both urged better multi-modal planning to integrate rail service with highway and aviation.