The Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act (the Infrastructure Bill or IIJA) passed and we are very excited. But this isn’t all. In fact our work is just beginning.
So what just happened? Where are we now? What do we do to capitalize on the IIJA? As usual Rick Harnish of High Speed Rail Alliance has the anwer. Watch the first 29 minutes of the video (link below) to see how he answers these questions. Or read my summary below or both.
Mr. Harnish uses a fishing analogy. People want to eat fish. But they have to catch them first and there are no fish in the lake. What to do? The legisaltive process is broken down into steps.
Debate: Should we put fish in the lake? The answer is yes.
Authorization: We should put fish in the lake. Authorization is policy. Which lakes? What kind of fish? Who can get a license? Roughly how much should we spend?
Appropration: Fish are put in the lake. Appropration is spending. How much are we going to spend (specifically)? Where is the money coming from? How long do we have to spend it?
The IIJA answered all three of these questions in one bill. Usually Federal bills split Authroization and Appropration in two. The IIJA did a lot of work in one bill. This is one of the reasons this legisation is so important and ground breaking.
What happens next? In the next 6 months the Federal Railroad Adminstration has to deliver a Corridor Plan to Congress. And Amtrak is now defined as a service and not a for profit business. And there is an expanded role for long distance routes. FRA has the ability to study any routes that were in service in 1971.
In Arkansas in we had a route called the Arkansas Express that ran from Kansas City MO through NWA. Though I can’t find any historical references to it, I read about it in an article in The Arkansas Times a number of years ago. Anyway it is possible that FRA could do a study on the old passenger route in NWA! Which coul lead to approval of the route. More on that later.
Also at the 14:57 minute mark we see a chart with how much is approved to spend. $66 billion is a one time appropration. About $3 billion proposed dedicated funding for Amtrak. We need our congressional delegation to approve the $3 billion every year for Amtrak. We will return to our congressional delegation in a future post.
Local money is necessary for making passenger rail possible. ARDot doesn’t want you to know but some of the $1.2 billion they have for highways can be spent on railroads.
In the IIJA bill money is available for InterCity rail outside the North East Corridor. This is also important to us. It is right up there next to FRA doing a study of the old passenger rail route linking NWA to Kansas City.
For the work ahead.
Application – family goes fishing. As stated above the applications are due in 6 months. We need to start geting our applications in order so we can go out and get the money outlined in the chart.
Obligation – Mom catches a fish. When the FRA will approve your application. Now FRA can approve multiyear committements to fund projects which they didn’t have before.
Construction – Dad cleans and cooks the fish. Build/ build out railroad. New trainsets, bring railroad up to higher standards for higher speed operation.
Completion – family eats the fish. We get to ride trains.
Starting as soon as possible Arkansas must start doing big picture planning. We need our Governor to push for including Arkansas in some of these proposed long distance intercity rail plans (the corridor plans due to Congress). NWA to Little Rock, Kansas City to NWA to Dallas or to Memphis.
We want to create a ground swell of public support. We need to get ourselves, our friends and family to push for a passenger rail service through NWA. To do that we need our city and county leaders to ask the State, that is the Governor, to make a pitch to the FRA to reestablish passenger service.
First start by contacting the Four Mayors. I will contact mine tonight. This is just the start of working with our mayors. Let’s use our Facebook/Meta group to organize our efforts to contact majors in the Four Cities. We can get help from High Speed Rail Alliance to work with our mayors. But that is later after we get started.
The clock is ticking. Let’s go- now watch the video below.