WASHINGTON –U.S. Sen. Cory A. Booker D-N.J., today introduced a bill to update and improve a $35 billion federal loan program that could speed improvements to passenger rail projects in New Jersey and across the country – projects like the reconstruction of Amtrak’s Portal Bridge and the Gateway Project.
Booker’s Railroad Infrastructure Financing Improvement Act (RIFIA), legislation makes improvements to the Federal Railroad Administration’s Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program (RRIF), which provides direct loans and loan guarantees to support the construction and modernization of railroad infrastructure.
“Each day, hardworking Americans and hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans count on dependable rail transportation, but too often our passenger rail system falls short due to a lack of infrastructure investment at the federal level,” said Sen. Booker. “Key components of our nation’s rail infrastructure are literally crumbling while China and European nations are investing not only in repair, but expansion of rail systems, leaving America further and further behind. This legislation reconfigures an underutilized financing program to speed investments in the modernization and expansion of our nation’s rail infrastructure.”
The Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program (RRIF) is the federal government’s best available vehicle to advance major passenger rail projects. Under this program, the Federal Railroad Administration is permitted to provide direct loans and loan guarantees of up to $35 billion to finance development of railroad infrastructure. However, it is notoriously underutilized, having processed only 33 loans to date at a total value of $1.7 billion, or less than 5 percent of the $35 billion in loans available.
Sen. Booker’s Railroad Infrastructure Financing Improvement Act (RIFIA) makes changes that are designed to make the program more flexible and the application process less cumbersome and costly for borrowers. Specifically, RIFIA would:
·Leverage Private Financing: Facilitate financing arrangements that include both RRIF and private-sector loans;
·Unleash Mega-Projects: Establish new creditworthiness criteria focused on the merits of the project, and authorize master credit agreements to cover a large program of projects like Amtrak’s Gateway Program;
·Increase Flexibility: Extend the maximum period for loan repayment from 35 to 50 years, and permit payment deferrals until projects ramp up and become operational;
·Promote Economic Development: Unlock the potential for financing transit-oriented development;
·Enhance Efficiency: Streamline the application process and improve transparency; and
·Improve Accessibility: Authorize appropriations to assist applicants in paying the federal costs of loans.
The changes proposed through the Railroad Infrastructure Financing Improvement Act (RIFIA) provide an alternative approach to help finance long-term capital improvements like the Amtrak Gateway program, but it is not a substitute for funding. As ranking member of the subcommittee which oversees interstate transportation policy issues and focuses on safety, security, and infrastructure development related to highways, waterways, and both freight and passenger rail -- including Amtrak -- Sen. Booker recognizes the need for a predictable and reliable stream of capital funding to bring passenger rail infrastructure up to 21st Century standards.
“New Jerseyans deserve safe and reliable public transit options.I am encouraged that Amtrak and commuter rail ridership continues to grow in New Jersey, and I am committed to advocating for long-term investments in the economic strength, stability, and vitality of the Northeast Corridor rail system,” Sen. Booker added.