The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-141) provides significant increases in funding for Amtrak, passenger rail, and public transit. Disregarding the huge cuts proposed by the Trump Administration for all public transportation services, Congress restored and indeed significantly added to previous funding levels for these programs. The Act provides $2.813 billion for inter-city rail, including $1.9 billion for Amtrak ($1.3 billion for the national network and $650 million for the Northeast Corridor); $593 million for Consolidated Rail Improvement (including $250 million for Positive Train Control1 implementation); $250 million for the State of Good Repair program2; and $20 million for the Rail Restoration program (restoring rail service to the Gulf coast).3 This total represents a 77 percent increase over Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 funding levels for these programs overall, as indicated in the table below. These increases also appear to be unprecedented over the past decade, and the second largest increase since the creation of Amtrak (the largest was in 1998).4


Passenger Rail Funding (millions of dollars)


FY2017 Appropriation

White House FY2018 Proposal

Final Enacted FY2018 Appropriation

Amtrak National Network




Amtrak NEC




Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Grants




Federal State Partnership for State of Good Repair




Restoration and Enhancement Grants









The budget also increased funding for local public transit services, providing $13.5 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, which includes $2.6 billion for Capital Investment Grants (CIG), up from $2.4 billion in FY 2017.5 The Act also contains language to ensure the future of the CIG program, which helps fund capital investments in transit (heavy rail, commuter rail, light rail, streetcars, bus rapid transit…). The legislation includes $10.3 billion for transit formula grants, $2.64 billion for the New Starts Program6 (which includes $716 million for Core Capacity and $400 million for Small Starts), $150 million for DC Metro Rail, and $1.5 billion for the multi-modal TIGER program—now renamed Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD)—an amount that is triple the size of TIGER's FY2017 appropriation.

The increases were made by Congress despite a rancorous battle between the Trump Administration and Democratic Senators over providing funding for a much needed “Gateway” tunnel that would be built under the Hudson River to connect railways in New York and New Jersey. The President had threatened to veto the FY2018 appropriations bill if it contained any rail grant funding that could be directed toward the Gateway transportation program. The final budget included some rail grant funding that could be used to start work on the tunnel, although its full-funding prospects remain unclear. Transportation experts agree that the Gateway tunnel is absolutely necessary to preserve rail service along the Northeast corridor, and is critical for more travelers than any other infrastructure project. They view it as essential for the nation’s economic and national security. The existing tunnel connecting Manhattan’s Penn Station and New Jersey is 107 years old and sustained heavy damage in 2012 during superstorm Sandy when it was inundated with salt water.7

The extra public transportation funding will shift some transportation activities to more efficient shared services, thus reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the transportation sector overall. With the transportation sector now the largest component of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions,8 any move to reduce these numbers is welcome to those who are interested in mitigating the effects of climate change.

It is surprising that Congress made these unprecedented increases to public transportation at a time when Republicans control both Congress and the Administration. In the past, Republicans generally advocated decreased funding for railroads and public transit systems, which are typically used by middle and lower income groups in the more urban population areas, which tend to be within the Democratic voting base. It now remains to be seen whether the Department of Transportation and Amtrak will spend the additional money they have received.9


Author: Richard Nunno


1. Positive Train Control is an advanced system designed to stop a train before certain accidents occur, such as train-to-train collisions, derailments caused by excessive speed, or train movements through misaligned track switches.

2. The State of Good Repair program provides funding for repairing and upgrading rail transit systems, fixed guideway systems (e.g., bus rapid transits and passenger ferries), and bus systems that use high occupancy vehicle lanes.

3. Rail Passengers Association. "Great News for Rail Passengers in Fiscal Year 2018." March 22, 2018.

4. Federal Railroad Administration. ”Federal Grants to Amtrak." Updated December 7, 2016.

5. American Public Transportation Association. "APTA Thanks President Trump for Signing the FY18 Budget and Congress for Bipartisan Legislation Increasing Public Transportation and Passenger Rail Investment." March 23, 2018.

6. The New Starts program provides funding to support the construction of new rail, bus rapid transit, and ferries to expand existing system.

7. NJ Spotlight. "GOP Wants to Yank Gateway Funds out of Trump's Signed 2019 Budget." April 30, 2018.

8. Environmental Protection Agency. "Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions." Updated April 11, 2018.

9. Rail Passengers Association. "Press Release: Congress Presses Amtrak, Amtrak Leadership Gives Right Answers." May 21, 2018.