Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) wants the federal government to issue more loans for rail improvement projects.
Booker has introduced legislation to boost the Federal Railroad Administration’s Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program (RRIF), which is used by the agency to issue loans to state and local governments for rail projects.
Booker said his measure, which has been dubbed the Railroad Infrastructure Financing Improvement Act (RIFIA), would put the $35 billion program to better use by forcing officials to issue loans more quickly.
Booker’s office said the rail financing program is “the federal government’s best available vehicle to advance major passenger rail projects,” but they contend Transportation Department officials have been slow to take advantage of it.
“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,” the New Jersey senator’s office said. “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,” Booker’s office continued.
The rail financing legislation from Booker comes as lawmakers are currently scrambling to find a way to pay for an extension of a transportation funding measure that is set to expire in May.
A separate bill that includes $7.8 billion for Amtrak and other passenger railways has been approved by the House, but the measure has not been taken up yet by the Senate.
Booker's office said his bill would “provide an alternative approach to help finance long-term capital improvements like the Amtrak Gateway program, but it is not a substitute for funding.
“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,” Booker said.