Durbin: Legislation Needed to Repair Rail Transit System for Chicago and Rest of Nation

Report finds that 1/3 of the vehicles and facilities of the largest transit agencies are not adequate

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) today announced that he is drafting legislation – for consideration in the next surface transportation bill – that will set a goal of bringing the nation’s largest transit systems into a state of good repair. According to a study requested by Durbin and released today by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), 1/3 of the facilities, stations and vehicles used in the seven largest rail transit systems – Chicago, Boston, New York, New Jersey, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. – are less than adequate.


“Today’s FTA report estimates that we are underfunding our nation’s oldest rail systems by $5.9 billion per year,” said Durbin. “It also confirms that the City of Chicago is not alone in what they are dealing with: many of our nation’s most populated cities are now – or soon will be – facing the same crisis of increasing transit ridership and aging infrastructure that can’t keep pace. The current transportation bill is set to expire in five months, and I plan to introduce legislation that will create a new federal commitment to our transportation infrastructure that has been subject to heavy use and neglect.”


Just yesterday, the Chicago Regional Transportation Authority announced that more area residents are using public transit. The number of miles traveled by riders rose about 9% between 2003 and 2007 and the average number of annual rides taken per Chicago area resident rose from 69.6 to 72.9 in that same time period. At the same time, federal investment into older rail systems is shrinking. The RTA estimates that the Chicago Transit Authority and Metra have a need of almost $6 billion to maintain and modernize their rail systems.


"Thanks to Senator Durbin for commissioning this long overdue report," said Carole L. Brown, CTA Board Chair. "This FTA study stresses the need to increase investment in our aging urban rail transit systems in order to prevent a further deterioration of already overtaxed rail lines."


"We greatly appreciate Senator Durbin's continued commitment to the nation's largest and oldest rail systems and to ensuring that these systems receive the funding and the attention necessary for maintaining them in a state of good repair. This support will allow Metra to continue to provide safe and quality service to our millions of riders that we serve each year," said Carole Doris, Metra Board Chair.


The federal government has long-played a role in funding capital improvements to transit systems in order to facilitate economic development and keep U.S. urban centers attractive to businesses. Unfortunately, the investment into these urban transit systems has declined since the 1992 transportation bill. Older rail transit systems have lost, over time, a greater share of the rail funding pie and find it harder and harder to compete with newer projects for capital grants. The FTA estimates that the cost to bring the seven largest rail transit agencies back into a state of good repair would be $50 billion and $5.9 billion each year to maintain the system in a state of good repair.


Over the last fifteen years the seven largest rail systems went from receiving 90% of rail modernization funds in 1993 to just 70% today. To correct this disparity, the FTA recommends two major approaches to the Rail Modernization program in order to better account for the true cost of maintaining these older rail systems: (1) the creation of a new temporary funding program to eliminate the existing backlog of projects; (2) reconfigure the existing rail modernization formula to more evenly match between funding allocations and the capital reinvestment needs of transit systems.


“Many cities like Chicago are home to rail transit systems that are over one hundred years old,” said Durbin. “These systems deliver over three billion passenger trips each year – serving more than 80% of all rail transit users in the country. Our system in Northeastern Illinois provides over $12 billion in economic benefits and supports over 120,000 jobs. If we do not bring Chicago and other large rail transit systems into a state of good repair, we risk losing good paying jobs and forcing millions of commuters out of the subway and onto our clogged highways.”


Durbin secured an amendment to the FY2008 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill directing the FTA to conduct a study to determine the infrastructure needs of our country’s largest rail transit systems. On December 7, 2007, Durbin led a group of eleven Senators in requesting that the FTA conduct this study.