“I think it’s a great step forward that the House was able to get a bill done,” says Cathy Connor, Parsons Brinckerhoff senior vice president for government affairs. Key differences between the bills on controversial provisions and a tight congressional schedule could make it difficult to get to conference, Connor adds. On the positive side, “I think there’s a lot of momentum coming out of the House,” she says. At ENR press time, negotiations between the two sides had not yet begun.

The House measure, approved 311-104, has $14.9 billion for Amtrak and high-speed rail, plus $1.5 billion over 10 years for capital and maintenance projects on the Washington, D.C., Metro transit system. The bill includes $4.2 billion for Amtrak capital grants, $2.5 billion for grants to states for intercity passenger-rail capital expenses and $1.75 billion for states and Amtrak to build high-speed rail corridors. Funds would be spread over five years.

The bill has a high-speed rail title, including a provision to solicit private-sector proposals to finance, design, build and operate a system that would run trains from Washington to New York in less than two hours.

The six-year Senate version, passed by a 70-22 vote, has $6.3 billion for Amtrak capital grants. States would get a portion of that, with their collective share rising from $100 million in 2008 to $406 million in 2012. The bill doesn’t have the House’s high-speed-rail or Washington-transit provisions.

Congress appropriated $850 million in fiscal 2008 for Amtrak capital projects, with up to $285 million of that for debt service.

The White House objected to both bills and threatened a veto for the House version, but House and Senate margins are large enough to override a veto. Even if a rail bill becomes law, however, its authorizations would require annual appropriations.

egislation to authorize billions of dollars in passenger-rail capital spending has advanced in Congress with House passage on June 11 of a $16.4-billion bill. The next step is to reconcile the House version with an $11.5-billion measure the Senate approved last October.