Trains For America

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Amtrak ridership up, but income still down

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the latest numbers, which are not exactly a surprise. The context, however, is good. Sensible ground transportation has never been more important, and the Bush administration is kicking and screaming against the national interest.

I would be surprised if it were any other way.

“Our equipment is aging,” Amtrak President and Chief Executive Alex Kummant told Congress last week. Referring to dining cars built in the early 1950s, he noted, “We do a good job of maintaining them … but there comes an end point.”

To help keep the U.S. passenger railroad rolling, especially in states outside of the Northeast, two Democratic-controlled congressional committees last week approved spending measures that would boost the subsidized rail system’s budget far higher than President Bush would like.

The House Appropriations Committee approved a $1.4 billion budget for Amtrak for fiscal 2008, up from this year’s $1.3 billion. The Senate Appropriations Committee followed, approving a $1.37 billion budget.

President Bush wants $800 million for Amtrak, which would force discontinuance of all long-distance trains.

The President’s stubbornness flies in the face of urgent capital needs in the heavily traveled northeast corridor. That’s for frivolous stuff like tunnels and bridges (some of which are a hundred years old).

There is good news. A number of senators are working to fund Amtrak from 2008 to 2012.

The bipartisan Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, sponsored by Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.), would authorize $3.3 billion for operating subsidies and $4.9 billion for capital improvements over the life of the bill. In addition, states would get $1.4 billion to upgrade intercity passenger rail.

Kinda’ strange when Trent Lott makes more sense than the President of the United States.

Filed under: Amtrak

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