Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Micro-managing Amtrak

Amtrak management has a reputation for ineptitude and inefficiency. We owe a debt to a man named Norman Wilson on the “All Aboard” Yahoo list. Wilson copied and reformated the legislation that will fund Amtrak.

It is a monument to meddling. Yes, Amtrak should be held financially accountable. Yes, Amtrak runs on taxpayer money. Furthermore, whether Amtrak is a transportation company or a social service agency is still unanswered, and never will be so long as this smothering oversight continues.

If Amtrak is to be a transportation company in any sense of the word, and I think it is to some degree, it must be able to make some business-oriented decisions – even as regards sleeping cars and diners. The National Rail Passenger Corporation also needs to be released from the Republican sabagage that keeps it from expanding the route system. This prohibits acquiring necessary equipment for long distance trains.

You do realize, don’t you, that it’s all Johnny Cash’s fault? He let the big secret slip out in “Folsom Prison Blues.” Remember? “I bet there’s rich folks eating in a fancy dining car. They’re probably drinkin’ whiskey and smoking big cigars.”

And now, without further to-do, H.R. 3074, the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2008.

OPERATING GRANTS TO THE NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION

To enable the Secretary of Transportation to make quarterly grants to the National Railroad Passenger Corporation for operation of intercity passenger rail, $475,000,000 to remain available until expended:

[1] Provided, That the Secretary of Transportation shall approve funding to cover operating losses for the Corporation only after receiving and reviewing a grant request for each specific train route:

[2] Provided further, That each such grant request shall be accompanied by a detailed financial analysis, revenue projection, and capital expenditure projection justifying the Federal support to the Secretary’s satisfaction:

[3] Provided further, That the Corporation is directed to achieve savings through operating efficiencies including, but not limited to, modifications to food and beverage service and first class service:

[4] Provided further, That the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation shall report to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations beginning three months after the date of the enactment of this Act and quarterly thereafter with estimates of the savings accrued as a result of all operational reforms instituted by the Corporation:

[5] Provided further, That not later than 120 days after enactment of this Act, the Corporation shall transmit to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations the status of its plan to improve the financial performance of food and beverage service and its plan to improve the financial performance of first class service (including sleeping car service):

[6] Provided further, That the Corporation shall report quarterly to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations on its progress against the milestones and target dates contained in the plan provided in fiscal year 2007 and quantify savings realized to date on a monthly basis compared to those projected in the plan, identify any changes in the plan or delays in implementing these plans, and identify the causes of delay and proposed corrective measures:

[7] Provided further, That not later than 90 days after enactment of this Act, the Corporation shall transmit, in electronic format, to the Secretary, the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation a comprehensive business plan approved by the Board of Directors for fiscal year 2008 under section 24104(a) of title 49, United States Code:

[8] Provided further, That the business plan shall include, as applicable, targets for ridership, revenues, and capital and operating expenses:

[9] Provided further, That the plan shall also include a separate
accounting of such targets for the Northeast Corridor; commuter service; long-distance Amtrak service; State-supported service; each intercity train route, including Autotrain; and commercial activities including contract operations:

[10] Provided further, That the business plan shall include a description of the work to be funded, along with cost estimates and an estimated timetable for completion of the projects covered by this business plan:

[11] Provided further, That the Corporation shall continue to provide monthly reports in electronic format regarding the pending business plan, which shall describe the work completed to date, any changes to the business plan, and the reasons for such changes, and shall identify all sole source contract awards which shall be accompanied by a justification as to why said contract was awarded on a sole source basis:

[12] Provided further, That the Corporation’s business plan and all subsequent supplemental plans shall be displayed on the Corporation’s website within a reasonable timeframe following their submission to the appropriate entities:

[13] Provided further, That the leases and contracts entered into by the Corporation in any year that the Corporation receives a Federal subsidy after the date of enactment of the Act, regardless of the place the same may be executed, shall be governed by the laws of the District of Columbia:

[14] Provided further, That none of the funds under this heading may be obligated or expended until the Corporation agrees to continue abiding by the provisions of paragraphs 1, 2, 5, 9, and 11 of the summary of conditions for the direct loan agreement of June 28, 2002, in the same manner as in effect on the date of enactment of this Act:

[15] Provided further, That none of the funds provided in this Act may be used after March 1, 2006, to support any route on which Amtrak offers a discounted fare of more than 50 percent off the normal, peak fare:

[16] Provided further, That the preceding proviso does not apply to routes where the operating loss as a result of the discount is covered by a State and the State participates in the setting of fares:

[17] Provided further, That of the amounts made available under this heading not less than $18,500,000 shall be available for the Amtrak Office of Inspector General.

CAPITAL AND DEBT SERVICE GRANTS TO THE NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION

To enable the Secretary of Transportation to make quarterly grants to the National Railroad Passenger Corporation for the maintenance and repair of capital infrastructure owned by the Corporation, including railroad equipment, rolling stock, legal mandates and other services, $925,000,000 to remain available until expended, of which not to exceed $285,000,000 shall be for debt service obligations:

[18] Provided, That the Secretary may retain up to one-quarter of one percent of the funds under this heading to fund the oversight by the Federal Railroad Administration of the design and implementation of capital projects funded by grants made under this heading:

[19] Provided further, That the Secretary shall approve funding for capital expenditures, including advance purchase orders of materials, for the Corporation only after receiving and reviewing a grant request for each specific capital grant justifying the Federal support to the Secretary’s satisfaction:

[20] Provided further, That none of the funds under this heading may be used to subsidize operating losses of the Corporation:

[21] Provided further, That none of the funds under this heading may be used for capital projects not approved by the Secretary of Transportation or on the Corporation’s fiscal year 2008 business plan:

[22] Provided further, That $35,000,000 of amounts made available under this heading shall be available until expended for capital improvements if the Corporation demonstrates to the Secretary’s satisfaction that the Corporation has achieved operational savings and met ridership and revenue targets as defined in the Corporation’s business plan:

[23] Provided further, That of the funds provided under this section, not less than $5,000,000 shall be expended for the development and implementation of a managerial cost accounting system, which includes average and marginal unit cost capability:

[24] Provided further, That within 90 days of enactment, the Department of Transportation Inspector General shall review and comment to the Secretary of Transportation and the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations upon the strengths and weaknesses of the system being developed by the Corporation and how it best can be implemented to improve decision making by the Board of Directors and management of the Corporation:

[25] Provided further, That not later than 180 days after the enactment of this Act, the Secretary, in consultation with the Corporation and the States on the Northeast Corridor, shall establish a common definition of what is determined to be a `state of good repair’ on the Northeast Corridor and report its findings, including definitional areas of disagreement, to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

INTERCITY PASSENGER RAIL GRANT PROGRAM

To enable the Secretary to make grants to States in support of intercity passenger rail, $50,000,000 as authorized by section 26101 of title 49, United States Code, to remain available until expended:

[26] Provided, That States may apply to the Federal Railroad
Administration for grants up to 50 percent of the cost of planning and capital investments necessary to support improved intercity passenger rail service that either requires no operating subsidy or for which the State or States agree to provide any needed operating subsidy:

[27] Provided further, That priority shall be given to planning and infrastructure improvement projects that improve the safety, reliability and schedule of intercity passenger trains, reduce congestion on the host freight railroads, involve a commitment by freight railroads to an enforceable on-time performance of passenger trains of 80 percent or greater, involve a commitment by States of financial resources to improve the safety of highway/rail grade crossings over which the passenger service operates, and that protect and enhance the environment, promote energy conservation, and improve quality of life:

[28] Provided further, That to be eligible for this assistance, States must include intercity passenger rail service as an integral part of Statewide transportation planning as required under 23 U.S.C. 135:

[29] Provided further, That the specific project must be on the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan at the time of the application to qualify.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Alabana advocate speaks up

Not long ago, we highlighted an unfortunate and misinformed editorial in the Mobile Press-Register. You know how those newspapers folks are once they get all full of themselves. You would have thought that Amtrak was a wholly owned subsidiary of al-Queda.

Jim Norton is president of the Railroad Passenger Association of Alabama, headquartered in Huntsville. His guest editorial is highlighted here.

Alabama’s passenger trains suffer greatly due to the discrepancy in transportation funding.

Our airports and highways enjoy healthy annual improvements, while our passenger trains — despite record ridership and high gas prices — do not.

Mobile’s temporary loss of the Sunset Limited is unfortunate and further illustrates the results of an inadequately funded system.

The Sunset, while noteworthy in being the only coast-to-coast route, operates only three days a week.

Could you imagine Federal Express achieving success if one could only ship a package three days a week?

Over the past 50 years, the speed of highway and commercial air travel has essentially remained the same.

However, rail travel has significantly increased.

While our trains routinely travel under 100 mph, France recently established a world speed record of 357 mph.

With a change in our transportation policy, such modern trains would be a welcome alternative to our congested highways and airports.

Fast and comfortable rail travel between Mobile and Birmingham would require less than an hour’s time — hardly the “choo-choos” mentioned in the Press-Register’s editorials.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

Blog Stats

  • 495,826 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,431 other followers

wordpress stat

Top Clicks

  • None

Categories