Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Senate considers 6-year funding for Amtrak

The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi runs this important story from the Gannett News Bureau. While a long-term funding bill permits Amtrak to concentrate on the business of transportation, Congress would be well-advised to stop meddling in the operational end – even dining cars. As always, it is a good idea to contact your lawmaker with a phone call.

Senate set to consider 6-year, $19.2B Amtrak legislation


ON THE WEB

Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2007: http://thomas.loc.gov, to search for S. 294

WASHINGTON — The Senate is scheduled to consider an Amtrak bill Tuesday that would provide the nation’s passenger railroad more money than it ever has received and make a major investment to fix problems on the Northeast Corridor.

The six-year, $19.2 billion legislation championed by Mississippi Republican Sen. Trent Lott and Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey also would give New Jersey and other Northeastern states a greater role in managing operations along the corridor, where Amtrak owns most of the track.

Freight railroads own nearly all the track elsewhere.

Additionally, it would provide grants to states to increase short-distance rail service between cities to help satisfy growing demand outside the Northeast.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and 39 other Republican and Democratic senators are co-sponsors, including senators from Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania.

During a Senate floor debate, Lautenberg reiterated why Congress should increase support for the quasi-private railroad, which critics argue is poorly run and bleeds money on long-distance routes to the tune of $200 per passenger.

Lautenberg said Amtrak helps reduce congestion by allowing people to ride trains rather than drive or fly, helps reduce pollution from cars and would be invaluable if airlines are shut down in case of a terrorist attack as they were on Sept. 11, 2001.

“Our bill paves the way for an improved modern passenger rail network,” Lautenberg said Wednesday. “We spend $40 billion a year (on roads). By comparison, we spend almost half that amount on airports and air traffic control towers.

“Our bill will start to address this investment gap by authorizing nearly $2 billion a year for Amtrak.”

Lott said with an increased budget, Amtrak would be able to provide more service outside the Northeast Corridor and reduce delays.

Supporters say the government has long deprived the railroad of resources and asked Amtrak to do more with less.

“More people are riding Amtrak, and (Amtrak officials) have more income,” Lott said.

“If we give them more incentives, if we get them to close some of the routes that are never going to be profitable … it would be even better,” said Lott, the Senate minority whip.

“Do we want a national rail passenger system or not? I think we do. I don’t mean only on the Northeast Corridor.”

When Republicans controlled Congress in 2005, Lautenberg and Lott sponsored an $11 billion Amtrak bill the Senate passed 93-6 but the House didn’t consider.

Supporters are optimistic about getting the $19.2 billion bill through both houses of Congress, now controlled by Democrats who are generally more sympathetic to the railroad.

The Bush administration has proposed $900 million for Amtrak for next year. Though Bush no longer proposes eliminating all funding, his administration says the railroad must continue to implement deep structural reforms to justify continued taxpayer support.

People took nearly 26 million trips on Amtrak nationwide from October of last year through Sept. 30, the fifth consecutive year of ridership increases.

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

High speed in the southeast

Steve Ford, in Raleigh’s News-Observer, has a great column dealing-with the discussion of HSR in the booming southeast region. You can read it all on-line, and here is a segment.

What will it take? To build the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor from Washington through Raleigh to Charlotte would require an investment pegged at $3.5 billion.

No small potatoes there — but at $7.5 million per mile, cheaper than typical interstate highways. And the whole idea would be to help take pressure off our increasingly congested roads for trips of a couple hundred miles or so. Raleigh to D.C. certainly would fit the profile.

The concept of a high-speed rail corridor for our region was hatched in the early ’90s under federal auspices. Planning began in earnest in 1999, and a route was selected. Virginia and North Carolina now are cooperating on detailed environmental studies. Separately, the Federal Railroad Administration has looked at what would have to be done to cut travel time between Richmond and Charlotte to four hours and 25 minutes.

Last week’s high-speed rail summit in Raleigh was a be-there-or-be-square event for all kinds of folks with a stake or interest in moving the project forward. Prominent on the agenda was an issue that’s emerged as a stumbling block to efficient rail service — how to blend freight and passenger operations while improving both.

As most Amtrak passengers in these parts can attest, delays because of competition with freight trains for track space are frustratingly routine. Too many freights, not enough tracks. It’s an impediment to better low-speed passenger service, let alone high-speed. The summit promoted the idea of freights also taking advantage of the high-speed corridor. And, oh yes, freight companies such as CSX would be asked to help pay for the upgrades.

Cost, in fact, is the real impediment, at a time when transportation funding and every other kind of government funding that doesn’t involve our troops in combat is stretched super-thin. But beefing up the country’s rail network looks like the sort of investment that would pay big dividends.

A new study by the Association of American Railroads lays out a formidable number — $148 billion, to be raised from both private and public sources — as the cost of infrastructure improvements needed by 2035. It’s either build more and better tracks, bridges, signals and so forth, or see the nation’s already crowded primary rail lines become so overloaded that service would deteriorate severely.

That would be a blow to the economy, with shipment of everything from coal to new cars thrown for a loop. And it would generate even more pressure on highways. Don’t we have enough trucks on the road already?

Rail was once the most practical means of long-distance overland travel, and it’s always been key to shipping cargo. The interstate highway system made it more feasible to rely on cars and trucks. Now that the interstates are reaching their capacity limits, rail’s time could come again.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, United States High Speed Rail

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