Trains For America

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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

One Response

  1. “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.

    Note this sentence folks. I am not all that sure that Lott is the Amtrak supporter we would like to think he is. None of the long distance routes are going to be profitable, so in effect he is saying that we should shut it down outside the NE Corridor unless this is a typographical error. Remember, this is the same Lott that wants to substitute a highway for the route of the truncated Sunset Limited along the Gulf Coast.

    Jerry Sullivan

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