Trains For America

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Hillary Clinton on Amtrak – are good words enough?

Statement of Senator Hillary Clinton on Full Senate Approval of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2007

October 30, 2007 — “The passage of this critical legislation is truly a great achievement. For New Yorkers, Amtrak is not just a commodity, but a life source. Passenger rail is an essential element of our transportation network that provides irreplaceable capacity and mobility to New York and the nation. For the past near seven years, we have had to fight the Administration’s constant attempts to privatize and dismantle our nation’s premier passenger rail service, Amtrak. Eliminating Amtrak service would be an economic disaster and an irresponsible policy.

Today, as gas prices continue to climb and airline delays are at an all time high, Amtrak not only provides a necessary and affordable alternative to our congested airways, it links commuters to local locations not serviced by the airline industry. The enactment of Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2007 will end the stop-gap funding process for Amtrak, and will provide the traveling public with the security of a comprehensive plan for improving our nation’s passenger rail system.

No country in the world has ever developed and maintained a successful passenger railroad system without assistance from their national government. Without offering an alternative, President Bush has aimed to simply shut down passenger rail in the U.S.

This plan will authorize $19.2 billion in federal funds for Amtrak by providing $3.2 billion over the next six years, and will allow Amtrak to make critical repairs and improvements to its service. Funding under the PRIIA will allow Amtrak to implement a comprehensive plan that will enhance rail security, reduce train delays, and improve customer service. It will also provide sufficient funding and direction to bring the Northeast Corridor up to a “state-of-good-repair,” including vital tunnel life safety work in the Hudson River Tunnels.

In recent years, attempts by Congress to improve and modernize Amtrak’s operations were stalled by the Republican-controlled House, and earlier this year the President proposed cutting $493 million, more than 38 percent of Amtrak’s operating funds. This sort of backwards thinking would have severely jeopardized Amtrak’s ability to serve their passenger lines in New York and throughout the Northeast.

In the State of New York, Amtrak operates 140 routes, employs more than 1,900 people, and has two of the top ten busiest stations in their rail system. Amtrak is an integral part of our transportation infrastructure and continues to service parts of the state that need the influx of tourists, business travelers and others. The future without Amtrak for New York would be devastating.

I am proud that the full Senate has rejected the Administration’s approach to Amtrak. As an original co-sponsor of this legislation, I commend Senator Lautenberg and Senator Lott for their leadership in steering this critically important legislation through the United States Senate. I am pleased that my colleagues have voted overwhelmingly to continue to provide critical funding for Amtrak, and I look forward to when this legislation is signed into law.”

Source: Senator Hillary Clinton

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Some notes from Nebraska

The McCook paper has a remarkably complete story which perfectly states the case for Amtrak service to rural America. (Yeah, the headline writer should be administered a sound thrashing. It’s still a good story.)

Today, the United States Senate passed legislation to authorize $11.4 billion in total funding for Amtrak rail service over the next five years. Nebraska’s Senator Ben Nelson applauded the passage of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2007 (S. 294).

“Particularly for rural states like Nebraska, we have to make sure that there are viable transportation options. Amtrak must have the resources necessary to maintain and improve its services,” said Senator Nelson. “Nebraska’s future relies on remaining connected to the region and the rest of the nation.”

The bill aims to reduce Amtrak’s federal operating subsidy by 40 percent and requires Amtrak to become more efficient through increased revenue and ridership, cost containment, and management improvements. The reauthorization bill also requires performance improvement among the long-distance lines, such as the California Zephyr which runs through Omaha, Lincoln, Hastings, Holdrege, and McCook.

Last week, Senator Nelson joined the successful effort to block an amendment that would have arbitrarily capped subsidies on long-distance routes. This cap would have likely resulted in the termination of the California Zephyr – Nebraska’s only passenger rail service.

“This amendment would have eliminated Amtrak for Nebraska,” said Senator Nelson. “It would have stripped the railroad of needed flexibility to improve and ensure the future of America’s railroads. I will always put the needs of Nebraska first and reject attempts to balance the budget on the backs of our state.”

Filed under: Amtrak

Capon’s critics

Ross Capon, who represented NARP on NPR yesterday has taken some criticism I believe to be unjustified on account of his radio appearance with Diane Rhem.

Damn easy for a bunch of railfans to critique the man charged with the actual responsibility of representing NARP members in a forum that was not altogether friendly. Capon is obligated to maintain civil relationships with detestable liars and never call them on it. I can call out Istook here, but there is an unwritten code of behavior which is necessary in the give-and-take of negotiating legislation.

It is no small task to refute individuals who are in no way tied down to the truth. The only reason institutions such as the Heritage Foundation exist is to protect the elite status of privileged people. Our opponents are the bought and paid for servants of special interests. One of my main themes here is that the United States is woefully behind other less established nations in transportation policy. There is no other reason for this deplorable situation than the disproportionate political power of wealthy extremists.

These people come prepared and are always ready with some obscure nonsense like what dining car attendants get paid. Istook stated as Gospel that highways were self-supporting as if nobody has ever witnessed an interstate bridge collapse in downtown Minneapolis. Taxpayers pay for highways and don’t let anybody tell you different. Of course, only a complete moron would ever need to be told that.

Another thing worth noting is that when we speak about railroad issues to the general public, it is often as incomprehensible as speaking in Sanskrit. The question about freight interference with passenger trains was just such an issue.

Considering the intense opposition of well funded and fanatically committed professional distortionists, the ignorance of most journalists, the historical context, economic peculiarities,  and the general lack of experience with any kind of meaningful rail passenger systems, Ross Capon has a formidable task. Throw him a bone.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics

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