Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

House spices up Amtrak reauthorization proposal with HSR and.. hints of privatization?

Pat mentioned H.R. 6003 while discussing Representative Boozman’s shifting rail policy, but this year’s Amtrak reauthorization bill is deserving of discussion in its own right. On the positive side, it retains many of the positive aspects of its companion Senate bill passed overwhelmingly last fall: it increases Amtrak’s funding and removes the ridiculous self-sufficiency requirement stipulated in earlier years.

However, the legislation diverges from its earlier counterpart in its emphasis on high speed rail. While this is a refreshing development, the bill sidesteps Amtrak in its sections pertaining to HSR, instead outlining  grants for state rail projects and allowing for private HSR proposals along existing corridors.

Critics have, probably rightfully, called foul on this move, including unions and Amtrak chief Alex Kummant. Kummant points out that the 2 hour New York to DC objective that the government would seek private bids on isn’t that much of an improvement over the 2.5 hours offered by Amtrak’s current lines. He has a good quote about instead expanding NEC-style infrastructure to the rest of the country (where lower densities would make HSR building less expensive):

“Could we go south to Atlanta (from Washington)?… Could we develop a dozen 110-mile-an-hour corridors and, by the way, with the pocket change left over, rebuild every station, create parking, intermodal bus connections, transit connections?”

I’m inclined to agree with Kummant’s point. Amtrak is a national service, and the government needs to realize that the rest of the country deserves to have fast rail transportation every bit as much as the Northeast does. However, it’s important to note that the bill only requires the government to take these private bids. Further action would require more molasses-quick action from Congress.

Furthermore, there’s nothing all that radical about freeing up proposals for state HSR initiatives. As any regular reader of this blog could tell you, they’re happening anyway. The important thing is to get them built, and for legislators to realize how, even with these new projects,  the US lags terribly behind other industrialized countries in terms of high speed rail. The rhetoric around this bill would seem to at least indicate that it’s dawning on them.

So in the end, the passage of this bill would be a win for passenger rail. Not because of the tentative privatization openings, but because of increased funding for both Amtrak and separate HSR projects. We can hope that it signals more [positive] legislative attention for our rail network. But then, it will have to get across our famous rail-advocate president’s desk first.

More info on H.R. 6003: 1, 2, 3
More info on S. 294: 1

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

7 Responses

  1. While it might be possible to privatise that part of Amtrak that operates the NEC, it would be folly to consider it on routes where AMtrak operates on a freight railroad (most routes). The freight roads have already said — Amtrak or no passenger trains at all. They (and I speak also as a large stockholder in two Class-Is) do not want anything that hints of “open access”.

    Jerry Sullivan

  2. […] news about Amtrak Although the House version of a funding bill that would increase money for both Amtrak and high speed rail has recently passed committee, the […]

  3. […] America has to take if it doesn’t want to be left behind, and initiatives such as the new Amtrak authorization bill are a good […]

  4. Shirley Wells says:

    I have been pondering some of the ridiculous ways that our city government has been blowing money on lately. The next idea that they have is to have an expanded airport which the state or federal goverment I am not sure of, is going to contribute 10 million dollars to revamp our little ol airport. I live in Sullivan Missouri and let me tell you, we have no corporate industry here to warrant that kind of deal. The city would have to contribute 1 million dollars to this. And they stated a decision would have to be made soon or else it would be off the table.

    I wanted to email an Amtrak official but could not find an email. I would like to note that I think last year Amtrak approached our city about having service stopping here, we are about 150 miles east of the Springfield/Branson area along I44, and we are 65 miles west of St Louis. to me this is a no brainer. To accomodate more people in these times instead of the wealthy who own airplanes, what is the problem. If you know of anyone who knows about this, just please tell them to re-contact the City government, but not Mayor Schatz, he was downright mad that the alderman did not give the go ahead.

    The people they would need to talk to is J T Hardy or Tom Leasor. I think these 2 are the more rational of them all.

    The city administrator would have this info I am sure, but I certainly don’t want to ask him, and have him find out I was over stepping everyone.

    Anyway I think it would be great. People could hop a train and go shopping downtown St. Louis or go to a ball game. The possibilities are endless and the rails are already there.

    thanks

  5. […] energized by passing of HR 6003 in House Last Wednesday the House of Representatives passed HR 6003, which, in addition to increasing Amtrak’s budget, frees up grants for rail projects […]

  6. […] for Acela is such a challenge, will true HSR ever be acheivable along the corridor? HR 6003 will open up the door to private offers for a high-speed line along the route… that’s not looking very feasible at the […]

  7. […] Tags: Amtrak, hr 6003, s 294, tom coburn trackback We’ve been talking about HR 6003/S 294 for months now. The generous Amtrak reauthorization proposal is long overdue to have its House and Senate versions […]

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