Trains For America

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Congress passes Amtrak reauthorization bill, Bush will actually sign it

It’s funny, after months of languishing in legislative hell, the Amtrak reauthorization bill has blasted its way through Capitol Hill in a matter of weeks. It’s not the nicest thought, but it probably has a lot to do with the LA Metrolink crash and the new safety measures tied into the bill.

Perhaps the extra bit of irony here is that President Bush, an avowed enemy of a reasonable budget for Amtrak, is now planning on signing the bill, according to the New York Times. It must be a sign of the times (no pun intended). With high gas prices and declining automobile usage, the Bush administration is perhaps realizing the virtues of passenger rail in its twilight hours. Or maybe they just don’t want to make the public any more disillusioned with them than they already are. The past eight years were basically treated as a swear word in last night’s Vice Presidential debate (on that note, no mention of Amtrak last night.. oh well).

Unfortunately, Amtrak’s not out of the woods yet (is it ever?). The company and the NARP are going to have to go hunting for where these funds are coming from in Congress. But still, this is significant progress for Amtrak. Let’s hope we don’t lose the momentum with important votes about transit and rail coming up this November (CAHSR by itself is enough to get excited about).

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, , ,

Amtrak funding bills tied into rail safety, pass house

According to the Associated Press, among other sources, a bill full of safety proposals in reaction to the recent LA Metrolink crash has been pass in the House this week. While the included measures, such as positive train control technology, would certainly contribute to safer trains (already safe compared to planes and autos), the bill importantly includes previous Amtrak reauthorization legislation that has been tangled up in committee negotiations. The railroads have concerns that congressional deadlines for safety technology may not be feasible, and I don’t feel qualified to comment on that, but if the political will spurred by this tragic and preventable accident can help Amtrak recieve its much needed funding increases, I’m all for it. From the AP:

The package wraps in legislation reauthorizing Amtrak for five years and providing $13 billion for the carrier. Some of that money would go to matching grants to help states set up or expand rail service.

The Amtrak portion of the legislation also establishes a program for private companies to bid to develop high-speed rail corridors on the East Coast, a private sector component pushed by Republicans who have been wary of what they’ve seen as ever-growing subsidies to Amtrak.

Amtrak’s previous authorization expired in 2002. The carrier’s supporters say a new authorization will allow Amtrak to make long-range plans and take advantage of what they say is a growing appetite for passenger rail.

“As Amtrak ridership continues to hit record levels, our bill gives passenger rail the resources it needs to meet the nation’s increased demands,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. Lautenberg authored the Senate versions of the rail safety and Amtrak bills, both of which had previously passed the House and Senate by wide margins. Lawmakers hadn’t reached agreement on final package until late Tuesday.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, ,

Sen. Tom Coburn singlehandedly blocking Amtrak legislation

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 reconciled so a compromise bill can be placed on the president’s desk. In July we reported that House members of the conference committee were being appointed, but no news of the legislation has followed since then. Apparently, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn has taken it upon himself to block the appointment of Senatorial negotiators. From

Coburn spokesman Don Tatro says Coburn doesn’t believe taxpayers should subsidize what he regards as Amtrak’s inefficiency.

In response, legislators in favor of the bill held a news conference at Washington’s Union Station. They were joined by [mostly northeastern] business groups that emphasized the bill’s importance to the economy. Those at the event included Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Sen. John Kerry, Sen. Tom Carper, and Rep. Rob Andrews.

What’s frustrating is that this popular plan, which passed both houses of Congress with a supermajority, could be held up by one backwards senator. America needs this legislation, and it seems that we don’t even need an uncooperative president to see this bill de facto vetoed.

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

Amtrak reauthorization bill going into conference committee

Judging by news of congressional appointments, the two different “Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act” versions passed in the Senate and House seem to be in the process of getting reconciled before a conference committee. This is the next step before the legislation goes to President Bush’s desk. Fortunately for America’s railways and rail passengers, the proposal passed both houses of Congress with a veto-proof majority, hopefully negating his stated intention of slowly strangling Amtrak in this critical hour.

You can check out Trains for America’s previous coverage of the bill, known as H.R. 6003 and S. 294 in the respective houses of Congress, read NARP’s letter to the committee members, or peruse general information about the the bill at Open Congress.

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

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September 2022