Senate Passes Significant Amtrak Reform and Funding Package Amendment lays out a positive future for Amtrak
Posted Nov. 3, 2008 / Posted by: admin
Contact: Colin Peppard - 202-222-0747 (office) or 202-841-4491 (mobile)
Washington D.C. – The U.S. Senate passed a significant Amtrak reform package today, in an effort to overhaul the railroad and avoid a White House veto of Amtrak funding passed in late October. The amendment, attached to the Deficit Reduction Reconciliation Bill (S. 1932), increases Amtrak oversight and gives the private sector and states a greater role, while encouraging capital investments in tracks, trains, and stations.
“This bill addresses calls for reform from the White House and other critics while putting Amtrak on a path to long-term stability,” said Colin Peppard, Transportation Policy Coordinator. “This amendment contains some very new and very interesting ideas, and is a step in the right direction for Amtrak.”
Two weeks ago, the White House explained its opposition to the Senate’s 2006 Amtrak funding level of $1.45 billion in a Statement of Administration Policy. "In the absence of reforms, this level of taxpayer funding for a private corporation would be unacceptable to the Administration, and the president's senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill," the statement said.
The language of the amendment was drafted by Trent Lott (R-MS) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and passed the Senate by a vote of 93-6. A similar stand-alone bill passed favorably out of the Senate Commerce Committee by a 17-4 margin, yet was unable to get an up or down vote on the Senate floor. Amtrak reform legislation has had similar difficulties in the House of Representatives.
“It is unfortunate that the House and Senate leadership have been reluctant to hold votes on Amtrak reform legislation,” said Peppard. “It seems that both houses overwhelmingly vote for Amtrak whenever votes are held.”
Rising gas prices and instability in the airline industry make Amtrak an increasingly enticing option. Also, rail travel is often more efficient and much less polluting that travel in cars and planes.
Specific provisions in the bill would:
- reduce Amtrak’s operating subsidy
- give states the opportunity to receive federal matching funds for rail investments and capital projects
- improve Amtrak’s accounting system and require Amtrak to annually submit a 5-year financial plan
- establish a pilot program to allow bids for competition from other private railroad operators
Perhaps most significantly, the bill would establish a process to resolve conflicts with freight railroads resulting in poor performance and service quality. Freight railroads currently own a majority of the track Amtrak uses, and freight service frequently delays Amtrak trains significantly or limits where and when they can operate.
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