Amtrak Bill Will Help Passengers, Amtrak Facilities and Economic Growth
Oct 01 2008
WASHINGTON – Legislation co-authored by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) to improve the nation’s passenger rail system and return the Northeast Corridor to a state of good repair will finally become law.
The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (S. 294), which was added to the Rail Safety Improvement Act and passed the House of Representatives last week, has now won Senate approve and is on its way to the president to sign into law.
This bipartisan legislation will reauthorize Amtrak for six years, help states invest in intercity passenger rail projects and authorize about $10 billion to help Amtrak maintain operations and upgrade equipment and security over the next six years. These investments in the Northeast Corridor are important, in part to better harness the full potential of the 150 mph Acela Express trains.
The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act provides badly needed, long-term direction and stability for Amtrak, and will boost confidence in Amtrak’s future for its investors, creditors and riders alike, Sen. Carper said.
Sen. Carper, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and a former Amtrak board member, said this new law will help improve the operations of the 90 trains that pass daily through Delaware, making Wilmington the nation’s 11th busiest station, and bringing nearly $6 million in Amtrak goods and services to Delaware last year alone.
Amtrak has transported more than 26 million passengers nationwide in the past year, pushing ridership up 11 percent and revenues up 14 percent in 2008. Some of the greatest ridership gains have been on routes outside of the Northeast, showing rising demand for rail service across the country.
Sen. Carper stressed that this legislation represents a fundamental shift from the federal government largely helping to pay for Amtrak’s operating costs to focusing federal assistance more on the railroad’s capital costs, similar to the support that the federal government offers road and airport construction in states across the country.
Specifically, the legislation creates a fund to construct new passenger rail service and expand existing service in partnership with the states. It is a capital program, based on the successful federal highway, bridge and airport programs, in which the federal government provides 80 percent of the funding for intercity passenger rail projects to reduce traffic congestion and pollution.
“Today, we face higher gas prices, congested roadways, declining air quality, and a dangerous dependence on foreign oil,” Sen. Carper said. “Our Amtrak bill enables governors to make transportation decisions based on what is best for their state, not by what is most heavily subsidized by the federal government.”
This legislation also strengthens the partnership among federal and state governments to invest in a robust passenger rail system by establishing an advisory commission for the Northeast Corridor and all state-supported routes with representatives on Amtrak, the state in the corridor and the Federal Railroad Commission. These advisory commissions will oversee the corridor’s activities to determine its proper costs and access fees.
Amtrak’s long-distance trains, long a source of criticism for the railroad, received renewed focus in the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act. The legislation requires Amtrak to examine the fifteen worst performing lines over the next three years, evaluate the root cause of their poor performance and develop a plan to make them operate better. That plan must take into consideration a broad array of potential improvements, from changes in route structure and service times to passenger rail’s interaction with freight rails.
In addition, this legislation would look at the cause of poor on-time performance outside of the Northeast Corridor. If it is found that the problem is caused by a freight railroad, the Surface Transportation Board is given new authority to address this issue.
The legislation also would permit freight railroads to bid to operate some passenger trains that run on their tracks. And, states wishing to use operators other than Amtrak for state-supported services could do so and would have access to Amtrak facilities and equipment for that particular route.
The Amtrak legislation was passed as part of a package with the first major reform of the nation’s rail safety program since the 1994 Federal Railroad Safety Authorization Act. That bill set railroads on a course to adopt positive train control systems, which are designed to prevent train collisions and derailments, and avoid accidents like the one that occurred in southern California earlier in the month, taking the lives of 25 people.
The package would also limit the amount that certain rail employees, such as engineers, can work in a month to 276, down from 400 hours. By contrast, commercial airline pilots work 100 hours per month. Finally, the rail safety-Amtrak package would put in place a strategy to improve the safety of highway-rail grade crossings.
Since 1970 when Congress created the National Railroad Passenger Corporation or Amtrak, it has served about 26 million riders each year at more than 500 stations in 46 states on some 22,000 route miles.