WASHINGTON, DC - Senators Joe Biden and Tom Carper (D-DE) urged Congress to preserve and expand the nation's national passenger rail service during joint testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee. Biden and Carper are original co-sponsors of the "National Defense Interstate Rail Act," which authorizes $1.26 billion in one-time security improvements and $4.6 billion annually for development of national passenger rail. "We have the chance to do the right thing this year and save America's rail service," said Biden. "This bill is a solid start, but it's not the whole answer. Not yet. Not until we get the $1.2 billion we need for next year. Not until we get the $1.77 billion for tunnel infrastructure, security-related improvements, and other projects that have to be done. But it's a step toward a truly national, efficient, and safe passenger rail system." "We need to empower Amtrak out of the role of beggar with a tin cup and save it from the role of damsel in distress tied to the tracks in need of rescue. Amtrak needs a dedicated source of capitol funding and it needs it now," said Carper, a former member of Amtrak's Board of Directors. "Maintaining national passenger rail is more than necessary â€“ it's environmentally smart as well. The train we took to Washington today had almost 500 passengers. Passenger rail saves energy, pollutes less, and relieves congestion on our highways. As we debate the energy bill in the Senate, we must keep that in mind." Both Biden and Carper helped Commerce Committee Chairman Fritz Hollings secure signatures from 48 Senators (so far) on a letter to Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., urging him to set aside $1.2 billion for Amtrak in the fiscal 2003 budget resolution. The "National Defense Interstate Rail Act" goes significantly farther, authorizing $15 billion annually for five years to develop new high-speed rail corridors and $580 million annually for operating costs and improving fleets and infrastructure on Amtrak's long-distance routes. In exchange for these investments, the bill demands increased account transparency from Amtrak and an independent audit of Amtrak's finances. The bill also sets aside $1.310 billion in improvements for rail service in Delaware and other states along the Northeast Corridor, including $720 million for infrastructure improvements including improvements on bridges and tunnels and interlocking and signal system renewal; $100 million for fleet improvements; $70 million for stations and facility improvements; $20 million for technology upgrades for reservation, distribution, financial, and operating systems; and $400 million for corridor growth to increase capacity/speeds on the NEC.