Release #08-15—June 20, 2008
Washington D.C., June 20, 2008—This morning, the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development took the first step in the Fiscal 2009 appropriations process to fund intercity passenger train service. The Subcommittee approved $1.439 billion for Amtrak, a slight increase over current funding, but $346 million (19%) below Amtrak’s request of $1.785 billion.
The legislation provides $475 million for operational support, and $850 million for capital grants and debt service. It also includes $114 million to meet the back pay recommended by Presidential Emergency Board 242 and required by subsequent labor contract agreements. Also included, separate from Amtrak funding, is $60 million for federal/state matching funds grants—up from $30 million in Fiscal 2008.
While NARP is aware of the budgetary constraints that the Subcommittee faced, we urge the full Committee to raise the total appropriation to $1.9 billion. This larger amount would fully fund Amtrak’s requested operations and capital needs, its obligations for back pay, and provide additional money that Amtrak did not request to repair and return to service nearly 80 damaged railcars that are currently sitting idle.
Repairing these cars should be a critical priority for Congress and Amtrak. It is the fastest way to provide the capacity needed to handle the large number of passengers that has begun to flood Amtrak’s entire system. Amtrak’s nationwide ridership jumped 11% in the last seven months over the same period last year—clear evidence that Americans are turning to intercity passenger trains due to high gas prices and turmoil in the airline industry. Expanding passenger train capacity quickly will allow more Americans to use trains to cut transportation costs, avoid traffic stress and air travel headaches, and makes our nation less dependent on oil.
Broad, bi-partisan support exists for the higher spending needed to expand intercity passenger train service for all Americans. On June 11, the full House approved the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act that authorizes between $1.8 and $2.3 billion a year in funding over the next five years by a stunning three-to-one margin of 311-104.
The full committee was scheduled to take up the legislation next Thursday, but that has now slipped until after the July 4 recess (likely the week of July 7). Consideration by the full House, and any Senate action, has not yet been scheduled.
NARP is the largest citizen-based organization advocating for train and rail transit passengers. We have worked since 1967 to expand the quality and quantity of passenger train service in the U.S. Our mission is to work towards a modern, customer-focused national passenger train network that provides a travel choice Americans want. Our work is supported by over 24,000 individual members.