Release #08-16—August 14, 2008
Washington D.C., August 14, 2008—In a letter today to legislators who requested a recent GAO report, the National Association of Railroad Passengers again endorsed a federal commission’s proposal to create a specific, federal program for “intercity passenger rail” even while otherwise moving away from mode-specific programs. The Association’s endorsement of a proposal from the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission came in the wake of a July 29 Government Accountability Office report critical of the Commission’s recommendation.
NARP Executive Director Ross B. Capon wrote that the Commission “boldly suggested a truly balanced transportation policy and applied more than just ‘cost’ as a measurement…GAO’s response appears to be more in the nature of ‘bean counting’ than transportation policy analysis that considers other policy outcomes. For example, ‘train,’ ‘railroad’ and ‘passenger train’ are words that do not appear on the page discussing ‘linking transportation policy and funding to environment and energy sectors.’…
“Even in the face of strong ridership growth at Amtrak pushing up against that railroad’s capacity limits, federal policy has yet to change, and it remains unclear when funds will appear to enable significant expansion of the intercity passenger fleet.”
As further evidence that federal funding needs to change to align with market demand, NARP also cited a July 28 U.S. DOT release which reported a decline of 29.8 billion vehicle miles traveled (VMT) on U.S. roads in the January-May period, including a record 3.7% drop in May from a year earlier. Yesterday, DOT announced that VMT in June fell 4.7% from June, 2007.
NARP concluded, “We generally not been impressed with the GAO’s handling of rail matters,” citing a June 9, 2005, hearing on Amtrak food service where then-subcommittee chairman Steve LaTourette (R-OH) referred to testimony by the GAO’s JayEtta Hecker as an “attention grabber that I don’t think is fair…I’m concerned about the sound bite nature of [accusations that Amtrak paid] $3.83 for a beer.” Amtrak had told GAO the day before the hearing that the number arose from “a single data entry error that was corrected within 40 minutes.”
The full letter is posted here.
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.