For immediate release (#09-10)
September 23, 2009
Contact: Sean Jeans-Gail
Washington, D.C., September 23, 2009—In a letter sent today to members of the House-Senate conference committee on the Fiscal 2010 transportation, housing and urban development appropriations bill, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) and the Midwest High Speed Rail Association (MHSRA) called on Congressional leaders to protect and enhance passenger train service by adopting the House-passed $4 billion for high-speed rail and by fully funding Amtrak.
The letter also opposed a Senate-passed provision that would essentially shut down Amtrak by March 31, 2010, unless the railroad accepted guns as checked baggage by then. The two Associations urged that any response to the Wicker (R-MS) amendment take the form of a mandated study that would identify the relevant cost and logistical issues.
“We saw in 2008, when gas prices rose above $4 a gallon, how inadequately the nation’s passenger train and transit providers were equipped to handle a surge in ridership,” said Ross Capon, President of NARP. “High gas prices will return when the economy improves, and Amtrak must be funded at a level that allows them to expand capacity.”
“The over $103 billion in state requests for high speed rail funds shows the overwhelming desire for fast trains,” said Rick Harnish, Executive Director of MHSRA. “If Congress wants to ensure success for the high speed rail program in the future, they must make sure we can expand train service in the short-term.”
NARP and MHSRA called upon Congress to designate half ($2 billion) of the high-speed rail funding for the acquisition of new passenger train cars.
NARP also released a fleet expansion proposal. This is a blueprint that addresses the lengthy lead-times required for ordering new equipment, and will allow Amtrak to start working now to meet future needs. This proposal is available online.
Based on funding levels in the individual appropriations bills already passed, and in light of Amtrak’s commitment to spend what it takes to make its stations ADA compliant, there is a danger that other important capital needs will be seriously neglected. This would be unfortunate when there are unprecedented demands on Amtrak’s limited resources to help states expand passenger train plans and services.
The Association’s response to the Wicker Amendment was based on the diffuse nature of Amtrak’s network of stations and the variety of configurations for storage of baggage. The withholding of all funding for a service that is vital to so many Americans, based on an unfunded mandate with unknown costs, is simply unacceptable.
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 rail 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 23,000 individual members.
The Midwest High Speed Rail Association is a Chicago-based member-supported non-profit organization advocating for fast, frequent and dependable trains linking the entire Midwest. Our diverse membership base includes nearly 2,000 individuals, local governments, and corporations. Our goal is to persuade local, state and federal governments to implement an aggressive railroad expansion and provide on-going operational support for fast trains throughout the Midwest.