President “walks the walk” on passenger rail
The National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) applauds the President’s forward-thinking rail proposal to, in Secretary LaHood’s words today, do “big things [rather than just] march in place.”
NARP President Ross Capon praised the plan: “Integrating passenger trains into an expanded Transportation Trust Fund recognizes that passenger rail is a vital transportation choice. This is an important step forward to ensure that trains are not the ‘odd man out’ when it comes to federal transportation investment. This could be a key point in providing the public with real transportation choice to cope with crippling road congestion and steadily-rising gas prices.”
The proposal, part of President Obama’s fiscal year 2012 budget request released today, would provide $8 billion for intercity passenger rail, including Amtrak. The $8 billion is a down payment on the President’s six-year, $53 billion plan which aims to “keep the country on track toward a system that gives 80 percent of Americans access to a modern passenger rail system featuring high-speed service within 25 years.”
White House support for $8 billion—$4 billion for network development, and new infrastructure and equipment; and $4 billion for state of good repair on Amtrak, and operating support for crucial corridors—is exciting news for train passengers. Capon said, “We stand ready to support enactment of such funding, which we recognize will be a big challenge.”
There is, however, an immediate concern about how many Amtrak employees might be laid off in the next several weeks. The House this week has before it a continuing resolution that would cut Amtrak’s Fiscal 2011 capital grant to $850 million. That is 19% or $202 million below the President’s request and $151.6 million or 15% below the 2010 level. This is likely to mean significant layoffs. The cut is particularly harsh since it must be sustained in less than seven months.