LaHood lauds Amtrak ridership record

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"To increase speed and reliability, in many corridors we can put Americans to work upgrading the existing Amtrak network," LaHood said.

Democrats in Congress have used the ridership numbers to argue against a Republican plan to privatize Amtrak service in the Northeast, which is the agency's most profitable region.

LaHood said Friday it was "no surprise" Amtrak ridership was on the rise.  

"Americans are feeling the pressure of high gas prices and an economy that continues to recover slowly," he wrote. "An inexpensive and fast train ride makes a whole lot of sense. Add to that the ability for passengers to relax or open up their laptops to get some work done while someone else does the driving, and you've got a recipe for success."

Conservatives have argued that the rise in ridership still did not cover the operational costs associated with Amtrak, a government-owned corporation subsidized by Congress.

"Amtrak announced last week to great media fanfare that the national train service carried a record 30 million passengers last year," The Wall Street Journal wrote in an editorial this week. "A banner year on its 40th anniversary of government ownership, right? Well, no. Here's what Amtrak didn't trumpet: It lost a near-record amount of money in fiscal 2011, with some $560 million from the feds required to cover its operating deficit."

The GOP proposal would remove Amtrak from control of the federally designated Northeast rail corridor and transfer it to the Department of Transportation.

A newly created Northeast Corridor Executive Committee would then oversee the bidding process for rail projects in the region.