Rail advocates to Congress: Don’t cut Amtrak funding

A group of passenger rail advocates is urging Congress not to reduce Amtrak’s federal funding in a reauthorization bill that is being considered by the House. 

A bill that would cut Amtrak’s authorization for new construction spending by 40 percent was unanimously approved on Wednesday by the House Transportation Committee.  

The measure, which was passed on a voice vote with little debate, would reduce Amtrak's authorized spending level for new construction from approximately $1.3 billion per year under the last Amtrak funding measure to about $770 million annually beginning next year. 

ADVERTISEMENT
The Northeast Alliance for Rail said in a letter to House Transportation Committee leaders that the construction budget should be left intact. 

“First and foremost, we strongly oppose a final multi-year authorization bill that cuts the total federal funding allocation to Amtrak at a time when the [Northeast Corridor] alone has a $52 billion in capital needs through 2030, which would require $2.6 billion per year over 20 years for the system to achieve a state of good repair and support travel forecasts is now profitable,” NAR President Robert Yaro wrote to Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and rail subcommittee chief Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.). 

“We cannot prevent major infrastructure failure on the NEC and support important long distance rail service without greater federal investment on an annual basis,” Yaro wrote. “We urge the committee and your partners in the Senate to authorize greater annual investment levels in a final reauthorization package.” 

Amtrak has historically received about $1 billion per year for a combination of operations and construction from the federal government since its inception in 1971.

The measure that was approved on Wednesday requires Amtrak to divert about $470 million per year to a trust fund for improvements along its heavily traveled Northeast corridor, the most profitable in the company’s network. 

The bill would also appropriate another $300 million per year for construction on Amtrak routes in the rest of country and provide about $982 million per year for nationwide operations. 

The rail service's 2008 appropriations bill provided about $1.3 billion to the company for operations, construction and debt service. 

Republicans said the new measure would keep funding levels in line for the company while forcing them to streamline their operations when it came to construction. 

Democrats said the bill did not include as much money for boosting rail service as they would have liked, but they could live with it, because it did not whack Amtrak's funding for operating the train routes it already has.