NARP: Don’t Cut Rail Service

WASHINGTON — Citing increased demand for passenger rail service and rising gas prices, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) urged Congress to invest $1.68 billion in Amtrak next year and to steer clear of route-cutting discussions.

This amount is what Amtrak requested, and includes $100 million for matching grants for a state corridor development program.

In a statement submitted to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies, NARP Executive Director Ross Capon noted that expanding Amtrak’s network would drive economies of scale.

“The most effective strategy to improve the economic efficiency of all of its routes is to focus on actions that increase volume and revenue, not reduce or eliminate service,” Capon said.

Capon noted that Amtrak ridership has been strong, and that overnight trains saw a three percent increase in passenger-miles traveled during the first half of fiscal year 2007 from a year ago.

The Bush Administration requested just $800 million for Amtrak plus an additional $100 million for the corridor development matching grant program, an amount Amtrak has testified would make it difficult to keep the system running.

Capon noted the importance of keeping all existing routes:

Millions of Americans, in travel markets large and small, do not want to or cannot fly or drive;
Many communities lack alternative public transportation;
Overnight trains often facilitate start-up of shorter-distance intercity services and commuter rail operations by allowing shared use of tracks or facilities; and
Rail is one of the safest and most energy-efficient forms of travel, highways are the least safe, and rail is more energy efficient than both highways and aviation.

Capon questioned the relevancy of proposals to identify and excise the routes with the worst performance records.

“No matter how many routes get cut, there always will be another set of ‘worst performing routes,’” and also noted that, measured in loss per seat-mile, no route stands out as significantly worse than other routes, he said.

— Special to News Wire