Bill to Reauthorize Amtrak, Improve Intercity Passenger Rail Moves Out of Committee

WASHINGTON — A bill to reauthorize Amtrak and improve intercity passenger rail was approved and reported out by the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

HR 6003, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, authorizes $14.4 billion for Amtrak capital and operating grants, state intercity passenger grants, and high-speed rail over the next five years.

“Today’s markup is a historic milestone, because the legislation we approved today is a truly significant and long overdue investment in the nation’s passenger rail system,” said Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the committee. “We can address many of the nation’s most pressing transportation problems by improving Amtrak’s service and operations, because increased passenger rail ridership will alleviate growing highway and airport congestion.

“The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, a bipartisan commission created by Congress, found that we should invest at least $66.3 billion through 2015 in our passenger rail infrastructure, stations, and rolling stock,” Oberstar added. “This investment is essential to make passenger rail stronger, and in turn, to make our national transportation systems safer, less congested, and more environmentally friendly.”

The bill helps Amtrak bring its assets to a state-of-good-repair, improves service reliability and increases train speed; helps Amtrak replace its aging rail fleet; provides grants to pay salaries, overtime, and benefits to Amtrak employees; provides grants to alleviate “choke points” across the nation where lack of rail capacity is hampering ridership growth; and provides grants to enable states and Amtrak to develop and construct high-speed rail corridors throughout the country.

In the 108th and 109th Congresses, the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure reported out bills to reauthorize Amtrak. However, the bills were not considered for a vote.

“We ought to at least do in America what has been done in France to promote passenger rail service,” Oberstar said. “Our bill provides significant funding for state grants, giving states greater leverage to develop their passenger rail networks by partnering with the Federal Government to help fund up to 80 percent of the cost of developing state passenger rail networks.

“These grants will help develop rail systems in the emerging ‘mega-regions,’ bringing greater mobility to the fastest growing regions of the country,” Oberstar added. “H.R. 6003 ensures the continued success and growth of our safe, efficient, and essential national passenger rail system, and through this legislation, we have created a lasting legacy for America.”

Major provisions of the bill include:

— Authorizing $4.2 billion (an average of $840 million per year) to Amtrak for capital grants and $3.0 billion (an average of $606 million per year) for operating grants

— Creating a new State Capital Grant program for intercity passenger rail capital projects

— Authorizing $1.75 billion ($350 million per year) for grants to states and/or Amtrak to finance the construction and equipment for 11 authorized high-speed rail corridors

— Providing congestion grants to Amtrak and the states for high-priority rail corridors in order to reduce congestion and facilitate ridership growth

— Authorizing $345 million each year for debt service through FY2013

— Directing the Secretary of Transportation to issue a request for proposals for projects for the financing, design, construction, and operation of an initial high-speed rail system operating between Washington and New York

— Establishing a forum at the Surface Transportation Board to help complete stalled commuter rail negotiations.