House Agrees to Reauthorize Amtrak

WASHINGTON — The House today agreed to a nearly $15 bill bill that reauthorizes Amtrak and aims to improve intercity rail.

The bill was approved by a 311-104 margin. The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008. The bill authorizes $14.4 billion for Amtrak capital and operating grants, state intercity passenger grants and high-speed rail over the next five years.

“Nothing could be more fitting to bring before the Congress today, on a day when gasoline has reached $4.05 a gallon across the United States on average,” The Associated Press quotes U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., as saying. Mica, a critic of Amtrak, worked on the bill with Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn.

The bill still faces a tough road since President Bush has said he supports a self-sufficient Amtrak.

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.