Amtrak: New Surface Transporation Bill Needs to be ‘Revolutionary’

WASHINGTON – Stressing that the upcoming surface transportation reauthorization bill should be “revolutionary, not evolutionary” when it comes to federal investment in intercity passenger rail, Amtrak testified before a Congressional field hearing in Chicago that “[t]he need for reliable, multiyear funding is our biggest policy challenge.”

“Long-term, sustainable funding is the key and without it Amtrak and the whole system will continue to limp along failing to live up to the promise of what we know rail can do for the nation,” said Joe McHugh, Vice President, Government Affairs and Corporate Communications.

McHugh explained that previous federal surface transportation bills largely ignored and failed to provide any meaningful support for the development of intercity passenger rail. The current law expired in September 2009, but is temporarily extended through Dec. 31.

From replacing and modernizing Amtrak’s aging fleet of locomotives and passenger rail cars to creating new high-speed rail corridors, McHugh said is it critical to “find a way to bring constancy to our capital funding program” because without it, “it will be almost impossible for us to truly develop the type of system America deserves in the 21st Century.”

With the upcoming debate on what should be included in a new surface transportation bill, “[w]e have a real opportunity to give people another transportation choice, to make their lives better and their communities healthier,” McHugh stated. “[T]he investment in Amtrak is worth it,” he added, highlighting that America’s passenger railroad is on pace to set an all-time ridership record this year.

McHugh noted one possible route for stable funding is climate change legislation where “[f]unds developed through a carbon pricing policy could be used for investments in cleaner and more efficient modes such as rail, helping to reduce the nearly 30 percent of carbon emissions that comes from the transportation sector.”