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Rail News: Amtrak

T&I Committee unveils passenger-rail reform bill


House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and other committee leaders yesterday introduced the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015 (PRRIA), which would address infrastructure needs, transparency and other issues for Amtrak.

"By compelling Amtrak to operate more like a true business, cutting red tape, and opening the door to more private sector resources, we can make some long overdue improvements to passenger rail transportation in the United States," Shuster said in a press release.

Also introducing the bill were T&I Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.); Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R-Calif.); and Subcommittee Ranking Member Michael Capuano (D-Mass.). The same legislation was introduced in the House in the last Congress, and the committee approved it unanimously.

Among key points, the bill would:
• eliminate Amtrak's losses in food and beverage service;
• mandate Amtrak carry out a business case analysis for all major procurements;
• eliminate the railroad's "black-box accounting" and require "transparent bookkeeping," and provide states and Congress greater insight into Amtrak's accounting;
• create station development opportunities for the private sector;
• open new revenue streams through right-of-way development;
• help advance large infrastructure projects through state partnerships;
• "improve" management of the Northeast Corridor;
• require Amtrak to evaluate long-distance routes; and
• streamline environmental reviews and accelerate project delivery.

While the bill addresses "commonsense reforms," it neglects to address key funding questions for Amtrak, according to the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP). The bill would cap Amtrak's authorization at $1.41 billion in fiscal-year 2016, then gradually increase it to $1.46 billion in FY2019. The bill also contains $300 million per year in infrastructure investments, with 50 percent reserved for the Northeast Corridor. That falls "woefully short" of Amtrak's most basic needs, NARP officials said in a press release.

"A successful rail reauthorization must allow the U.S. passenger-rail network to grow," said NARP President Jim Mathews. “The American people are already voting for more trains with their wallets, setting 11 Amtrak ridership records in the past 12 years."