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The U.S. House yesterday passed a bill that authorizes nearly $8 billion to fund Amtrak over the next four years.The Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015 (PRRIA) would keep Amtrak funded at nearly current levels, about $1.4 billion per year, for the next four years. The bill also includes measures aimed at improving the national intercity passenger railroad's financial performance. "This bill will result in cutting waste, strengthening our infrastructure, and providing better, more cost-effective passenger-rail service for our nation's transportation system," said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who introduced the bill along with T&I Ranking Committee 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 bill isn't perfect, but serves as a bipartisan effort that ultimately provides critical investments and system-wide improvements to increase capacity and make railroads safer, said DeFazio in a press release.Yesterday's vote followed attempts earlier in the week to cut or eliminate funding for Amtrak, but those attempts were rejected.The bill passed in by a 3016-101 vote, an "overwhelming" margin that demonstrated "that the nation's largest transportation challenges can be met with bipartisan cooperation and problem solving," said Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO. "We are pleased that the House has endorsed a multi-year investment for Amtrak at a time when the railroad and its workforce are dealing with rising demand and aging equipment and infrastructure. While we will continue to advocate for higher federal funding levels for Amtrak, PRRIA gives Amtrak a measure of certainty as it advances long-term modernization plans," Wytkind said in a prepared statement.The bill does include an amendment from U.S. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) that calls for the Northeast Corridor Rail Commission to provide Congress a plan to create an "express rail service" in the corridor. Mica, the former chair of the House T&I Committee, wants the commission to develop a plan to initiate for rail service from Washington, D.C., to New York City in less than two hours, and service from New York to Boston in less than two-and-a-half hours.A longtime critic of Amtrak, Mica said in a press release that passenger-rail service in the Northeast Corridor "remains a monopoly" … with Amtrak Acela's 68 mph Acela average speed between Boston and New York City and 83 mph Acela average speed from New York City to Washington."We need to take Amtrak and this country from a Soviet-style operation into the 21st Century," Mica said. "My amendment helps move us in that direction."
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