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Rail News: Amtrak

Passenger-rail bill proposes to reauthorize Amtrak, establish high-speed rail


Yesterday, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Republican Leader John Mica (R-Fla.) and Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.), along with Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Member Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Chairman Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), introduced legislation seeking to reauthorize Amtrak and establish high-speed rail service.

The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (H.R. 6003) builds on legislation introduced by Mica, Shuster and others in March (H.R. 5644) that calls for improving high-speed rail service in the Northeast Corridor. Amtrak’s Acela service averages 83 mph between Washington, D.C., and New York City and “pales in comparison” to high-speed systems in other countries, where trains operate at 200 mph or higher, Mica said in a prepared statement.

The new legislation includes key components of H.R. 5644, such as requiring the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to solicit proposals for engineering, finance and development plans for a system that would run between the cities in under two hours. In addition, the bill proposes that USDOT create a commission comprising state, local, federal, rail and rail labor stakeholders to evaluate the proposals and report recommendations to Congress. Congress then would evaluate the report and take action to begin work on the corridor.

H.R. 6003 also would impose Amtrak reforms, such as implementing an improved financial accounting system, and developing five-year financial and Northeast Corridor state-of-good-repair plans. In addition, the bill would provide more than $400 million to states annually for new passenger-rail projects. The federal government would be required to work with the states and railroads to plan the projects. In addition, the legislation includes an “alternative passenger-rail service pilot program,” under which the private sector will have the opportunity to submit bids to improve service on underperforming routes.

“While the majority of the impact of high-speed rail will be seen initially in the Northeast Corridor, we must also continue to improve rail infrastructure nation-wide,” said Shuster. “Equally important, this legislation addresses the financial, accounting and management reforms that must be made at Amtrak to make high-speed rail a reality.”