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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

House T&I Committee passes Amtrak reauthorization


The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I) yesterday approved by a voice vote the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2014, which would reauthorize Amtrak and require more "transparency" from the national intercity passenger railroad.

The bill would improve infrastructure, reduce costs, leverage private sector resources, create greater accountability and transparency and accelerate project delivery for Amtrak, according to a press release issued by the committee. The committee vote followed a recent hearing on the legislation.

The bill was introduced in the House by T&I Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-W.V.); Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R-Calif.); and Subcommittee Ranking Member Corrine Brown (D-Fla.).

"This is a good reform bill that continues to move passenger rail and Amtrak toward more transparency, greater accountability, increased cost-effectiveness, and true businesslike operations," Shuster said in a prepared statement.

The bill would cut Amtrak's annual spending on construction from $1.3 billion per year to about $770 million annually starting next year. However, Democrats on the committee claim the bill was bipartisan because it does not go as far as previous Republican efforts to eliminate Amtrak's federal funding and privatize its Northeast Corridor operation.

"This bill provides much-needed investments in the long distance network and ensures continuation of all long distance trains, including the Cardinal that runs through southern West Virginia," said Rahall in a press release. "Reliable passenger-rail service helps move our economy forward and is critical to communities across our nation."

The bipartisan drafting of the bill will likely serve as a model for future legislation that moves through the committee, he added.

Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) officials praised the committee's passage of the bill, which they believe would post "important progress" for both Amtrak and its almost 20,000 employees.

"This is not a perfect bill: We have specifically called on Congress to provide Amtrak the resources it needs to meet growing demand and to fund improvements and upgrades to an aging system," said TTD President Edward Wytkind in a prepared statement. "Still, this legislation is a bipartisan compromise, which we urged the committee to pass. …  It rejects efforts made by some lawmakers to demonize Amtrak and undercut public support for passenger rail."