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Rail News: Passenger Rail

Aviation Security passes Senate sans Amtrak funding, Hollings introduces bill to repeal self-sufficiency mandate


Following a week of haggling over which amendments should or should not have been included in the Aviation Security Act (S. 1447), U.S. Senate members passed the bill — minus an amendment proposing $3.2 billion for Amtrak. In an effort to progress S. 1447, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) withdrew the amendment, adding that the chair and ranking member of the Commerce Committee plan to mark up an Amtrak security bill — and, possibly a port security bill — in the committee as early as Oct. 16.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D-S.C.) with 10 cosponsors introduced into the Senate Railroad Advancement and Infrastructure Law of the 21st Century (RAIL-21) (S. 1530).

Similar to Rail Infrastructure Development and Expansion Act for the 21st Century (RIDE-21) (H.R. 2950), which U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) introduced to the House Sept. 25, RAIL-21 also would provide funds for freight and passenger rail systems.

Class I, regional, short-line and passenger rail security enhancement projects would be eligible to compete for $35 billion in direct loans and loan guarantees; $7 billion would be reserved for short lines. An additional $350 million capital grant program would be available for regionals and short lines to rehabilitate, preserve or improve track.

RAIL-21 also would pick up where the Aviation Security Act left off, authorizing $3.2 billion for security and capacity needs including: added police, surveillance, fencing and lighting; life-safety improvements to tunnels in New York City, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.; and additional passenger cars and capacity improvements to meet increased demand — 25 percent of which must be available for corridors outside the Northeast Corridor.

RAIL-21 then goes further, reauthorizing the Swift High-Speed Rail Act that makes available $25 million in matching funds annually during fiscal-year 2002 through FY 2004 for corridor planning and rolling stock acquisition, and another $25 million in matching funds for security and technology research and development.

And the bill would reauthorize Amtrak through FY 2003 — even though its current authorization doesn’t expire until next year. RIDE-21 would eliminate Amtrak’s operational self-sufficiency mandate, fund the national passenger rail system at $1.2 billion for capital and operating expenses annually during FY 2003, and allow the railroad to continue lease agreements with GSA.

"Moving more short-haul travelers to rail service reduces congestion on our already overcrowded highways and eases congestion at airports, allowing airlines to focus on more-profitable, long-distance routes," said Hollings in a prepared statement accompanying the bill’s introduction. "Investing in passenger rail improves conditions for highway and airport users at a fraction of the cost per mile traveled."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 10/12/2001