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Rail News: Passenger Rail

Senate committee passes S. 1991 with amendments, names two more high-speed corridors


U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation April 18 approved by a vote of 20-3 National Defense Interstate Rail Act (S. 1991), which would authorize Amtrak for five years and provide $1.4 billion in one-time costs in fiscal-year 2003; $850 million annually for Amtrak’s existing long-distance and short-distance trains; $1.3 billion annually for the Northeast Corridor’s capital needs; and $1.5 billion annually for the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop new high-speed rail corridors.

During the committee’s executive session, members rejected two amendments offered by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). One would have established an Amtrak control board; the other would’ve required approval of the secretary of transportation in order for Amtrak to assume any more debt.

Among an assortment of amendments the committee adopted one that would adjust the enhanced security section to reflect total security needs of $515 million, more than 50 percent of which would be dedicated to use outside the Northeast Corridor; and another posing requirements that Amtrak be more fiscally accountable and use net revenues from non-passenger operations to maintain sufficient working capital to prevent major service operations.

Still another amendment established that nothing in the bill is intended to preclude Amtrak from restoring, improving or developing non-high-speed, intercity passenger rail service. However, one other amendment would require Amtrak to use an independent auditor to establish criteria for significant service changes. And the secretary of transportation would be required to report on security improvements needed for non-Amtrak stations the national passenger railroad serves.

An adopted amendment offered by Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.V.) would guarantee that non-railroad companies would be eligible for loans and loan guarantees for railroad infrastructure programs. National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association Vice President Richard Sherman previously posed this subject as an area of significant concern for NRC’s membership.

The bill also would apply the executive branch conflict-of-interest standards to members of Amtrak’s board and its officers.

In two other amendments, Portland, Ore., and Florida’s Tampa-to-Orlando corridor were added to the list of high-speed rail priority locations.

S. 1991, which now has 32 co-sponsors, will be sent to the full Senate for consideration.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 4/19/2002