Progressive Railroading



RAIL EMPLOYMENT

Newsletter Sign Up
Stay updated on news, articles and information for the rail industry


All fields are required.





Rail News Home Rail Industry Trends

7/28/2005



Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

Four senators introduce Amtrak investment and improvement legislation


Yesterday, Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) introduced the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2005 in Congress.

The six-year reauthorization bill would provide $11.4 billion for Amtrak through fiscal-year 2011 to maintain current operations, upgrade equipment and return the Northeast Corridor (NEC) to a state of good repair. It also includes funds to create a new grant program for states that want to add or improve intercity passenger-rail service.

"Our bill improves how Amtrak works and ensures that the taxpayers’ money is used more effectively," said Lott in a prepared statement. "Amtrak as an organization must change culturally to think and run more like a business. That’s why our bill requires Amtrak to develop much better financial systems and be held accountable for its use of federal funding."

The bill would provide $3.3 billion for Amtrak operating costs, $4.9 billion in capital grants, $1.4 billion for state grants and $1.7 billion to eliminate debt. During the six-year period, Congress would reduce Amtrak’s operating subsidy 40 percent through cost-cutting, restructuring and reform measures, and increase capital funding.

Specifically, the bill would:
• Require Amtrak to develop a financial accounting system and five-year financial plan, which would be monitored by the U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General;

• Require the Secretary of Treasury, in conjunction with the Secretary of Transportation and Amtrak, to restructure Amtrak’s debt within one year. If restructuring is not possible, Amtrak would be required to pay the debt without any implied federal guarantee;

• Increase the total number of Amtrak board members from seven to nine and require them to have either rail, transportation or business background;

• Require the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Amtrak to develop metrics and standards to measure the performance and service quality of intercity train operations such as cost recovery, on-time performance, ridership per train mile, on-board and station services, and route connectivity. FRA would publish a quarterly report on train performance and service quality;

• Require FRA to hire a consultant to develop and recommend route and service decisions;

• Provide access to Amtrak facilities to states wishing to use operators other than Amtrak for state-supported services;

• Require Amtrak to develop a capital spending plan to return the NEC to a state of good repair by 2011’s end and establish an advisory commission comprising Amtrak, FRA and corridor state officials to oversee NEC’s operations and infrastructure;

• Require Amtrak to develop a uniform method to assign costs and determine compensation for state-supported services;

• Require Amtrak to establish performance improvement plans for the five long-distance routes with the worst performance;

• Require the Surface Transportation Board to issue quarterly on-time performance reports and investigate instances when a route’s on-time performance record falls below 80 percent for two consecutive quarters or fails to meet other FRA requirements; and

• Create a program to provide grants to states that want to provide new or improved intercity passenger-rail service.

Amtrak officials are in favor of the bill, which they believe would provide federal direction and policies to improve the national passenger railroad.

"It is heartening to see a truly inclusive and bi-partisan approach to chart the future of passenger-rail service in this country," said Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer David Gunn in a prepared statement.

Meanwhile, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta is pleased the bill requires more accountability on Amtrak’s part, but isn’t completely satisfied with the proposal.

"I am concerned that this bill does not provide the fundamental changes Amtrak needs if it is to survive," he said.


Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 7/28/2005