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House transportation committee signs off on Amtrak reauthorization, high-speed rail bill


Yesterday, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure approved the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (H.R. 6003), a bipartisan bill introduced earlier this month that proposes to reauthorize Amtrak and improve high-speed rail service in the Northeast Corridor.

Currently, 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, said bill author John Mica (R-Fla.) when he introduced the legislation in early May.

H.R. 6003 would require 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.

“The Northeast Corridor is a tremendous but underutilized property,” said Mica in a prepared statement. “We’ve got to stop sitting on our assets, and this legislation can help us make the most of that corridor.”

The legislation 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.

The legislation also proposes 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.