U.S. House endangers Amtrak; Senate pushes for adequate rail funding

Written By Sean Jeans Gail

House refuses to back down from anti-Amtrak proposal

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees went very different ways this week. The House approved $950 million for Amtrak (plus a whopping $25.3 million for Amtrak’s Inspector General) and nothing for state passenger train capital grants or TIGER grants. As we have reported, the House levels put the system at risk of collapse in the event of any major disruption. Amtrak President Joseph Boardman said this funding level “puts every one of our services at risk,” jeopardizes Amtrak’s order for new equipment—primarily the 130 cars for long-distance trains. This bill could lead to reduced speeds in the Northeast Corridor, which Boardman called “bad for revenue, bad for the economy.”

The Amtrak amendment we had promoted in the House, offered by Rep. David Price (D-NC), failed on a party-line vote. This would have put Amtrak funding back to this year’s level.

Senate takes a more responsible approach

The Senate approved $1.452 billion for Amtrak (plus $21 million for Amtrak’s Inspector General). This represents an increase from this year and last year’s levels. Boardman called this “a realistic and workable number. It recognizes the need for federal investment to operate and maintain the Amtrak national network, and to keep the Northeast Corridor the safe and reliable economic engine that it is today.”

But Boardman warned, “Even at [the Senate] funding level… there is a significant amount of critical backlog infrastructure work that will not get done. In order for the nation’s intercity passenger rail system to reach its full potential, Amtrak will need higher and sustained levels of federal capital funding.” The Amtrak president’s comments do not even fully reflect the need for system expansion.

Moving forward

The unfortunate House levels are largely due to the restrictions of the House budget resolution authored by Paul Ryan (R-WI), which are tighter than those in the Budget Control Act. Chairman Tom Latham’s subcommittee had nearly $10 billion less to work with than did Patty Murray’s (D-WA) Senate subcommittee. (Both subcommittees handle transportation and housing programs.)

If Congress doesn’t hear from you, they assume you’re not paying attention, or worse, that you don’t care about Amtrak. NARP is asking each and every passenger to thank the members who voted for the Senate bill, and push back against the Senators who voted no. We’re also launching a campaign to recruit mayors from across the country to support trains. Please urge your mayor—regardless of party (and past performance!)—to tell Washington to work for the highest possible Amtrak funding levels.