Amtrak is calling for Congress and the Obama administration to shape a new multiyear surface transportation bill that is “revolutionary, not evolutionary” in funding the growth of an intercity passenger rail network.
Joseph McHugh, vice president for government affairs and corporate communications at the federally supported passenger rail firm, told a congressional field hearing in Chicago that providing “reliable, multiyear funding is our biggest policy challenge.” The hearing was held by a panel of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.
He also suggested that potential climate legislation might direct some money to building up rail use, to help reduce dependence on transportation modes that are less efficient in their energy use -- a likely reference to highway and intercity air travel.
The administration gave passenger rail development a sudden booster shot with $8 billion in funding through the 2009 economic stimulus package. It recently spread that money over a number of Amtrak projects in freight-owned rail corridors, plus a couple of truly high-speed rail projects that will be in walled-off lanes inside California and Florida. Amtrak is also benefiting from a 2008 law to improve the passenger rail system.
McHugh urged Congress to build on those efforts and “bring constancy to our capital funding program in the coming months” as members plan the next multiyear legislation. The T&I Committee proposed putting $50 billion into that measure for passenger rail, which McHugh said amounts “a bold statement that rail is here to stay.”
“From replacing our fleet (of locomotives and passenger railcars) to creating new high-speed corridors, long-term, sustainable funding is the key,” he said. “Without it, Amtrak and the whole system will continue to limp along, failing to live-up to the promise of what we know rail can do for the nation.”
McHugh said that besides the next surface transportation reauthorization bill, “one possible route for such funding is climate change legislation. Funds developed through a carbon pricing policy could be used for investments in cleaner and more efficient modes such as rail, helping to reduce the nearly 30 percent of carbon emissions that comes form the transportation sector.”
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