Senate votes to increase funding for Amtrak service

Amtrak train reivax.jpgAmtrak received a boost on Tuesday when the Senate voted to adopt the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2007. This bill authorizes $11.4 billion in operating and capital subsidies to Amtrak over a six-year period. That's $1.9 billion a year, up from $1.2 billion, which they received last year. This includes funding to bring the Northeast Corridor back to a state of good repair with annual capital grants of $813 million to $1.2 billion over the six year period.

Importantly, the bill also removed the requirement that Amtrak must work toward financial self-sufficiency, recognizing that virtually no intercity passenger rail service in the globe is financially self-sufficient. (And indeed, air travel and road travel are both reliant on federal subsidies.)

I also noticed that there is a miscellaneous item in the bill that directs Amtrak to develop a strategic plan to expand cross-border service between the U.S. and Canada on the Cascade line in preparation for the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. That service recently increased from one train a day to two trains a day, but still takes much longer than driving because Amtrak does not own the right-of-way and is delayed by freight trains. Better passenger rail service on the I-5 corridor would greatly increase connectivity and tourism in Cascadia.

The bill now must go to the House, which may not happen until the beginning of next year. Nonetheless, we are hopeful that this legislation will move forward speedily and put intercity passenger rail back on firmer footing so we can start thinking more expansively about its role in America's future.

Read the Boston Globe article on the Senate bill.