Urge Congress to Support Amtrak and Passenger Rail

Here’s a great way to support transit before we head in to another traffic-snarled Memorial Day weekend. H.R. 6003, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, is currently in need of co-sponsors in the House (a version has already passed the Senate). The bill "authorizes Amtrak for the five years Fiscal 2008-2012, provides for capital assistance for states, and development of state rail plans," according to the National Association of Railroad Passengers. Five years of funding will, among other things, put a stop to the current practice of forcing Amtrak to beg for money every year.

Jerrold Nadler is the only member the New York City delegation to sign on as a co-sponsor so far. It needs 218 co-sponsors to get floor time in the House, but only 41 are on board. (See who’s a co-sponsor.)

Judging by the response to a recent post about the bill on Daily Kos, progressive-minded voters are more than willing to get behind investment in rail. Streetsbloggers can join Kossacks in urging support for the bill by contacting your representatives. The NARP website has some handy talking points to help get started.

  • md

    Does Yvette Clarke (along with the other NY’ers) actually need to be CONVINCED to support Amtrak or is this a question of her not having seen the bill yet?

  • Despite the state of the environment, the high cost of oil, and increased train rider-ship Bush wanted to cut Amtrak by 40%. I think getting this bill trough is important I called Jose Serrano, of the Bronx and spoke to his transportation guy. I also sent an email. I think this is a no brainer for our NYC representatives, so we just need to let them know about the bill so they’ll take notice of it and then sign on. Nobody I talked to seemed to know about this, so we need to get it on the radar.

  • Josh

    Wrote to Congressman Towns.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    AMTRAK and the public are clearly desperate for funds. However, the price of passing this legislation may be the inclusion of “privatization” language that will make effective and timely use of this funding for substantial capital improvements problematic.

  • First, yes, it’s known as watch out for that “privatization” language that can mess up a national passenger rail system.

    Second, I’d recommend all those interested in preserving and improving Amtrak not only write/email/phone their respective Congressional members but also to look at–if not join–passenger rail organizations like New York’s own ESPA (Empire State Passenger Assoc.), NARP, even the mid-western Midwest High Speed Rail Assoc.(www.midwesthsr.org). All of these organizations are doing their best to keep the public up to date on passenger rail but anybody who must get from point A to point B, several hundred miles away, has to be better informed. Those of us who ride Amtrak as much as possible value its service, disrupted as it can be by the freight lines, don’t want to see the nation lose a valuable resource.

    Having ridden ALL of Amtrak’s lines, north, south, east, west, I am not an uninformed participant in the debate about what to do about Amtrak.

  • poncho

    why is congressman earl blumenauer of Oregon not on the list? he is the most pro-transit, pro-bicycle, pro-pedestrian and pro-dense development government official in the country. he is also probably the biggest amtrak supporter. is there an update to the list?

  • misterbadexample

    Sent a note to yvette Clarke.

    For the life of me I can’t understand why this isn’t a red state issue. With the airlines clearly on life support, the options are greyhound or private car.

  • jeff

    Why support the bill? Isn’t Amtrak as private organization? Shouldn’t they support themselves? Why should we (the US Tax Payers) pay $60 for every person that rides an Amtrak train? Amtrak needs to get smarter and run their business at a profit – just like every other business.

  • Yes, Amtrak should be entirely self-sufficient like the airline industry, the automobile industry, and our national private highway system. It’s just pathetic! Let’s kick them harder and see if they get smarter. Also let’s make them spend $60 on concocted would-be security threats, the irrational fear of which stems from a worst-in-history terrorist act that was only possible because of our gloriously unsubsidized and completely harmless airline industry—that should help streamline Amtrak’s private businessy operations!
    http://www.forbes.com/afxnewslimited/feeds/afx/2008/02/18/afx4667193.html

  • $60 MILLION on “officers with automatic weapons and bomb-sniffing dogs”, that is. I’m feeling safer and freer from foreign oil already!

  • Ian Turner

    Jeff,

    I agree. There’s no reason the government should be intervening in transportation, especially intercity transportation, to the degree that it does.

    The thing to understand, however, is that every mode of transport in the US is subsidized: Automobiles, airlines, regional public transit, Greyhound, Amtrak, and even bicycles and pedestrians are subsidized by the federal government in one form or another. The lion’s share of this intervention, however, goes to the airlines and to drivers. Airlines get tax breaks and direct payments while autos are subsidized mostly through free infrastructure, notably the US highway system.

    In this context, it is totally reasonable for Amtrak and its supporters to ask for greater subsidy. Passenger rail is the most environmentally sound form of long-distance transport in this country, and for shorter distances is also the most pleasant. The main reason it’s not also the most economical is not that rail is somehow an innately more expensive choice but rather that auto and air transport get huge subsidies while Amtrak gets stuck with minimum service requirements on unprofitable lines.

    So in the final analysis, we agree: The government in general and the federal government in particular should not be subsidising or intervening in transportation. But the intervention is there, and it’s not going away. Given that, rail should get at least its fair share.

  • Jeff

    I completely understand that all forms of travel is subsidized. And I have traveled the world and LOVE the train systems in the UK, Europe and Switzerland. I wish the US had invest in these systems years ago. But we haven’t and the US people are too lasy (for lack of a better term) to change there ways and use other forms of transportation.

    Amtrak is not the solution. It is a policial beast. If it wasn’t a pysdo-government operation and a real company, they would shutdown the ineffective routes and keep the profitable routes and still accomplish 90% of what people want. Without needing $1.5bil from the US government.

    Right or wrong – Airports and automobiles are helping the majority of americans. While Amtrak is help a very small portion. If the eastcoast or westcoast routes are so valuable and so useful – KEEP THEM/SELL THEM. Just don’t expect me to pay $60 for everytime a New York Businessman wants to travel from NY to Washington.

  • Ian Turner

    Jeff,

    As I have already pointed out, Amtrak is small beans because it recieves a small beans subsidy. If passenger rail was subsidized to the same degree as passenger autos, I guarantee you the situation would be different.

    Legislated service requirements are a serious burden to Amtrak and should be scrapped immediately. They are just one more way in which the federal government transfers money from populous states to rural ones.

    Getting rid of the amtrak subsidy altogether is a great idea. But to be fair (to the environment and to passengers) it should be eliminated simultaneously to all other transportation subsidies.

  • “Just don’t expect me to pay $60 for everytime a New York Businessman wants to travel from NY to Washington.”

    You don’t. That would be their only profitable route? This is the one puny factoid that everyone with an opinion on Amtrak is supposed to know, that the northeast corridor is more or less profitable depending on year to year rail infrastructure costs.
    http://www.slate.com/?id=2067412

    In any case it doesn’t hit this $60 per passenger average that you haven’t bothered to cite, which is a sadly limited way to frame the issue. It’s just plain wrong to apply a systemwide average to individual routes, and especially nonsensical for their outlier “good” route. Leave businessmen alone!

  • Jeff

    Hi Doc,

    Your data supports my logic. If Amtrak was run like a business, the Northeast Corridor route wouldn’t be effected and the NY Businessman would probably get even better service. Because these routes are profitable. If Amtrak was run like a business the route that the government is currently having to pay $100 or $200 per person traveling on them would be shutdown.

    Hi Ivan,

    I understand that $1.5bil is a small amount. But why pay any amount to support routes that aren’t being used. Just like Doc points out – the Northeast corridor routes are profitable. They should remain and even be expanded. The route that aren’t profitable and never will be profitable shouldn’t be kept running to get a congressmans vote or for sentinmental reasons. Wouldn’t it be better to offer better service to groups that would actually use the service – and this is what a good businessman running Amtrak would do.

  • One of the things I most appreciated about David Gunn’s tenure about Amtrak was that he threw the “business” lie out the window. Amtrak is not a business and it never will be. It’s a public service and it should be run like one. Greyhound was run like a business, and as a result there are thousands of small towns across the country that now are all but inaccessible without a private car.

    Eventually the subsidies to car travel will be abandoned, and then passenger train and bus service will begin to see a reasonable rate of return. But that will be a bonus, not the reason for providing passenger train service. Some routes will never be “profitable,” but deserve to be provided out of basic human decency.

    Jeff, if you’re still willing to regurgitate your simplistic free-market ideas, please apply them to Essential Air Service.

  • Jan Furst

    How can you justify a subsidy of $210.31 per passenger 1,000 miles for Amtrak passengers?

    Inter-city bus is far more efficient. (Not to mention, inter- city bus serves more towns than rail.)

  • How can you justify a subsidy of $210.31 per passenger 1,000 miles for Amtrak passengers?

    How can you justify playing such obvious number games?

  • Mark Walker

    Every time you drive your car a mile, you receive 50 cents in government subsidies. Drive your car 1000 miles and you get a subsidy of $500. Compared to that, Amtrak is a bargain.

  • Fritz

    Well, this just passed the house privatisation language and all. Of course, it’s not mandatory and hopefully it won’t ruin anything. I had talked to Mike Castle’s office about it and at least the man from my state is a supporter. Hopefully there won’t be a veto or enough votes to override it.

  • Hi Jeff, it’s been a while but I’m fired up about amtrak today and decided to check back in on this thread. I don’t know if my data supports your logic, or what your logic was because it seemed to have changed (for the better); the data certainly didn’t support the idea that a systemwide passenger subsidy average is relevant to individual trips on the NE corridor. You went too far in that claim and may as well admit it. 😉

    As far as breaking up the company or whatever, I don’t strongly disagree there. That is, I think the present configuration for amtrak is one of the worst possible, caught between public and private realms. On the one hand it gets free money earmarked for stupid stuff, on the other it is punished and berated when the public’s tab is figured. You’ve engaged in some of that berating; you’d do better to focus on the senators that meddle in amtrak business rather than the performance of the hobbled “company.” But until the public/private system is reorganized (and I think that is inevitable), funding like this that supports practical intercity development is the best thing we can do. If I had my wish it would be a well-funded fully public system (because it works beautifully in France and I’m tired of the failed contrarian experiments here) but if the only choice were the Amtrak status quo or something more independent/competitive (less in this prublic phantom zone) I would support it. Change, please!

  • Sam Hutchinson

    Why does everything have to turn a profit? Transportation is a basic part of society. So what if Amtrak “costs” over a billion a year. We spend 12 billion every month in Iraq, 144 billion in a year, and none of that benefits the people one bit. But ‘oh no’ can’t have that train connecting that town if it can’t turn a buck. Makes no sense. Airports don’t pay for their runways, etc, you know how many tens of billions that is? Tax money gets spent everywhere, much of it wasted and much of which ends up in private pockets and no one says much of anything. But spend a few dollars on basic transportation infrastructure and everyone throws their hands in the air with small talk about the wonders of the private sector. How sad.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Obama Builds Rail Cred With Biden Pick

|
Barack Obama’s standing as an advocate for investment in US commuter rail looks to have gotten a boost with his selection of Joe Biden as his running mate. Whereas John McCain is the Senate’s sworn enemy of Amtrak, his colleague from Delaware is known as a "Champion of the Rails." Notes Daily Kos diarist MissLaura […]
STREETSBLOG USA

What Would Meaningful Amtrak Reform Look Like?

|
For the past two years, Amtrak has been under constant attack from House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica (R-FL), who has used his gavel to bully the rail company. He likes to call it a “Soviet-style” monopoly and he goads it for losing money on everything from long-distance routes to food service. His vitriolic diatribes […]
STREETSBLOG USA

Don’t Look Now, But the House Amtrak Bill Actually Has Some Good Ideas

|
Tomorrow, the House Transportation Committee will consider a bill that changes the nation’s policies on passenger rail. The proposal, while it includes some cuts, is a departure from the senseless vendetta many House Republicans have waged against Amtrak in the past. The National Association of Railroad Passengers, NARP, says the plan contains “commonsense regulatory and […]