Rick Harnish's archive of Amtrak posts and articles from 1999 (over 1200 messages)
The archive is here.
If you'd like to get these posts emailed to you, you can sign up at the website, or if you want an RSS feed, the feed is here.
An ongoing discussion led by the Midwest High Speed Rail Association on creating a modern, high-speed passenger rail network. We also discuss national and international transportation policy.
Senator Lautenberg: This is neither a partisan issue nor a regional one. We have a chance to get Amtrak back on track...The future of Amtrak is looking bright...Congress is ready to pass a bill to revitalize Amtrak...This year it's not going to be that difficult to get the bill passed. I am the chairman of the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine. This bill is my top priority.
Our aviation system is getting more and more congested. When I fly to my state, I spend more time on the tarmac than in the air...Even Estonia spends more than twice per capita what we spend on passenger rail.
Senator Lott: There are some things in Washington that are truly bipartisan. I believe that’s true for rail--both passenger and freight. This used to be the Lott-Lautenberg bill. Now it’s Lautenberg-Lott. We never miss a step. We’re going forward...There are limits to how many lanes we can build, how many planes we can fly.--------------
States step up to fund Amtrak service, but want federal match
WASHINGTON -- The Pacific Surfliner, running from San Luis Obispo, Calif., down the coast to San Diego, is Amtrak's second-most popular route, with nearly 2.7 million passengers last year.
But one thing sets it apart from most other trains run by the federally funded passenger railroad: It's paid for by the state of California.
California is among 14 states that fund corridor service that Amtrak wouldn't otherwise provide. On Tuesday, Sens. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Trent Lott, R-Miss., are expected to announce the introduction of legislation that would, among other things, encourage more state investment in Amtrak by making federal matching funds available.
The sweeping bill - similar to one that passed in the Senate 93 to 6 last year but was never voted on in the House - calls for $12 billion in federal funding for the next six years. Many Amtrak supporters believe it has a better chance this year with Democrats in control of Congress.
But one aspect of the bill is relatively uncontroversial. The idea of matching funds for state investment in Amtrak is one that both supporters and critics of the railroad have embraced - and something states like California believe is long overdue.
As for Amtrak itself, "states are our future," President Alex Kummant told The Associated Press last week. He said a matching program for capital investments, along with making Amtrak "more user-friendly" for states, is essential if Amtrak is to capitalize on growing demand for intercity rail.
Illinois last year doubled its annual subsidy to Amtrak to $24 million. The increase followed several years of double-digit growth in the number of riders on routes connecting Chicago with St. Louis, Carbondale, Ill., and Quincy, Ill., and allowed Amtrak to offer much more frequent service.
Other states that subsidize Amtrak service are Maine, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.
Outside of Amtrak's busiest route - the northeast corridor from Boston to Washington - the state corridors are the biggest success stories. They provide a stark-contrast to the railroad's long-distance trains, which many critics believe should be eliminated because they are costly and attract comparatively few riders.
State involvement is healthy, "as opposed to having our trains totally planned by a centralized, monopolistic, Washington, D.C., organization," said Joseph Vranich, a former Amtrak spokesman who is now one of its most vocal critics.
But states can only do so much without the availability of matching funds for capital improvements, said Jason Tai, director of public and intermodal transportation for the Illinois Department of Transportation.
"Unlike other modes of transportation, be it highways, transit or even waterways, there is no dedicated substantial funding for rail. There is an unlevel playing field," Tai said.
The Lautenberg-Lott legislation would allow states to fund capital rail projects with up to 80 percent federal funds. States would continue to pay operating costs, but their arrangements with Amtrak would become more standardized. Currently, each state operates under separately negotiated agreements.
"If the federal government wants to get out of the operating business, this seems to me a reasonable way to do it," said Will Kempton, director of the California Department of Transportation.
Kempton and Tai said any legislation that is passed should take into account past investments by states, so that those that did step up to fund Amtrak in the past are not penalized. They said one way to do that would be to provide them with a more generous match in the beginning.
Kempton said California would be eager to take advantage of any available capital funds.
"We're not just sitting on our laurels," he said. "We're looking at expanding service."