Monday, May 08, 2006

Full Amtrak funding: one-third of the 2005 oil company tax cuts

I found this letter to the editor to the Albany Times-Union that very succinctly demonstrated the upside-down federal energy policy. Here's the best part:

Hopefully, our political leaders will recognize the value of rail passenger transportation and fully fund Amtrak's modest budget request of $1.5 billion for the year plus its $275 million of long-range improvements. Since Amtrak full funding is less than a third of the amount given oil companies in tax cuts last year, Amtrak is certainly a bargain.


Capital District Coordinator

Empire State Passenger Association


Largest Amtrak expansion in state's history

To members of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association:

Late last week, the Illinois Legislature approved its FY2007 budget.
It includes the largest expansion of Amtrak service in the State's

In round numbers, the budget for intercity passenger rail service will
go from $12.1 million in FY2006 to $24.7 million in FY2007.

The Illinois Department of Transportation still needs to negotiate the
details with Amtrak, BNSF, CN, and the Union Pacific. Here is what we expect
will result from this budget increase:

1) Chicago - Milwaukee: Remains at 7 daily roundtrips.

2) Chicago - Carbondale: Grows from 2 daily roundtrips to 3. Adds a
morning northbound and a morning southbound. (100% increase in state-funded

3) Chicago - Quincy: Grows from 1 daily roundtrip to 2. Adds a morning
westbound and an evening eastbound. (100% increase in state-funded

4) Chicago - St. Louis: Grows from 3 daily roundtrips to 5. Adds a
morning express train southbound and a more reasonable morning departure out of
St. Louis. Also, adds evening trains in both directions. (200%
increase in state-funded service)

The target date for start-up is October 2006.

We had a broad range of support that included universities, local
organizations, and several hundred mayors and other elected officials
statewide. We ended up with a super majority of Senators as cosponsors
and just one Representative shy of unanimous support in the House. I would
especially like to thank our partners the Environmental Law and Policy
Center and the United Transportation Union for making this possible.

I would also like to thank all of you who wrote letters and made phone
calls. Importantly, all of our members made it possible for me to travel to
many downstate cities to get local leaders involved.

If you live in Illinois, call or write your legislators today to thank
them for their support. If you don't live in Illinois, thanks again
for supporting the Association. This is a crucial step towards getting
world-class trains for the entire Midwest.

The next steps are just around the corner. The States have to
formulate comprehensive transportation plans to qualify for federal funding. We
need to get local leaders demanding that train service be included. At the
federal level, the Administration has, once again, suggested cutting Amtrak
funding. The debate over the federal budget is happening right now.

A generous donor has offered a matching grant of $3000 to help us
launch our next campaign. You can help us take advantage of this offer
by going to right now.

Thanks again for your support!

Rick Harnish
Midwest High Speed Rail Association
PO Box 805877
Chicago, IL 60680

Monday, May 01, 2006

Statement Regarding Amtrak’s 35th birthday

(written by Rick, posted by Dan)

35 years ago today, Amtrak assumed operation of America's passenger
trains nationwide, with no clear mandate from Congress. Many believe
that the unspoken mandate was to provide political cover for the
elimination of all intercity passenger trains. If that is true, it
isn't surprising that America lost 60 percent of its passenger trains
on May 1, 1971.

The fuel crisis of 1973 made it difficult to kill the American
passenger train altogether, but that hasn't stopped people from trying
every year since. Despite the annual attacks, Amtrak has successfully
maintained a core network that will be increasingly important to our
economy in the years ahead.

With China and India driving up the demand for oil, we have entered a
much more severe and longer lasting fuel crisis. We can no longer
afford the annual Amtrak funding circus.

While America has dithered over pennies for Amtrak, our worldwide
competitors have invested billions of dollars in highly productive,
fuel-efficient railroad networks. Soon, in both Europe and China,
high-speed trains will link cities as far apart as Chicago and the East
Coast. As fuel costs go up, they will simply take more trips by train.
We will be stuck at home, unable to afford the trip.

And to make it worse, the highway trust fund is expected to be bankrupt
in three short years. Simply maintaining the existing highway network
will require a substantial tax increase. There will not be enough left
over to grow the system.

We must begin an aggressive program to expand the passenger train
network nationwide and we must do it soon. Railroads carry more people
at higher speeds for a fraction of the investment needed for highways.
Shortened travel times, more productive travel and reduced fuel
consumption come as part of the package.

By investing the cost of just two tanks of gas in faster trains today,
we can build a stronger economy and prepare for even higher gas prices
in the future.

The first step is to stop bickering about Amtrak and get to the hard
work ahead: Working with freight railroads to upgrade their tracks for
faster and more frequent trains, both passenger and freight. It is the
only affordable option.