‘Congressional Dish’ on Amtrak Reform in Light of PRIIA

June 25, 2014

The most recent episode of the “Congressional Dish” podcast looks “into the state of passenger rail service in the United States by examining the history and current condition of Amtrak”, why the “United States has a third world passenger rail transportation system” and what can be done about it.

The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) reauthorizes the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, better known as Amtrak, and strengthens the US passenger rail network by tasking Amtrak, the U.S. Department of Transportation (US DOT), Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), states, and other stakeholders in improving service, operations, and facilities.” − Federal Railroad Administration

Amtrak itself and the several States with regional trains are even now engaged in creating new agreements to abide by the  Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA).  Yet at this critical juncture, Congress is considering H.R. 4745, which the Dish notes “contains some outright fiscal attacks on Amtrak’s ability to function.”

History suggests an opportunity is in front of us. A healthy Amtrak at the very least is vital for the States to succeed at transitioning their regional trains as Congress has directed in the PRIIA. Congress must carefully consider whether further restrictions on Amtrak now would hinder its ability to comply with the 2008 Act.

The Dish’s coverage of H.R. 4745 begins by outlining the context:

…if passenger trains are such a good investment, why is the United States system so behind other countries?

It wasn’t always this way. In the 1920’s, more than 1,000 companies operated on a network of 380,000 miles of track in the United States. 1.27 billion passengers traveled on the United States’ rail network every year, at a time when our population was much less than it is today…

…[by] the 1970’s, after the interstate highway system was completed and air travel became affordable for the middle class, the private railroads didn’t find passenger trains to be as profitable as freight…

In the deal that created Amtrak, the private railroad companies would no longer have to provide passenger services but they would have to provide Amtrak with start-up cash and equipment. The private railroads would maintain ownership of the infrastructure – the railroad tracks – but they would not be allowed to deny Amtrak the right to use them…

Read and listen to the rest of the story at the “Congressional Dish” podcast CD-073

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