Vol. 8 No. 3
Copyright © 2007
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elected and appointed officials at all levels of government.
In this edition...
Bi-partisan bill would revitalize Amtrak
states would get grants for investments in rail
WASHINGTON -- Senators Frank Lautenberg (D NJ) and Trent Lott (R MS) have reintroduced legislation to authorize full funding for Americas passenger rail needs for the next six years.
The sweeping bill, entitled The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2007, was passed by the Senate in November of 2005 by a vote of 93 to 6, but was blocked by the Republican leadership in the House under pressure from an administration that wanted to split up Amtrak and sell it off to private interests.
President Bush had proposed zero federal funds for the railroad as the first step in the break-up. This time, with Democrats leading both houses of Congress, the bill is expected to receive far more bi-partisan support.
The Lautenberg-Lott legislation authorizes $19.2 billion in federal funds for Amtrak, $3.2 billion per year for six years. The funds will be used to revitalize and reform Amtrak and will put the railroad on solid financial footing with predictable levels of funding, said Lautenbergs office.
This will allow Amtrak to enhance security, make capital improvements to its tracks, tunnels and bridges and reform many of its operating procedures so as to offer higher quality service to passengers, said a spokesman.
After several gloomy years, the future of Americas passenger railroad is bright. Our legislation will provide the necessary resources to bring Amtrak up to speed as a real alternative to taking a plane or driving a car, said Lautenberg. People in New Jersey rely on Amtrak and want to be sure that the system will be there for them in the future. With this plan, it will.
Senator Lott, in a prepared statement, said Congress is long overdue in acting on a bill requiring Amtrak to meet realistic goals in return for a funding stream. We cant keep asking Amtrak to operate like a business while we string along the company year to year. Businesses dont work well without a plausible budget forecast. This bill lays out a six-year plan for operating, capital, and security funding that should allow Amtrak the stability it needs to operate more efficiently.
The bill enables Amtrak to match state funds for investments in the railroad. At present, Illinois, Missouri, California and eleven other states have funded corridor service that Amtrak otherwise would not provide. California currently contributes $73 million for the Pacific Surfliner and two other trains it runs jointly with Amtrak. Last year, Illinois doubled its annual subsidy to Amtrak to $24 million after several years of rapid growth in ridership on routes connecting Chicago with St. Louis, Carbondale, and Quincy. Missouri paid Amtrak $6.5 million in 2006 to help with service connecting St. Louis and Kansas City, which had 119,000 passengers that year.
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 ...highways, transit, even waterways, there is no dedicated substantial funding for rail. It is an unlevel playing field, he said.
Under the Lautenberg-Lott legislation, states would receive 80 percent federal matching funds for capital projects.
More than 25 million Americans ride Amtrak every year, and with the increased congestion in the nations airports and on its highways, passenger rail is a vital alternative for intercity travel throughout the country, said Lautenbergs office.
The following Senators are cosponsors to the bill; Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Tom Carper (D-DE), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Arlen Specter (R-PA), Kay-Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Joseph Biden (D-DE), Richard Burr (R-NC) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME).
Highlights of the bill:
- Funding Levels--PRIIA is a six-year authorization which fully funds Amtrak by authorizing $3.2 billion a year for six years ($1.9 billion in annual appropriations and another $1.3 billion annually in bond authority).
- New State Grant Program - included in the $3.2 billion annual total is an average of $300 million in capital grants to states.
- Operational Reforms - reduces Amtraks annual appropriations need by requiring certain reforms, expected to reduce Amtraks operating costs by 40 percent over the life of the bill.
- Debt Refinancing- directs the Secretary of the Treasury to attempt to refinance Amtraks $3 billion in outstanding debt.
- New financial accounting system - requires a new financial accounting system for Amtrak to provide better transparency and cost controls.
- Restructure Board of Directors - would restructure the board of directors by ensuring a bipartisan 9-member bipartisan board of qualified members.
- New Service Quality Standards- would improve service for passengers, by requiring new quality standards for service quality (on-time performance, on-board and station services, cost recovery, connectivity, etc.) and by requiring periodic reporting of Amtraks performance of these measures by the Federal Railroad Administration.
- Reduce Delays - would authorize the Surface Transportation Board to issue fines to freight railroads who delay Amtrak trains.
- Northeast Corridor up to State-of-Good Repair - will provide sufficient funding (100 percent federal) and direction to bring the Northeast Corridor up to a state-of-good-repair, including vital tunnel life safety work in the Hudson River Tunnels.
- Improve Governance of Northeast Corridor - will improve governance in the Northeast Corridor by giving States like New Jersey a bigger voice in infrastructure and operations decisions.
- Amtrak Rail Security - includes a security title, which will require important rail security improvements to the entire U.S. rail system.
- Allows Only Experienced Railroads to Operate U.S. Passenger Rail - allows only railroads to operate intercity passenger trains in the U.S.
ARPA, SWRCC applaud Gov. Napolitanos
JANUARY 17 -- The Arizona Rail Passenger Association and the Southwest Rail Corridor Coalition applaud Governor Napolitanos call for ADOT to report on bus, light rail, and commuter rail options.
Arizona is getting serious about its transportation needs:
The hard work of the Arizona Rail Passenger Association, founded by a group of visionaries thirty years ago, is now being bolstered by the most comprehensive transit directive ever from an Arizona governor.
Jay Smyth, Southwest Rail Corridor Coalition, (http://www.southwestrail.org)
Rob Bohannan, Arizona Rail Passenger Association, (http://www.azrail.org)
Federal matching funds may help
bring Amtrak to Tulsa
TULSA, OKLAHOMA City and state officials have long wanted to bring Amtrak to Tulsa but costs of upgrading the rails for passenger service was always the stumbling block. The state alone could not foot the bill of $130 million for the upgrades.
Councilor Rick Westcott, who has spearheaded an effort to extend the Heartland Flyer line from Oklahoma City to Tulsa, said to TulsaWorld staff writer Brian Barber, All [the officials] want to bring Amtrak to Tulsa, but when confronted with the cost, they have reservations.
Now, encouraged by the Lott-Lautenberg bill that provides state matching funds, local and state officials are hopeful about the train service.
Westcott said he will encourage members of Oklahomas congressional delegation to support the funding package.
The states two U.S. senators, Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, voted for the Amtrak funding as part of a larger bill in 2005.
U.S. Rep. John Sullivan said he will work with the city and state to fight for Oklahomas transportation needs in the House.
It is important that we ensure that Oklahomans get back what they pay into our nations transportation systems, he said.
Victorville eyes new goods facility
VICTORVILLE, CA -- Southern California city looks forward to development of new intermodal facility in their midst.
Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway Co. and the City of Victorville have agreed to a memorandum of understanding to explore building a major intermodal logistics facility at Southern California Logistics Airport.
Victorville, known as the key city of the High Desert Region, has a residential population of approximately 95,000 and is growing rapidly. Close to 50,000 residents drive out of town for work. Many would prefer not to, according to an article by Michael Rappaport, Staff Writer for the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.
In 1992, the closure of the George Air Force Base cost the city 5000 jobs and ushered in a difficult economic period, said Victorville Councilman Mike Rothschild.
To me, hands down, the darkest time in the history of Victorville was the closure of George Air Force Base. That was such a tremendous hit to our local economy, it was hard to imagine how we could recover, said Rothschild. BNSFs potential development of an intermodal facility could help ensure that we are never again dependent on a single entity for our survival the way we were dependent on that base.
The facility will be part of the 3,500-acre Southern California Rail Complex and will establish Victorville as an alternative for companies currently using the intermodal facility in San Bernardino.
As San Bernardino and Redlands build out, this proposed facility could really benefit, said regional economist John Husing. It will definitely be an alternative for goods now moving through San Bernardino.
Intermodal transport involves moving containers between different conveyances. Containers come into the country on ships and are moved either to trains or trucks.
The logistics airport handles all types of commercial and military aircraft with 24/7 tower operations and daily onsite U.S. Customs officials. The intermodal facility could have as much as 20 million square feet of manufacturing and distribution space and could conceivably generate 20,000 jobs, a spokesman told the reporter.
Logistics is one of the most stable, enduring industries there is, said JoAnn Almond, Victorvilles mayor pro tem. No matter what happens, goods will have to be moved. And that means that the working families who live in Victorville will be able to have decent, high-paying jobs and be able to spend time with their children and spouses.
BNSF is a subsidiary of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Co. and is among the worlds top transporters of intermodal traffic.
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Amtrak deserves funding
Were glad to see U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-Cliffside Park, working closely with a leading Republican senator to ensure continued funding for Amtrak.
Now that worldwide oil and gas are in such demand and prices are so high its more important than ever to have a strong network of public transportation systems, including train lines, the editorial continues.
Amtrak covers the United States and gives people the ability to get most anywhere without flying or driving.
The Bush administration had once threatened to cut all funding for Amtrak. But now, with the support of Lautenberg and powerful Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss., Amtrak is poised to receive $3.2 billion a year, money that would allow Amtrak to repair tracks, tunnels and bridges and set up a grant program for states to improve their rail infrastructures.
We applaud Lautenberg for working with Lott to give this legislation a better chance of being approved. Maintaining Amtrak service certainly benefits New Jerseyans.
Support Lautenberg and Lott Rail Bill
Amtraks 40 years of wanderings in the wilderness of Washington is at last coming to an end, or at least it will if we all buckle down and get behind the Lautenberg-Lott Amtrak Bill to provide regular long-term funding to the national passenger rail system.
The legislation proposed this past week, based upon the Senate Bill authored by Senators Lautenberg and Lott which passed the Senate 93-6 in 2005, only to die via procedural fiat in the House, would for the first time in its history place Amtrak on the same kind of solid, predictable financial footing that highways have enjoyed for decades.
By giving Amtrak six-year legislation, as the highways get, Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Trent Lott, the Senates two giants of transportation, will allow true capital planning and implementation for the first time in the railroads history. Any enterprise requires the ability to plan for its future. But very large enterprises, especially public infrastructure such as the highway system, air travel, or rail, need even longer windows because basic projects can take many years. The electrification of the Northeast Corridor, the project which our organization negotiated with the Bush (I) Administration in 1990 and 1991, took eight years to complete --- and the track was already there! Other corridors across America will take equally long, and the kind of year-to-year, hand-to-mouth funding Amtrak has gotten and even then, it was almost criminally inadequate --- was designed to prevent any hope of success.
Thanks to a true bipartisan effort Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat, and Trent Lott, a senior member of Republican leadership, have worked together on rail matters for years --- we have a chance to undo decades of neglect, and build a rail system that helps make us competitive in the world economy once again, where we have been slipping fast. Coupled with public investment in rail freight infrastructure, a must to get us out from under the highway congestion being made unbearable by soaring truck traffic, we can begin to restore the brilliant transportation system that powered Americas astonishing growth between 1870 and 1970.
We are not heading for tough times in America. We are in them. Investing in infrastructure is one thing we can do, now, to make the future brighter. Lets make sure it gets done, this time. To do your part, contact your Senators and Congressman or Congresswoman (www.senate.gov and www.house.gov) , and tell them to get behind the Lautenberg-Lott bill in the Senate, and the House bill that will follow. Now is the time, unless we falter.
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