As published by Keith Laing in The Hill.
Amtrak vote bumped by DHS bill
The House has pushed back a vote on a nearly a nearly $8 billion funding bill for Amtrak that was scheduled for a final taplly on Tuesday.
The measure, which provides Amtrak about $1.7 billion per year for the next four years, was bumped by a controversial vote on a funding measure for the Department of Homeland Security.
The House is now expected to vote on the Amtrak funding bill on Wednesday.
The Amtrak funding measure provides about $982 million per year for the company’s national network and another $470 million annually for its popular Northeast U.S. routes.
The bill, which would expire in 2019, appropriates another $300 million per year for construction on Amtrak routes in the rest of country and about $24 million per year for the company’s inspector general.
Since its inception in 1971, Amtrak has historically received about $1 billion per year from the government for operations and construction projects, but some Republicans have pushed in recent years to privatize the company’s most profitable routes in the Northeast U.S.
The privatization effort was defeated by a combination of Democrats and Republicans who represent suburban districts in the Northeast and Midwest, where Amtrak and other commuter railways are popular.
The Amtrak funding measure that is now scheduled to come to the House floor on Wednesday, which is known as the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act (PRRIA), contains none of the controversial privatization language.
The measure has still drawn opposition from the conservative Heritage Action group, which has argued that the federal rail funding should be eliminated.
“Amtrak has failed to respond to congressional mandates for decades, and there is little reason for that to change under H.R. 749,” Heritage Action wrote in a blog post on its website.
“If lawmakers want to provide quality, reliable service without burdening taxpayers they should seek to privatize Amtrak, ending federal subsidies altogether,” the conservative group continued.
Labor groups have meanwhile come out in support of the Amtrak funding measure, arguing that the federal government needs to support the development of railways in the U.S. as much as possible.
“PRRIA reauthorizes Amtrak for the next four years, makes certain improvements to rail infrastructure, and provides greater certainty to Amtrak and its employees as they implement long-term modernization plans,” AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Ed Wytkind said in a letter to lawmakers.
“The bill also authorizes an additional $300 million for the Intercity Passenger Rail Program – to be split between the Northeast Corridor and other national routes – that will help strengthen our national passenger rail network and create more diverse and reliable travel options for the public,” Wytkind continued. “The bill also codifies Buy America standards for the purchase of Amtrak’s rolling stock and track improvements through the established RRIF financing provisions.”
Wytkind added it was equally important what the Amtrak funding bill does not do.
“Most importantly, PRRIA rejects wrongheaded reform proposals to privatize Amtrak, break up the operation, and outsource good middle-class jobs,” he wrote. “In doing so, the legislation affirms the need for a national Amtrak system as part of America’s interconnected transportation infrastructure.”