WASHINGTON – Supporters of Amtrak fear for its future as Congress seeks to cut federal spending.
The fear came at a Senate committee Wednesday,a week after a House subcommittee approved a bill that would cut proposed funding for a high-speed rail system,slash Amtrak’s grant by nearly 60 percent and end all federal money state-supported routes.
“We need to fight against reckless cuts because they don’t know the consequences,” Sen. Frank Lautenberg,D-N.J.,said. As the committee chairman,he spoke at the meeting to discuss ways to keep Amtrak running.
House Republicans proposed cutting Amtrak’s operating funds by 60 percent,or more than $350 million in federal funding. The bill would also end federal funding for state-supported routes,mostly in rural areas,which would force some states to pay for 100 percent of their railways.
Supporters argued that funding for the only passenger rail system in the U.S. is needed more than ever. For the past two years,Amtrak hit an all-time high ridership and is expected to do so again this year with more than 30 million riders.
“Over the next decade,the U.S population is expected to grow by 100 million,” Joseph C. Szabo,the Federal Railroad Administration administrator,said. Szabo told the committee the U.S. faces “significant transportation challenges” as the population grows. Rising levels of highway and air traffic congestion could restrict the United States’ ability to reach maximum mobility.
“With more cars coming to the road,how much of the earth’s surface can we use,how much more air can we spoil?” Lautenberg said.
The biggest project Amtrak supporters want to fund is the repair of the Northeast Corridor – the railway line from Boston to Washington. They also want to begin construction on a high-speed rail service in the Northeast,which could result in major reductions in travel time.
“I can just hope that one day I can take a 90-minute train ride from Washington,D.C.,to New York,” Lautenberg said.
Amtrak’s fastest rail service,Acela Express,goes from Washington to New York in two hours and 45 minutes. Slower trains on the same route,such as Northeast Regional,can take up to four hours.
President Barack Obama’s recently proposed jobs bill allocates spending to update these railway systems. The bill would grant $4 billion to design and build a new high-speed railway. Another $2 billion would be allocated for Amtrak to repair and updates.
Contact reporter Shannon McDonald at 202-326-9868 or [email protected]. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.