Bill would let Amtrak reinvest profits in Northeast Corridor

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An Acela in the borough of Queens in New York City. In 2013, the Northeast Corridor had a nearly $400M profit.

House leaders in Washington on Thursday introduced legislation to allow Amtrak to reinvest Northeast Corridor profits on improvements to the corridor, rather than to use that money to subsidize money-losing, long-distance routes in other parts of the country.

The bill proposes many changes in how the national railroad is funded and how it operates. It was sponsored by top Republican and Democratic members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, giving it instant bipartisan support.

Because Congress has little time left in its current session, the new rail bill is likely to be a template for action next year and not in the current Congress.

The bill proposes to cut Amtrak's authorized funding levels by 40 percent and eliminate losses in its food and beverage services.

One of the biggest changes would dedicate Northeast Corridor profits for reinvestment in the busy corridor that stretches from Washington to Boston. Last year, that profit was nearly $400 million.

Instead of using those profits to support money-losing long-distance routes elsewhere, "this common-sense approach ensures users of the corridor - the source of the profits - benefit from the revenues," the committee wrote in a review of the new bill.

Amtrak president Joseph Boardman had asked Congress in March for the power to keep Northeast Corridor revenues on the 453-mile corridor.

Boardman asked that Amtrak be allowed to use the operating surplus to help pay for $735 million in capital costs on the corridor, including new railcars, station improvements, and rail and signal upgrades.

He said the full operating deficit of long-distance trains - expected to be $618 million this year - should be paid from the federal budget.

The new bill, the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2014, would require Amtrak to evaluate its long-distance routes to improve service and cut costs.

The bill would permit a "substitute passenger rail provider" to compete for Amtrak services and reduce the need for federal subsidies.

The House committee is likely to review and amend the bill next week, but its prospects for passage this year are dim because lawmakers will leave Washington soon to campaign for November elections.

Amtrak said it was "reviewing the proposed legislation and looks forward to working with Congress to enact a bill that addresses critical infrastructure investment needs, improves safety and security, enhances customer service and provides for greater financial efficiencies."

The bill was sponsored by committee chairman Bill Shuster (R., Pa.), ranking Democrat Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia, Jeff Denham (R., Calif.), and Corrine Brown (D., Fla.).

 


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