The House Transportation Committee has approved the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act, a bill that would reauthorize Amtrak and other rail programs. The bill is substantially the same as the 2014 legislation and is described by the Committee as “bipartisan legislation that improves the infrastructure, reduces costs, creates greater accountability and transparency, leverages private sector resources, and accelerates project delivery for Amtrak and the Nation’s passenger rail transportation system.” The 2014 bill did not receive a vote in the full House and the Senate did not take any action. Leaders are optimistic that with Republican control of the House and Senate, there is a better chance of the legislation making its way to the President’s desk this year.
“This bill, which passed the Committee with unanimous bipartisan support last Congress, will give Amtrak the ability to modernize and improve so that they can best serve the millions of Americans who depend on their service daily,” said Rep. Jeff Denham, Chair of the Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee and one of the sponsors of the bill. “It will also cut costs, ensure greater accountability to the public, and speed up project delivery across the Nation.”
The bill includes a provision mandating that revenues generated on Amtrak’s only profitable line, the Northeast Corridor, be reinvested back into the Northeast Corridor instead of supporting other non-profitable routes. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee touted this provision as “target[ing] investments where there is the greatest likelihood of success.”
The Northeast Corridor runs, for the most part, on Amtrak-owned rail lines from Washington, DC to Boston. Amtrak operates over 200 trains on the Northeast Corridor each day, and other commuter railroads operate 1800 daily trains on the Corridor. The Northeast Corridor has over 200 million riders per year and has long been the only profitable route on the Amtrak system. Last year, the Northeast Corridor generated revenue of over $480 million while the operating deficit from the long-distance routes was approximately $600 million. However, due what the Committee calls Amtrak’s “black box” accounting, the revenues from the Northeast Corridor are not reinvested directly back into the Northeast Corridor but go into a general fund for Amtrak’s entire system. The bill changes that accounting system, mandating that revenues from the Northeast Corridor be put back into Northeast Corridor improvements rather than going to support other, unprofitable routes.
Keeping the Northeast Corridor revenues on the Corridor could result in service improvements for the millions of passengers who rely on Amtrak to get back and forth between Washington and Boston each year.