With the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure moving to organize a mark-up on the rail reauthorization before Congress adjourns for the year, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) and Midwest High Speed Rail Association are making recommendations.
According to the NARP, there are indications that leaders on the committee are moving towards shrinking rather than strengthening the nation’s already-limited passenger train network. During a hearing held this June, Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) said Amtrak’s national network is “something we have to take a hard look at…There are places that it costs us a lot of money and the ridership is not there.”
Americans want more trains and they are voting with their travel dollars, NARP notes and says Amtrak carried 31.6 million passengers in FY 2013, setting the 10th ridership record in 11 years; ridership on the long-distance trains was the highest in 20 years.
NARP points out that some 173 million Americans, more than half of the total population, live within 25 miles of an Amtrak station that is served by long distance trains and in 23 of the lower 48 states, long-distance trains are the only intercity passenger trains. NARP says that eliminating operating support for these interstate routes would end access to train service for scores of millions of passengers and that these trains are the only form of public transportation for hundreds of communities and their loss would have a profound impact.
“What happens to the people that are stranded if Congress kills the long distance trains?” asked NARP President Ross Capon. “Because make no mistake: if Congress eliminates operating support for these interstate routes that is what will happen. For many of these communities, it’s their only connection to cities in other states. Will seniors be forced to drive hundreds of miles to visit their families? Will disabled citizens have to forego trips to hospitals in metropolitan regions? Will students be forced out onto crowded highways to get to university? The House Transportation Committee does not appear to be asking these questions; the answers aren’t good.”
NARP notes that it will take increased federal investment to meet the rapidly increasing public demand for transportation. NARP has worked with passenger representatives from all across the U.S. to draft a list of goals and recommendations for the reauthorization that will build a modern, customer-focused national passenger train network that America needs.
The Midwest High Speed Rail Association Executive Director Richard Harnish said, “In the coming days, we expect that House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster will move to put forth an authorization plan that will have a major impact on passenger train service all across the United States. Passenger train and high-speed rail advocates all over the country are calling on Rep. Shuster to put forth a plan that will fully fund passenger rail so that states can focus their funds on building infrastructure and other capital improvements.”
Harnish said that passenger rail travel is more popular than ever before all across the United States and to meet growing demand and to plan for an economic future that is less dependent on fossil fuels and highway travel, Rep. Shuster should authorize at least $14 billion annually to allow for the purchase of new, modern trains that add seats, attract even more passengers and cost less to operate because of improved fuel efficiency.
He noted that the authorization should allow for a significant increase in the number of daily departures and says that some critical routes, such as Indianapolis-Chicago, currently only offer one trip each day.
“Rep. Shuster must also ensure that railroads are able to work together with the federal government to eliminate bottlenecks, cut trip times and reduce delays to make rail travel more convenient and appealing to millions of Americans,” Harnish stated. “As a nation, we cannot support the growing ridership and build badly-needed new infrastructure for the national rail network without serious federal investment. Now is the time to significantly increase federal funding for a national passenger rail network to prepare for the high-speed rail infrastructure we’ll need in the coming decades.”