Historic Transportation Bill Emerges.
Well, you just never know, do you! Just think: a year ago, a funding bill in the U.S. House had an amendment tacked onto it that would have ended all federal subsidies for Amtrak. Make no mistake, it probably would have meant the end of Amtrak . . . without question the long-distance trains wouldn’t have survived, and maybe not even the Northeast Corridor.
Today, after weeks of negotiations, conferees from the House and the Senate released a final transportation bill, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. It’s a “break through” piece of legislation in several significant ways.
First—and isn’t this remarkable all by itself!—it’s the first time ever that passenger rail has specifically been included in a comprehensive transportation bill. I must add here that NARP, as an organization and through thousands of individual members, has been working for this one significant objective for a long time.
Second, this bill sets specific dollar amounts of support for Amtrak for five years—from 2016 through and including the year 2020. And that’s a big deal because for most of it’s 40-plus year history, Amtrak has had to go hat-in-hand to Congress for annual appropriations … meaning they’ve had to make budgetary decisions a year at a time and without knowing how much money they’d have. My God … you couldn’t run a cigar stand that way!
And, third, while it’s still not enough, this bill sets out specific dollar amounts that increase year by year. After limping along for years with annual subsidies of around $1.4 billion, the Amtrak planners now know that they will get almost $1.7 billion from the feds next year and that amount will increase every year to nearly $2.5 billion in 2020. The five year total, in round numbers, is $10.36 billion.
There are still many questions to be asked and more specifics to come, but for a lot more detail, you can follow this link to the NARP web site.
There is also still more work to be done, because this bill has to pass both the House and the Senate before it becomes law and is a done deal. Individual members of the House and the Senate will have to be convinced to vote for the FAST Act. Again, to help in that effort, consult the NARP web site where there will soon be a great deal of information to assist everyone in that effort.
But, for now, the good guys have scored a big one!