This past Thursday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, chaired by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), approved nearly $8 billion in funding for Amtrak, at a rate of $1.7 billion over four years, an increase over recent allotments.
In a twist to what has been described as contentious financial discussions in the recent past over aiding the national transit body, this year’s bill was approved unanimously, a marked turn on the norm for a spending bill characterized by both supporters and critics of the national rail service as fair and just.
"This is a good reform bill that firmly moves passenger rail towards greater transparency and accountability, and forces Amtrak to operate like a true business,” Shuster said in a statement after the bill's passage.
“In every region of the country, passenger rail investments boost local economies and create thousands of family-wage construction, engineering, and manufacturing jobs," Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the top-ranking Democrat on the panel, chimed in. "This bill isn’t perfect — but it was a bipartisan effort that ultimately provides critical investments and system wide improvements to increase capacity and make our railways safer."
Amtrak, which has been running the rails since 1971, has historically seen upwards of $1 billion per year from the government for operations and construction projects. This new bill, it is hoped, will allows Amtrak to make significant forward strides in the coming years. The Passenger Rail Reform and Investment (PRRIA) Act, provides approx. $982 million per year for Amtrak's national network and another $470 million annually for its popular Northeast U.S. routes.
Set to expire in 2019, the bill appropriates $300 million per year for construction on Amtrak routes in the rest of the nation and ~ $24 million per year for the company's inspector general.
Despite subsidy debates over recent years, legislators have clearly used the rail service as a pathway toward bipartisan agreement on transportation infrastructure funding and planning, of which both sides are encouraged. “Making investments in passenger rail service not only creates economic benefits and employment opportunities, it also enhances the overall experience for passengers and improves safety,” Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), the top ranking Democrat on the House rail subcommittee, said in a statement. “This legislation may not represent the level of funding I think is necessary, but most rail supporters agree that in today’s political climate it is the most that advocates can expect.”