TRANSIT: U.S. House votes to subsidize Amtrak in Northeast Corridor

The authorization bill directs billions toward overall passenger rail service

March 06, 2015

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives moved to boost Amtrak’s service capabilities between Boston and Washington while simultaneously giving states a greater say in the local routes they help subsidize.

Approved by a vote of 316-101, the bipartisan bill authorizes $7.2 billion in federal subsidies for passenger rail overall, including $1.7 billion per year over four years in subsidies specifically for Amtrak. While this figure is significant, Amtrak supporters have been quick to point out that it’s pretty much status quo on current spending levels. Supporters had recently been jockeying for a significant increase to aid railroad’s deteriorating infrastructure.

One new beacon of bipartisan compromise was built into the bill, however; the separation of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor service between Boston and Washington from the remainder of its long-distance routes. This is meant to allow Amtrak to use profits from the moneymaking corridor for improvements that could enhance service on the route. Amtrak officials have been adamant in their issues with having to use Northeast Corridor profits to subsidize 15 unprofitable, but needed, long-distance routes around the country.

The bill, according to Rep. Bill Shuster (R.-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also provides officials in 19 states “a seat at the table” when Amtrak decides changes and budgets for service in their states, as well as directs Amtrak to make changes in the financial information it provides to state and local governments and the public, so that the information is more "transparent," Shuster said.

On a side note, the bill also includes a provision by Rep. Jeff Denham (R.-Calif.) that allows passengers to bring pets on board.