House Adds High-Speed Rail Study to Amtrak Bill

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DALLAS -- The House adopted a $7.2 billion four year Amtrak funding bill on Wednesday that requires a study of a high-speed passenger rail system from Washington to Boston and encourages public-private development partnerships around downtown train stations.

H.R. 749, also known as the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015, would provide $1.9 billion from fiscal years 2016 through 2019 for system and infrastructure improvements within the Northeast Corridor and $1.2 billion for capital projects along Amtrak’s 15 other long-distance routes.

The measure, which was passed by a vote of 316-101, also directs Amtrak to seek private partners in station development projects.

The passenger rail operator would be required to report within a year of the bill’s passage on ways to enhance development around Amtrak stations, including options for capturing development-related revenue streams. Amtrak would then have to issue requests for proposals from private partners on station development projects within the next six months.

Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., who chairs the House Transportation Committee and was one of four sponsors of the Amtrak bill, said the Senate may not take up House measure quickly. But he is optimistic about its chances in the upper chamber.

“I think the Senate has a couple issues they want to deal with but today is a good indication that we have strong support in the House for this bill,” he told reporters after the House vote.

All the votes against the proposal on the House floor were cast by Republicans, with Democrats providing the winning margin for the bill, which had been adopted unanimously by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in late February.

The conservative group Heritage Action urged lawmakers to vote against the Amtrak bill. Heritage said it would consider it as a key factor when evaluating a legislator’s voting record.

“If lawmakers want to provide quality, reliable service without burdening taxpayers they should seek to privatize Amtrak, ending federal subsidies altogether,” said Heritage spokeswoman Emily Goff.

An amendment proposed by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., which would have eliminated all federal funding for the passenger rail operator, failed to pass despite the support from 147 Republicans, more than half of the GOP members in the House.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., was more successful with the House’s voice vote approval of his amendment requiring a study of high-speed rail within the Northeast Corridor.

The bill would give Amtrak six months to submit a study to the House Transportation Committee on the total cost, expected revenue, and ridership potential of a high-speed, non-stop rail segment from Washington to New York and a separate line between New York and Boston.

Amtrak would be prohibited from operating either of the proposed high-speed routes.

Mica said passenger rail service is currently an Amtrak monopoly in the Northeast Corridor with its fast Acela trains hitting an average of 68 miles per hour from Boston to New York and 83 mph between New York City to Washington, DC.

The amendment would direct the Northeast Corridor Rail Commission to report to Congress with a plan to initiate service from Washington to New York in less than two hours and from New York to Boston in less than two-and-a-half hours.

“We need to take Amtrak and this country from a Soviet-style operation into the 21st Century,” Mica said.

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