AMTRAK -- (Senate - October 30, 2007)
Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I strongly support the Passenger Rail Improvement and Investment Act. I commend the bill's managers, Senators LAUTENBERG and LOTT, for their leadership on this issue, and I am proud to be an original sponsor of this important legislation.
Effective passenger rail service is more essential than ever at this time when gas prices, the Nation's economy, and our environment are on everyone's mind.
For decades, Amtrak has given the Nation a safe, reliable and energy efficient alternative.
Now, we must make the necessary investments in passenger rail service to preserve this important transportation option.
The pending bill gives Amtrak the funds it needs to continue operating and make necessary repairs.
It couldn't be timelier, because more and more Americans are choosing passenger rail. Recently Amtrak reported its highest ridership ever--nearly 26 million passengers in 2007.
It is particularly gratifying that the bill gives special priority to the overburdened Northeast Corridor, allowing it to return to a state of good repair by 2012.
Rail transit has long been an important part of Massachusetts' public transportation system. Boston's Green Line--110 years old--is the oldest subway system in North America. The Northeast Corridor is the backbone of Amtrak today, serving 10 million passengers.
An excellent example of why this bill is so important is the Downeaster, which operates between Boston and Portland, ME. The Downeaster launched its service at the end of 2001, and it has already carried over 1.5 million passengers. The line is so popular that it recently added a fifth daily round trip to meet the demand.
We need to continue to expand these options for the good of our economy and the environment. Public transportation creates thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue.
The number of light rail systems has tripled in the past 35 years, and heavy rail service has nearly doubled. We need to do much more, however, to make public transportation a viable option if we are going to end the Nation's addiction to oil and reduce the harm being done to our environment from greenhouse gas emissions.
Of the 20 million barrels of oil America consumes daily, more than 60 percent is consumed by the transportation sector. Public transportation today saves us 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline each year, which translates into 108 million fewer cars filling up.
Equally important, these investments relieve the growing congestion on our roads. The Texas Transportation Institute's latest Urban Mobility Report found that congestion is costing the Nation $78 billion a year and forcing the average driver to waste 38 hours in traffic, while burning 26 gallons of gasoline. In the greater Boston area, travelers face even longer traffic delays in a year--spending 46 hours stuck in traffic and wasting over 30 gallons of gasoline.
These delays help explain why more and more people are choosing Amtrak. Earlier this year, Amtrak reported that its Acela line--which operates between Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington--had an on-time performance record of nearly 90 percent, and nearly a 25 percent increase in ridership.
Those are strong results. The pending bill will make the system even stronger, and I urge my colleagues to support it.
Mr. President, as I make these comments about the Amtrak legislation, I remember very well a former colleague of ours who is not here. He has his own particular health challenges. He is a beloved figure--Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, author of the Pell grants, author of the National Endowment for the Arts, author of the National Endowment for the Humanities, author of the Seabed Treaty that did so much in terms of arms control and the placement of weapons on the seabeds--there is a whole legacy there.
But President Kennedy said, during his Presidency, that as a student of history it was extremely rare that any individual Member of the Senate could come up with a new idea and then see a real downpayment on that particular program. This is the case with regard to Amtrak. Claiborne Pell was the first voice in terms of rapid transportation between Boston and Washington. He struggled for that program, and during the early 1960s he was actually able to get some resources--not very great amounts--but for the study of it, for the feasibility of it, and for building a sense of inevitability about it.
He saw, long before others did, the importance of transportation, this rapid transportation for our Nation as an energy saver, for the movement of people. He anticipated our congestion and so many issues that have been talked about by two of our colleagues and friends, Senator Lautenberg and Senator Lott, who deserve great commendation for their efforts and for their leadership.
We are reminded--with the explosion of the costs of gasoline, congestion, environmental issues--about the importance of this legislation. Many times over the last 40-odd years, this legislation was at risk. But now it is well established, not only for the corridors which are highly populated, but we are seeing, as has been pointed out at other times during the debate, other examples of this kind of rapid movement of individuals between various population centers and the difference it has made and contribution it has made in terms of not only passenger service but also for our economy and the environment and the use of energy.