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Government Support Critical To Amtrak

Location: Washington, DC

GOVERNMENT SUPPORT CRITICAL TO AMTRAK -- (Extensions of Remarks - December 07, 2006)

* Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Speaker, one of the most important institutions in the region I represent in this House is the New England Council. No organization does a better job of advocating in a sensible and reasonable way for the economic interests of our area. The Council is composed largely of businesspeople and it is important to note that they are businesspeople who recognize that we need both a vibrant private sector and an adequately funded and well run public sector working together to make the kind of progress that will improve the quality of lives of all of those we represent.

* James T. Brett is a very able chief executive of the Council. Mr. Brett is a former State Representative who has a very impressive understanding of the importance of this private-public interaction. During our recess, he wrote a very interesting article published in the Patriot Ledger of Massachusetts making in very strong terms the case for significant improvements in the way in which the federal government deals with Amtrak. As Mr. Brett notes, ``the regional consequences would be disastrous if Amtrak were unable to operate.''

* Mr. Brett cogently addresses one of the important issues that will be facing us when we convene for the 110th Congress, and I ask that his important article be printed here so that Members will have the benefit of this information as we do so. [From the Patriot Ledger]

(By James T. Brett)

Passenger rail is vital to our quality of life and economy in New England, where rail is an integral part of the region's multi-modal transportation system and relied on by so many for daily commuting and business travel.

Yet the future of Amtrak, including the future of the nation's busiest rail route--the Northeast Corridor--will be affected in the coming weeks as Congress works to finalize spending bills before the end of the session.

In July, the full Senate Committee on Appropriations approved $1.4 billion in funding for Amtrak in the Senate Transportation-Treasury appropriations bill for the 2007 fiscal year, an increase over the current $1.3 billion allocation, and well above the President's budget request of $900 million. In June, the House passed its Transportation-Treasury bill for the 2007 fiscal year, which funds Amtrak at $1.14 billion.

It is critical that Congress approve adequate funding for Amtrak in the upcoming appropriations debate. A 2007 funding level for Amtrak that, at the very least, meets its 2006 of $1.3 billion will allow Amtrak to continue to operate with some infrastructure investment.

Over the last several years, Amtrak has implemented many reforms, modified service and reduced personnel. More than 14 million people rode Amtrak trains in the Northeast last year and Amtrak had its third straight year of record ridership. In addition, Amtrak has continued its efforts to implement a capital investment plan to bring its infrastructure closer to a state of good repair.

Despite the progress, much important work still needs to be done. In this year's fiscal 2007 request, Amtrak cited Northeast Corridor infrastructure improvements as a critical priority. These include three major bridges in Connecticut--the Thames River, the Niantic River and the Connecticut River Bridges--which date back to the turn of the century and need to be replaced. Forty Amtrak trains run over these bridges daily, providing service between New York and Boston.

Other projects, cited by Amtrak, include the replacement of wood ties on main tracks; the rehabilitation or replacement of much of the overhead catenary system that supplies power; the replacement of major portions of the power supply systems; and the upgrading of interlockings and signal systems.

Amtrak is a vital transportation link for millions of New Englanders. At a time when our highways are increasingly congested, the regional consequences would be disastrous if Amtrak were unable to operate. Amtrak serves hundreds of thousands of commuter rail riders and represents thousands of jobs in the region.

And highway congestion is not a problem that is going away anytime soon. A new study by the nonprofit think tank the Reason Foundation reported this summer that traffic delays will increase 65 percent and the number of congested lane-miles on urban roads will rise 50 percent over the next 25 years. Even in smaller cities, traffic congestion is expected to worsen substantially over the next two decades. In our region, Massachusetts and Connecticut are both ranked in the top 25 of states that will have the most congested lane miles by 2030.

A safe, reliable passenger rail system is vital to managing transportation in the Northeast. The region's ability to sustain and enhance its economic growth and remain competitive is linked to an efficient regional transportation system which includes intercity passenger rail. Government support is critical to Amtrak's survival. And it is important that Congress consider these economic factors as they debate funding for Amtrak.

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