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Amtrak

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


AMTRAK -- (House of Representatives - March 09, 2005)

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Mr. BISHOP of New York. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman. Let me start by thanking the gentlewoman from Florida (Ms. Corrine Brown) for organizing this time this evening and particularly for her leadership on this and so many other issues of great importance to our Nation.

Mr. Speaker, I rise tonight in support of Amtrak, America's national rail system. As a personal beneficiary of the service that Amtrak provides and as someone who represents a congressional district that counts on safe, reliable rail service, I am a strong supporter of providing this vital industry the funding necessary to continue operations.

A healthy Amtrak is an integral part of New York and the Nation's economy and transportation systems. Amtrak offers riders a cost-effective way to travel throughout the country. It has over 2,000 employees, serves over 500 stations in 46 States and owns and operates over 700 miles of shared track throughout the country.

These numbers tell the story. Amtrak is a major industry helping to support families and towns throughout the country, and it requires our support now.

The administration budget proposal to eliminate funding for Amtrak flies in the face of common sense and the President's stated goal of sensibly growing this Nation's economy. The events of September 11, 2001, showed us America's reliance on the rail system and Amtrak in particular. As planes sat grounded everywhere, goods, services and people continued to move, thanks in large part to Amtrak.

The President's budget proposal indicates that with regard to passenger rail, we have not learned enough from that terrible day. There is hardly a more clear example of misguided priorities at the Federal level. Current plans will force a major employer to shut its doors, move people out of secure employment and cripple a transportation system that serves millions of people. We need to abandon this approach that will end national rail service and, instead, look for ways to improve upon our existing structure of supporting rail lines.

Abandoning Amtrak will destroy a system that has never been supported adequately. In comparison to the rest of the world, we rank a miserable 25th on the list of countries that provide commuter rail funding. The U.S. is outpaced by countries like Estonia, Belgium and Slovenia.

It is no wonder that we are debating investment in Amtrak. We have never provided the adequate assistance that would allow Amtrak to operate at full capacity, thereby providing no baseline for comparison now that the President is proposing to eliminate the program.

Over 30 years ago, Amtrak replaced a faltering private rail system failing to provide adequate services. Now, 30 years later, we are attempting to replace an existing public passenger rail system with some undefined private system by stripping funding for a struggling but improving system that America supports. We should not continue this cycle, and I urge my colleagues to oppose this proposal, as it represents an unclear approach to a very serious issue.

Congress continues to focus on funding other transportation modes over Amtrak to the detriment of the rail industry. Amtrak's level of funding represents only 2 percent of the U.S. Department of Transportation's nearly $60 billion budget; whereas over 50 percent of the Department's spending went for highways, and nearly $20 billion went for air travel.

The fact is that America relies on Amtrak to move people. Commuter rail systems would be faced with major roadblocks and possible route elimination if Amtrak lost funding. So we are not just talking about an effect on Amtrak's customers alone. Over 850,000 commuters a day rely on Amtrak or its infrastructure to get to and from work, and it simply makes no sense to eliminate funding for a program that benefits nearly 1 million commuters a day.

Mr. Speaker, I urge all of my colleagues to fight for the continued operation of Amtrak by advocating for a budget providing $1.8 billion for fiscal year 2006. I thank the gentlewoman from Florida (Ms. Corrine Brown) for her leadership on this issue.

Ms. CORRINE BROWN of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the gentleman: Can he repeat how much we are proposing to spend this year on Amtrak?

Mr. BISHOP of New York. The President's budget proposes zero.

Ms. CORRINE BROWN of Florida. Zero.

Mr. BISHOP of New York. And what we need is a budget of at least $1.8 billion.

Ms. CORRINE BROWN of Florida. Mr. Speaker, $1.8 billion. Would the gentleman believe that we are spending $1 billion a week in Iraq, $4 billion a month in Iraq, and with $3 billion, it would completely fund the Amtrak system and bring it up to date. The people that pay the bill are getting the short end of the stick.

Mr. BISHOP of New York. Indeed they are. This country has a long history of finding the money to support things that it considers to be a priority, and we simply need to come together and say that this kind of passenger rail service is a priority.

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