Amtrak Battle Flares Again This Year
Posted at 4:20 p.m. on June 20, 2014
This year’s installment of the perennial congressional fight over where Amtrak makes money, how it spends it, and how much taxpayer money it uses, if any, still has not been settled.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Rep. Paul Broun, R–Ga., personify the opposing ideological sides of the long-running battle which since 1970 has seen taxpayers subsidize the rail network to the tune of $45 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Coons, who’s northeastern state is extensively served by Amtrak, this week offered an amendment to the now-deferred “minibus” spending package that would have added $230 million for Amtrak capital projects to the $1.39 billion in the transportation-HUD bill OK’d by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Coons said Amtrak needs nearly $6 billion in capital improvements.
“Whether it’s now or later, this infrastructure debt will need to be addressed,” he said. “Amtrak is serving more customers and operating more efficiently than it ever has. It is on the right track. Now is when we should be investing in Amtrak’s growth.”
Amtrak set a ridership record of 31.6 million passengers with a record of $2.1 billion in ticket revenue in Fiscal Year 2013.
CQ transportation reporter David Harrison reported that when the House approved the fiscal 2015 Transportation-HUD spending bill two weeks ago it defeated by voice vote Broun’s effort to end Amtrak subsidies and rejected another Broun proposal, to cut Amtrak funding by 10 percent, on a roll call vote 154-248.
Republicans from the Northeast Corridor joined almost all Democrats in voting against Broun’s amendment. They were joined by Appropriations subcommittee chairmen such as John Culberson of Texas and Mike Simpson of Idaho.
Comparing Coons’s state and Broun’s shows the different economic impacts of Amtrak. Although Amtrak serves both states, there were four times as many Amtrak passengers in Delaware – more than 700,000 — than in Georgia in fiscal 2013.
And with Amtrak’s National Operations Center, High-Speed Rail Training Facility, and two major maintenance facilities all located in Delaware, Amtrak employs a lot more workers in the state (1,120) than in Georgia where it had only 43 at the end of fiscal 2013. For that fiscal year, Amtrak’s Delaware payroll was $78 million, compared to $3 million in Georgia.
Amtrak president Joseph Boardman told Congress in his March budget request that over the last ten years, Amtrak has used revenues from the Northeast Corridor to fund the operating needs of long distance trains and state-supported trains elsewhere in the nation. He wants to change that policy and invest Northeast Corridor profits in capital investments in the corridor – which includes Delaware.
“Amtrak has never had a true capital commitment, one that allowed us to sign multiyear contracts, knowing that the money would be there to carry out the work,” Boardman said. “As a result, we have put off major capital programs to renew aging bridges and tunnels, in some cases for decades.”
GAO said last year in its High Risk Report noted that “Amtrak’s reliance on federal financial support is likely to continue given its estimated capital needs of about $52 billion for Northeast Corridor improvements through 2030 and an additional $23 billion for locomotive and passenger car replacement by 2040.”