Durbin: House Transportation Bill Wrong Approach to Amtrak Funding

Final Vote on Senate Version of Funding Bill Expected Next Week

ST. LOUIS, MO–(ENEWSPF)–October 26, 2011.  A House transportation funding proposal would dismantle Amtrak service and stunt high-speed rail growth in spite of record ridership numbers, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said today during a news conference at the Gateway Multimodal Transportation Center in St. Louis, Missouri.

“St. Louis is one of the most important hubs in the nation’s passenger rail network and Gateway Station is the anchor of that network. Residents of the St. Louis region on both sides of the river have come to rely upon Amtrak,” Durbin said. “We need to maintain and grow passenger rail service—not dismantle it. People are clearly demanding more train service, yet the House bill takes us in exactly the wrong direction—eliminating the service we already have.”

The U.S. House of Representatives Fiscal Year 2012 (FY2012) Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill – which has been passed by the THUD Appropriations Subcommittee – cuts Amtrak’s operating funding by 60 percent, includes a legislative rider prohibiting Amtrak from using any federal funds to help states pay for state supported routes, and provides no money for high-speed and intercity rail projects.

The U.S. Senate’s FY2012 THUD Appropriations bill would maintain current funding levels for Amtrak and also includes a bipartisan, Durbin-authored amendment that would restore $100 million for high-speed and intercity passenger rail. This funding is completely eliminated in the House version of the bill.

A 60 percent reduction to Amtrak’s operating budget will force the railroad to lay off many of the more than 1,800 Illinois residents the service employs. The economic impact would also be felt by the 110 train equipment manufacturers and contractors doing business with Amtrak in Illinois as well as hotels, businesses, restaurants and other service providers that will lose millions of customers each year.

“The House of Representatives spending proposal is devastating to Amtrak in Illinois, Missouri, and the entire Midwestern network. Two million passengers use Amtrak’s rail service in Illinois and Missouri every year. By slashing Amtrak’s operating budget by more than half and prohibiting Amtrak from helping fund state-supported routes, their bill would deliver a death blow to passenger rail service in St. Louis and hundreds of other cities and towns across the nation. These cuts will degrade our state’s world-class transportation system and cost the St. Louis area good paying jobs. Stopping Amtrak service to this station would force riders to make do with fewer travel options, which means more cars on the road and more congestion,” Durbin said.

U.S. Representative Jerry Costello, senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Railroads Subcommittee, also came out against the bill. “Record Amtrak ridership this year indicates the importance of reliable passenger rail service, which is a critical part of economic development for our region. Our universities and students, particularly, depend on Amtrak as an affordable means of transportation across the state, and high-speed rail between St. Louis and Chicago will maximize these benefits. The House funding level would be devastating to Illinois, and I will continue to support Senator Durbin’s efforts to increase these resources in the Senate bill,” Costello said.

Amtrak rail service is a major asset for business and employment in St. Louis, serving more than 321,000 passengers last year. Earlier this month, at Gateway Station, Amtrak announced the railroad reached a milestone by carrying over 30 million passengers in one fiscal year. This is the highest ridership total since Amtrak began operations in 1971. In fact, Amtrak has set ridership records for every fiscal year since 2002 with the exception of 2009.

In addition to the Chicago to St. Louis route, the House bill would also mean elimination of the Amtrak service from Chicago to Carbondale, Milwaukee and Quincy. With Amtrak unable to provide support, Illinois would not have the funds needed to cover the shortfall and keep the routes in service. Illinois has had state-supported Amtrak service since 1972 and there are now 14 round-trip trains travelling from Chicago’s Union Station to Milwaukee, Quincy, Carbondale and St. Louis, moving 1.7 million passengers each year. Additionally, many of Amtrak’s long distance routes would likely end under the House bill. New Amtrak service routes under development from Chicago to the Quad Cities and to Rockford would also be lost.

“While the House appropriations bill zeroes out any funding for high speed or intercity passenger rail, the Senate bill maintains adequate funding for Amtrak’s capital and operating needs and includes $100 million for high speed and intercity rail projects. High speed rail service will bring more people, more businesses, and more jobs to Chicago and St. Louis and many stops in between. For every dollar we invest in rail – from tracks and bridges to locomotives and equipment – we see $3 in economic output. While our economy is still struggling to recover, we simply cannot afford to cut back on these kinds of investments,” Durbin said.

In May 2009, Union Pacific Railroad and the Illinois Department of Transportation signed a Memorandum of Understanding agreeing to bring 110 mile per hour train service to the shared freight and passenger rail corridor between Chicago and St. Louis. The Federal Railroad Administration has awarded $1.2 billion to upgrade the corridor. The new 110 mile per hour service will move passengers between Chicago and St. Louis in 4 hours. Illinois was the first state in the country to begin construction on a federally-funded high speed rail project, which will include new trains, upgraded stations, and improved safety at rail-highway crossings.

Source: durbin.senate.gov