By Angie Schmitt, March 5, 2015
Advocates for bikes aboard trains consider this bill a victory.
In what’s being called a “rare burst of bipartisanship,” the
House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill yesterday
reauthorizing Amtrak funding for four years at its current levels.
Despite a last-minute, Koch brothers-backed
push to eliminate funding for the railroad completely, the House
advanced its bill to provide Amtrak with $1.7 billion annually for four
years. It’s not the funding boost rail advocates were hoping for, but
it’s not a setback either, keeping funding fairly steady.
The bill also contains a few interesting amendments that seek to make
the nation’s intercity rail carrier more efficient and
The Northeast Corridor Can Reinvest Its Profits
The Northeast Corridor, running between Boston and Washington, is
Amtrak’s most profitable service, generating a combined operating
surplus of $205 million in 2011, according to the Brookings Institution.
More than 35 percent of all Amtrak trips are on these tracks. But those
operating profits have been sunk back into Amtrak’s money-losing routes
— mainly long-distance ones serving inland cities.
The new bill will allow profits from the Northeast Corridor to be reinvested in its infrastructure, which is infamously decrepit.
Pressure for Roll-On Bike Service
Advocates were excited about this one, but it’s not quite as exciting
as some have suggested. An amendment offered by Congressman Dan
Lipinski will force the Amtrak Office of the Inspector General to study
and consider passengers using “non-motorized” transportation. Bike
advocates around the country pushed for this because they hope it will
pressure the agency to allow standard roll-on bike service, so travelers
can easily bring bikes with them. Most routes currently require
passengers to disassemble bikes and transport them in a special box.
A growing number of routes, under political pressure, have begun offering roll-on service. Amtrak announced last year
that it was adding new baggage cars on its long-distance routes
equipped for transporting assembled bikes, but most routes still do not
offer the service.
Full-Cost Food Service
Score one for fiscal conservatism. House Republicans made hay a few
years ago when an audit revealed that Amtrak had lost more than $800 million on
its food service in the span of a decade. An amendment from Republican
Congressman Paul Gozar of Arizona will require the agency to include the
price of labor in its food sales. That means coffee and those fancy
sit-down dinners should be getting more expensive. And the GOP will have
to find a new punching bag.