16.1.07

BUYING THE RAILFAN VOTE? Good news from the Quincy Herald Whig.

U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Trent Lott, R-Miss., are expected to introduce legislation today that would, among other things, encourage more state investment in Amtrak by making federal matching funds available.

The sweeping bill, similar to one that passed in the Senate 93-6 last year but was never voted on in the House, calls for $12 billion in federal funding over the next six years. Many Amtrak supporters believe it has a better chance this year with Democrats in control of Congress.

But one aspect of the bill is relatively uncontroversial. The idea of matching funds for state investment in Amtrak is one that both supporters and critics of the railroad have embraced — and something states such as California believe is long overdue.

Existing money appears to be producing benefits, notes Madison's Capital Times.

Amtrak's Hiawatha Service, which runs trains between Milwaukee and Chicago, had more riders in 2006 than ever before.

An estimated 588,036 boarded the train at one of the five stations along the Hiawatha Service's route last year, up 8.2 percent from the 544,358 trips made during 2005, according to Amtrak.

"This is outstanding news, and it shows that the public wants, and will support, passenger rail service," state Department of Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi said. "With 26 straight months of record-breaking ridership, while maintaining among the best on-time performance records, the Hiawatha Service is the envy of Amtrak managers nationwide."

Now, about that Class Six track ...

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