22.1.07

CAN WE BUY SOME CLASS SIX TRACK? Destination:Freedom offers particulars on the latest bipartisan Amtrak bill.

The bill enables Amtrak to match state funds for investments in the railroad. At present, Illinois, Missouri, California and eleven other states have funded corridor service that Amtrak otherwise would not provide. California currently contributes $73 million for the Pacific Surfliner and two other trains it runs jointly with Amtrak. Last year, Illinois doubled its annual subsidy to Amtrak to $24 million after several years of rapid growth in ridership on routes connecting Chicago with St. Louis, Carbondale, and Quincy. Missouri paid Amtrak $6.5 million in 2006 to help with service connecting St. Louis and Kansas City, which had 119,000 passengers that year.

States can only do so much without the availability of matching funds for capital improvements, said Jason Tai, director of public and intermodal transportation for the Illinois Department of Transportation. “Unlike other modes of transportation ...highways, transit, even waterways, there is no dedicated substantial funding for rail. It is an unlevel playing field,” he said.

Under the Lautenberg-Lott legislation, states would receive 80 percent federal matching funds for capital projects.

That's not quite as generous as the 90-10 split for Highway Trust Fund capital projects (when Congress authorizes such expenditures rather than sitting on the money to make the deficit look smaller) or the 100% funding in earmarks, but progress.

No mention of whether Amtrak will offer some refresher courses on the proper behavior of crews on delayed trains.

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