Amtrak

Senate Republicans and Democrats Agree To Double Amtrak's Funding

A bill approved by the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation would give the money-losing rail company $19 billion over 5 years.

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If a bill has the support of both Republicans and Democrats, be concerned. That's certainly the case with a bipartisan transportation bill moving through the Senate that would double the federal subsidies given to Amtrak.

Last week, the U.S. Senate's Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation voted 25 to 3 to advance a $78 billion surface transportation bill that gives the government-owned passenger rail service $19 billion over five years, for an average of $3.8 billion per year.

Of that, $6.5 billion would go to the higher-ridership Northeast Corridor that runs from Washington, D.C., up to Boston. The other $12.5 billion in funding would go to Amtrak's network of routes that run across the rest of the country.

This funding is notably less than a few other transportation proposals currently on the table. Amtrak itself has put out a "corridor vision" that calls for $75 billion in funding over the next 15 years (or $25 billion over the next five).

That's less than what some House Democrats want to shower on the company. Earlier this month, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed a surface transportation bill that included $32 billion over five years for Amtrak—triple its current funding.

President Joe Biden's American Jobs Plan, meanwhile, would devote $80 billion over eight years to the company, or $50 billion over the next five.

All of these proposals would boost Amtrak's funding above the emergency levels it received during the pandemic. Plummeting ridership prompted Congress to include an additional $1 billion for Amtrak in the CARES Act passed in March 2020. The American Rescue Plan, passed in March 2021, gave it another $1.69 billion.

The fact that members of both parties were able to agree on these massive spending increases is evidence that the system still works, according to Sen. Roger Wicker (R–Miss.), the committee's top Republican.

"It is essential that we work to find common ground to make sure our extensive rail network keeps pace with a growing economy, that trucks are able to get goods to port and that rural and disadvantaged communities are given adequate resources," he told the Washington Post.

Wicker has been a major proponent of expanding Amtrak service in his own state. He's pushed for a return of Amtrak passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast between Mobile, Alabama, and New Orleans, Louisiana, which was discontinued after Hurricane Katrina.

Amtrak's own $75 billion "corridor vision" also calls for creating new 39 new routes, and providing service to 160 new cities.

The problem, says Marc Scribner, a transportation researcher with the Reason Foundation (which publishes this website), is that the vast majority of the new routes Amtrak wants to create would run along privately owned freight railroad tracks.

"When Amtrak is talking about expanding service, they're not talking about building parallel track," he told Reason in May. "Whenever we're talking about Amtrak service expansion, the other side of that is freight rail service degradation."

In the Gulf Coast example, CSX Transportation, Inc. and Norfolk Southern Corporation—which own the tracks on which Amtrak's Gulf Coast service would run—have opposed the company's plans for renewed passenger service, in part because of the potential disruption it would cause to freight service.

Over 70 percent of the miles Amtrak trains travel are over privately owned freight railroads.

Amtrak does own the vast majority of the track it uses in the Northeast Corridor, allowing it to run more frequent train service without displacing freight rail traffic. That's a mixed blessing, however, as Amtrak's ownership of these tracks also means it's on the hook for a maintenance backlog of between $31 billion and $42 billion that its own revenues come nowhere near covering.

An influx of additional funding would allow Amtrak to eliminate this backlog and pave the way for faster, more frequent service, passenger rail proponents argue. "There's so much we can do, and it's the biggest bang for the buck we can expend," said Biden about increasing Amtrak funding back in April.

Nevertheless, one of the reasons that Amtrak's maintenance backlog is so big in dollar terms is that it's incredibly inefficient at spending the money it does get.

At current costs, Amtrak needs to spend $90 million per mile "merely to keep the same service as exists today," wrote the Manhattan Institute's Connor Harris in an April New York Post column. "For comparison, in countries such as France and Spain, less than half that cost per mile would cover a brand-new high-speed rail line good for speeds of more than 200 miles per hour."

Getting Amtrak's costs down to European levels would allow it to fix a lot more of its infrastructure for a lot less money. Lawmakers of both parties instead appear set on simply shoveling more taxpayer money at the inefficient agency.

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  1. We must prop up the 1800’s technology!

    1. That’s not good enough!
      We must prop up 1400s technology
      More windmill subsidies!

      1. I hear that oxen are green.

        1. Nay, they exhaust methane, a very potent greenhouse gas.

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    2. Lazy thinking. Automobiles, bicycles and airplanes are all 1800’s technology.

    3. Last week, the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation voted 25 to 3 to advance a $78 billion surface transportation bill that gives the government-owned passenger rail service $19 billion over five years, for an average of $3.8 billion per year. more detail……….VISIT HERE.

  2. Hey, GFY
    You wanted this, you voted for this. And dont blame the Republicans. There is no “both sides”. They are doing everything possible to whittle down a $6T Green New Deal into a bloated actual infrastructure bill while preserving the fillibuster. With no help at all from the cocksuckers at Reason who cheered on Biden and the Georgia runoffs.

    1. The nerve of this idiot motherfucker to try this “both sides” bullshit has me apoplectic. The Ds dont need any Rs to pass anything, but if the Rs dont negotiate and just say “No” to everything, the pressure on Manchin amd Sinema gets unbearabke and we wind up with a $6T Bernie Sanders wishlist instead.

      The time to prevent money being wasted on Amtrak was im November. It came and went, and you Reason fbckheads were on the wrong team. So blame yourself, dipshit.

      1. The nerve of this idiot motherfucker to try this “both sides” bullshit has me apoplectic. The Ds dont need any Rs to pass anything, but if the Rs dont negotiate and just say “No” to everything, the pressure on Manchin amd Sinema gets unbearabke and we wind up with a $6T Bernie Sanders wishlist instead.

        This would be true if you ignore the existence of the filibuster.

        But in a world where the filibuster exists for legislation like this, both sides absolutely get credit (or blame depending on your perspective) for this

        but nice try

        1. The fillibister will be gone, idiot, if the Rs dont come to the table on anything. You should stop commentimg if you cant do better than that.
          Manchin is already talking about lowering it to 55. And that is WITH Republicans feverishly negotiating.

          You try to get a lower number passed with 50 votes from the center, or you watch Manchin amd Sinema getvstaemrolled and you get the whole $6T in GND commie crap shoved down your throat, including $300B for high speed rail

    2. Completely agree. Republicans need to avoid losing the filibuster or getting SCOTUS packed, while otherwise limiting Democrats’ spending. It’s a tough tightrope to walk. Yet Reason undercuts them at every opportunity, and even when they succeed in dramatically reducing Democrats’ ambitions, they still get crucified for it.

      Until these self-sabotaging “libertarians” get over their romantic affair with “both side-ism”, we all lose.

      1. You would think this would be obvious to anyone with an ounce of intelligence, self-awareness, and shame.

        1. It is obvious to people with an ounce of intelligence, self-awareness, and shame. Why do you assume reason writers have those qualities?

    3. Reason never endorsed Biden. They did object to the lies about fraud. Even if you don’t like Biden or the Democrats, and I don’t, they’re what the American people voted for. Maybe put some blame on Trump for turning voters off GOP policies.

  3. Sleepy Joe rides trains, in his mind.

    1. Well, we all know the symbolism in film of the train going into the tunnel, so yeah, in his dreams.

  4. Fucking choo-choo train fetishists. Is there a more reactionary body in the world than the US Congress? What ever shit Wilson or FDR backed has to be continued forever. Lest those dastardly “conservatives” attempt to reform or eliminate programs that ran out of reasons to exist decades ago.

    1. GFY, moron. Anyone who voted in the Ds is to blame, not the Rs.

      1. I’m laughing out loud that you think there’s a difference.

  5. Look on the bright side. Now every millennial has the opportunity to take a heavily subsidized journey across the United States and they can Tweet about it the entire way.

    1. Blame their Boomer parents.

  6. I took Amtrak from DC to NYC last month and it wasn’t bad-more legroom than a plane or bus and the train was cleaner than the last time I took it about 25 years ago-but still not worth the subsidies. I don’t understand why they can’t lease the right of way to a private party to build a dedicated track and run high speed trains.

    1. They do; but only for their rich elitist friends in the northeast.
      If you want to take a train from Orlando to Atlanta (445 miles), it will take 43 hours and cost $173. Two stopovers, Raleigh and Greensboro.
      (maybe now that Stacy Abrams is governor, that will change)
      Driving is 6 hours 24 minutes, less than $70 in gas.

      1. > it will take 43 hours and cost $173. Two stopovers, Raleigh and Greensboro.

        Exactly. There’s a point of diminishing returns distance and schedule wise. Once you pass it, train travel is just NOT an option.

      2. I traveled from Tokyo to Hiroshima covering over 500 miles in 4 hours by train. The train offered more space than a plane and was immaculately clean. Why can’t we do this here in the US?

        1. Cuz we’re not racist enough?

        2. Well, my first guess has to do with Japan is 145,937 sq mi and the USA is 3,796,742 sq mi.
          (apx 26 times the area, for you public school students and gender studies folks)

          1. The square mileage differential is even more than that due to Japan’s mountainous terrain that makes a higher percentage of Japan’s land off limits to railroad track than in the US. Leftists just refuse to (not fail to, refuse to) understand and accept that a practical passenger rail network depends on a certain level of population density and concentration that simply does not exist in the US.

    2. I love the train. Just walk up, get on, go on your way. Gets you from LA to San Diego in less time than driving with a lot less hassle.

      But Union Station in LA is a place I almost NEVER want to go. It doesn’t connect to the airports. Any other city past Santa Barbara requires getting on a bus, IF there’s service at all.

      Basically, any farther than 200 miles you might as well take a plane anyway, the lost hours at the airport are fewer than the lost hours on the triain. And, frankly, the whole western US is days away by train, not one or two hours like when I hop a train in Italy or the UK. It’s impractical and expensive here.

      Fixing any of that is impossibly expensive. Land in a city to build tracks to anywhere is prohibitively expensive. You just can’t carry enough people to make it worth while. From close cities, trains are great. But in the west, trains are for cargo. Heavy stuff that doesn’t care if it’s day or night. Not people on a schedule.

      1. Very good points here. Trains are really for intermediate travel and can be very efficient for that purpose. Like to see the replacement of smaller airports with trains to hub airports.

        1. I’d love that, too.

          But I don’t think it could be made to happen. At any cost. Not here at least. Hell, they have a great trolley and a coastal rail line in San Diego. They both go right past the end of the runway to the airport, airplanes landing over your head, you can see the terminals so tantalizingly close as you go past. Neither of them actually STOPS at the airport, though. You have to go downtown then walk a couple blocks to catch a bus that comes every half hour or 40 minutes or something infrequent… it’s remarkably stupid considering the cost to build that trolley in the first place. European cities have a more cohesive network. You can fly to Frankfurt and just get on a train at the airport to wherever. Some with a long history of rail in the US like Chicago, you can at least get a train light rail to the airport. Not here, though. Not dense enough for rail and bus, way too dense to afford to buy up a right of way to build new lines. Planners are just too stupid. Rail’s day has passed.

          But it would be a nice pipe dream to land at a major airport then ride a fast train to a suburb 30 miles away, or be in a neighboring city in an hour. Just NEVER going to happen. Best Ca can do for new rail is bakersfield to fresno. Where nobody wants to be to where nobody wants to go. That’s just a massive waste of money.

          1. Once you calculate in the NIMBY lawsuits, endless environmental impact studies because someone saw a newt, mandates on where the material comes from which doubles the price, mandates on which unions are to perform the work which trebles the cost, etc. anything involving rail if not any public infrastructure is largely dead.

            There’s a reason why Biden says this is a once in a generation thing, it’s because it takes more than a generation for the US to actually build anything. Just look at the Big Dig, begun in 1982 and finished in 2007 mostly, just needed and still needs a few repairs here and there, but yeah it’s mostly done – sorta, promise those lights will be fixed real soon now.

          2. Right now we have two billionaires working to conquer space, would it not be great if the next billionaire said I am going to skip space and instead figure out how to set up a link from a major hub airport to local cities.

  7. “A bill approved by the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation would give the money-losing rail company $19 billion over 5 years.”

    It should probably be noted that this bill appears to be an alternative to $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill–that’s saddled with Green New Deal spending and regulation as well as Biden’s hike in the corporate tax rate.

    In other words, by passing a bill to spend $78 billion, they may have obviated the need [diminished the pressure] to pass Biden’s awful $2.3 trillion “infrastructure” bill, in which case, throwing some bones to whomever is getting their bread buttered through Amtrak spending might well be worth it.

    If Amtrak is getting their bread buttered without Biden’s $2.3 trillion monstrosity, they aren’t as all-in on Biden’s monstrosity anymore.

    1. Amtrak’s high speed rail really just serves District 1, and they are going to spend the money, anyway.

  8. Bipartisanship!

    If there’s a better argument for national disunity as this morning’s post suggested, I don’t know what it is. Amtrak sort of “works” along the Atlantic Seaboard where you have a number of densely populated cities in a small area, it’s a retarded idea in more wide-open spaces. If New York and Philadelphia and Boston and Baltimore and Washington want a rail system, let them pay for it. Why are people in Montana and Wisconsin and Alabama and Nevada having to pay for something they don’t need, don’t want, don’t use? Well, here’s where Amtrak uses the argument that if you’re paying for it, you should use it – they’d like to see an Amtrak system a hundred times larger than what we have, just so they can claim that everybody benefits from the system and therefore everybody should pay. Fuck you, it’s bad enough that I gotta pay for a system I’ll never use, it’s even worse when you try to force me to use it. Just because Joe Biden loves trains and doesn’t give a shit that he’s refusing to buy a few hundred dollars worth of Lionel like everybody else that loves trains because he can simply order the taxpayer to buy him billions of dollars worth of Amtrak and it’s not his money.

  9. “It is essential that we work to find common ground to make sure our extensive rail network keeps pace with a growing economy, that trucks are able to get goods to port and that rural and disadvantaged communities are given adequate resources use tax dollars to buy re-election votes

    Fixed.

  10. total and complete waste of money. as is every light rail project in every city in america. total waste.

  11. Ah, yes. The Rail Unification Plan.

  12. I love taking the train. I would pay more to take it if it was privatized.

  13. Why not privatize and exempt the railroads–and their stock & dividends–from all taxes, then allow repeal of current regulations rather than addition of new ones?

  14. Orange Trains Bad.

  15. Amtrak should be sold off to the highest bidder, or be sold off in bits and pieces. This is the government being in business again and that is not a good thing. The government does not need to do this job! If the marketplace will not pick up the business then the need should be satisfied another way. It may take a few years, but that is the cost of doing business, by business doing business, and not the cost of government doing business.

  16. Remember when the USA passed the Constitutional Amendment to —

    The United States shall Fund Amtrack…

    Ya; Me neither.

    Crony Socialism Strikes AGAIN!

  17. ho very it get it from its child names or nothing
    love it frim gbaby names

  18. Would somebody please send these people a pocket calculator?!

    Amtrak ridership was about 32.5 million trips per year, pre COVID. If ridership grows at historical level of 1.5% per year for the next 5 years, 2027 ridership will be 35 million and the cumulative 5-year ridership will be 170 million trips.

    $19 billion divided by 170 million trips equals $112 per trip.

    To summarize, every time a passenger boards an Amtrak train, it will cost taxpayers $112. Raise your hand if this makes sense to you.

  19. What Reason always forgets on this issue is that the railroads agreed to allow Amtrak preferential treatment on their rails to get out from under service requirements that they provide passenger rail. The railroads were rapacious monopolies that brought these requirements on themselves long, long ago. They agreed to the Amtrak law but now, having offloaded the cost on the taxpayers, they want to renege on the obligation.

    These so called “private” rails were heavily subsidized by states and the federal government in the 1800’s and they still are still subsidized today. If Reason is going to give a halo to the word “private” then it needs to be reserved for actual private businesses and not heavily regulated and subsidized oligarchies like freight rail.

    Transportation is a vital low margin business that often loses money. European trains are no exception. The UK is currently renationalizing its roads after all the private providers went tits up during COVID.

    There is a growing demand for intercity rail in the US and politicians can be expected satisfy it. Congressional bipartisan bills usually means that a national consensus has formed to spend money on something private companies won’t provide.

    Transportation has historically been part of government budgets. Don’t expect spending to be efficient unless you like having something to complain about.

    1. Where is this “growing demand for intercity rail” to which you refer? Evidence, please.

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