In a letter sent on Wednesday to members of the House-Senate conference committee on the Fiscal 2010 transportation, housing and urban development appropriations bill, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) and the Midwest High Speed Rail Association (MHSRA) called on Congressional leaders to protect and enhance passenger train service by adopting the House-passed $4 billion for high-speed rail and by fully funding Amtrak.
The letter also opposed a Senate-passed provision that would essentially shut down Amtrak by March 31, 2010 unless the railroad accepted guns as checked baggage by then. The two associations urged that any response to the Wicker (R-Miss) amendment take the form of a mandated study that would identify the relevant cost and logistical issues.
"We saw in 2008, when gas prices rose above $4 a gallon, how inadequately the nation's passenger train and transit providers were equipped to handle a surge in ridership," said Ross Capon, president of NARP. "High gas prices will return when the economy improves, and Amtrak must be funded at a level that allows them to expand capacity."
NARP and MHSRA called upon Congress to designate half ($2 billion) of the high-speed rail funding for the acquisition of new passenger train cars.
NARP also released a fleet expansion proposal; a blueprint that addresses the lengthy lead-times required for ordering new equipment, and will allow Amtrak to start working now to meet future needs. This proposal is available online.
The two associations' response to the Wicker Amendment was based on the diffuse nature of Amtrak's network of stations and the variety of configurations for storage of baggage. The withholding of all funding for a service that is vital to so many Americans, based on an unfunded mandate with unknown costs, is simply unacceptable, the groups explained.