High-speed rail is making a comeback. Following the lead of the House, the Senate passed
a five-year, $13 billion bill to boost funds for Amtrak and expand
passenger rail service on Wednesday, the first reauthorization bill
The legislation ...
High-speed rail is making a comeback. Following the lead of the House, the Senate passed a five-year, $13 billion bill to boost funds for Amtrak and expand passenger rail service on Wednesday, the first reauthorization bill since 1997:
The legislation authorizes $2.5 billion a year for Amtrak, almost double its current federal funding level. The money would cover operating and capital expenses, including equipment purchases and railroad repairs. About $1.4 billion would help pay down Amtrak's more than $3 billion in debt.
About $1.9 billion would fund a matching-grant program to encourage states to invest in rail expansion and repair.
The bill couldn't come at a better time. After repeated Republican funding cuts, Amtrak lost its ability to cope with high ridership. And thanks to rising gas prices, climate change, and traffic congestion, ridership increased this year by double-digits over 2007 totals.
What will the bill mean for Illinois commuters? Because funding for the legislation requires further congressional earmarking, that is still unknown. But as the Southern reports, we may get service between Chicago and the Quad-Cities in a few years:
Although money for the program hasn't yet been set aside, the program could mean Amtrak service between Chicago and the Quad-Cities by late 2011. [...]
In addition to setting up the framework for a Quad-Cities link that would also serve Iowa City, Des Moines and Omaha, the program could pave the way for Amtrak to stop in Rockford, with service extending to Dubuque, Iowa.
A Peoria stop also is under consideration.
Sen. Dick Durbin, a big Amtrak advocate, is thrilled with the progress. ''For the state of Illinois, this bill is essential,'' he said. ''The state now has the opportunity to access millions of dollars in federal funding to expand Amtrak service to communities where passenger rail is badly needed.'' All that's needed now is President Bush's John Hancock. Although he threatened to veto a previous Amtrak funding bill earlier this year, this iteration passed by a wide enough margin in both chambers to overcome a veto.