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President Bush signed legislation today that will strengthen the nation's intercity passenger rail network to accommodate record ridership and make possible new routes. The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, which was supported by wide bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate, authorizes close to $13 billion over five years to promote rail travel, relieve bottlenecks and begin investment in a new generation of high speed rail.
"This an important and timely commitment from Congress and the administration," said Alex Nelson, representative for the Arizona Public Interest Research Group (Arizona PIRG), "America's economic competitors in Europe and Asia are spending tens of billions for networks of energy-efficient high speed rail that can travel over 200 mph. In an age of oil scarcity, we cannot afford to fall further behind."
Amtrak posted double-digit growth this year and the fifth straight record year for ridership, carrying over 28.7 million passengers. Meanwhile total vehicle miles for cars and trucks fell for the first time since the oil crisis of the 1970s.
The authorization includes much-needed funding for rail infrastructure repairs and investment in improved efficiency, unlike past passenger rail allocations which barely provided for operations along the system while long-term sustainability suffered.
Along with increased funding, the legislation will establish a competitive state grant process for high-speed corridors with matching grants of up to 80 percent. New highway projects typically receive federal matching money equaling this 80 percent level of cost sharing, while public transportation projects have typically received, at best, a 50 percent match.
"America needs to invest in the trends of the future, and that means more and faster rail travel. Anyone who has been to a gas station or airport lately can see that," said Nelson.
The authorization passed in conjunction with new safety regulations that will require more rest for rail workers and new braking technology to avoid collisions.
The bill passed by overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate. In the House, the vote was 377 to 38. In the Senate, the 74 to 24 margin was also more than enough to overcome a presidential veto if the President had refused to sign the legislation.
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