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The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved close to $15 billion yesterday to promote rail travel, relieve bottlenecks and to begin investment in a new generation of high speed rail. The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (HR 6003), which passed by a veto-proof vote of 311 – 104, would invest $14.9 billion in Amtrak and developmental grants for intercity rail over the next five years.
“Americans are searching for alternatives to paying high prices at the pump and the headaches of air travel. This legislation is a good start and it saves billions that would otherwise be spent on expanding existing airports and highways” said Diane E. Brown, Executive Director of the Arizona Public Interest Research Group (Arizona PIRG).
Amtrak reported the fifth straight record year for ridership in 2007. Meanwhile, total vehicle miles for cars and trucks fell for the first time since the oil crisis of the 1970s.
As with the U.S. Senate bill which passed 70-22 last fall, the U.S. House bill establishes a competitive state grant process for high-speed corridors with matching grants of up to 80 percent.
Both bills also include necessary funding for 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. The U.S. House and U.S. Senate will assign a conference committee to reconcile differences in the bills and get a final product to the President, who has threatened a veto.
“Congress has recognized that we need to be investing in the trends of the future, and that means more and faster rail travel. The President should approve this much needed and widely-supported legislation as soon as it reaches his desk,” said Brown.
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