Improving America's Passenger Rail System

<p>Amtrak is experiencing growing ridership despite a dismal track record for service. A new measure being considered in the U.S. Senate could finally help bring the nation's passenger rail service into the 21st century.</p>
July 3, 2007, 2pm PDT | Christian Madera | @cpmadera
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"Amtrak ridership is growing across the country.

In Michigan, it's exploding.

The number of passengers on the Grand Rapids-Chicago route alone jumped 75 percent between 2001 and 2006. That increase is something to whistle about.

But even as the number of train enthusiasts has grown, so has their frustration. Delays and poor service continue to dog Amtrak, driven in large part by overcrowded tracks that accommodate both freight and passenger service.

The nation's rail infrastructure is in need of an overhaul. With gas prices that make a fill-up feel like a tooth extraction, this is the perfect time to look to public transit. Amtrak is a crucial piece of the nation's energy-saving puzzle.

The agency's future has always ridden on uncertain funding and received mixed signals. Presidents at some points have called for no federal contribution -- which would be a death knell for Amtrak -- only to have Congress save the day. A year-to-year scrap for survival is no way to build a robust national passenger rail system.

Congress would do far better to fund Amtrak the way it funds roads, in multi-year budgets that allow planning, consistency and steady improvement.

A measure in the U.S. Senate would accomplish those goals. The bill would shell out $11.4 billion in federal funds for Amtrak and other passenger rail services over six years and provide another $7.4 billion for rail development. The funds would require new on-time service standards. Those improvements are necessary to justify the investment."

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Published on Monday, July 2, 2007 in Kalamazoo Gazette
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