Senate Approves Amtrak Funding Authorization

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Senate voted 74-24 to approve legislation boosting funding to improve and expand intercity passenger rail in New Jersey and across the nation last week.

The bills, authored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), will increase funding for Amtrak over the next five years, require new safety controls on trains that help reduce crashes and allow states to regulate solid waste processing facilities along rail lines.

“As Amtrak ridership continues to hit record levels, our bill gives passenger rail the resources it needs to meet increased demands,” said Sen. Lautenberg, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Surface Transportation. “Our bill also modernizes safety laws and decreases risk with smarter regulation and new technology.  Now that both the House and Senate have passed this package, it is time for the president to sign it into law and give Americans the rail service they deserve.”

The president threatened to veto a previous Amtrak funding bill earlier this year, but this legislation passed both houses by a large enough margin to suggest it is veto-proof. Funding for the legislation would require further action from Congress, which is not expected to happen before the end of the year.

The bills authorize Amtrak for the first time since 2002.  It also permanently extends New Jersey’s authority to regulate solid waste dumps in rail sites, which courts have prevented.  Specifically, the legislation:

• Authorizes $13.06 billion over five years for passenger rail— more than $2.6 billion annually for Amtrak, intercity passenger rail, and high speed rail programs, which is almost double what the U.S. is currently spending;

• Requires a collaborative plan for bringing the Northeast Corridor, which extends from Trenton to Newark in New Jersey and runs from Newport News, Va. to Boston, Mass., to a state-of-good-repair by 2018;

• Requires Amtrak stations to comply with disability accessibility standards and authorizes funding for such improvements;

• Allows states to clean up solid waste processing facilities on rail sites, which have avoided regulation through a loophole in federal law;

• Applies state standards for air pollution, water pollution and fire safety to transfer facilities handling and storing solid waste in open dumps;

• Requires a federal study and regulation on use of cell phones and other device distractions in locomotive cabs; and

• Creates a National Transportation Safety Board office to assist families of passengers following rail disasters.

Amtrak operates more than 100 trains on a daily basis in New Jersey.  Ridership continues to set record highs with more than 1.6 million people traveling on Amtrak in the state during Fiscal Year 2007.  Amtrak continues to partner with NJ Transit to make improvements to tracks and stations, such as Trenton, Metropark and Newark Penn Station.

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