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An Amtrak comeback?

Things are looking up for Amtrak. The House overwhelmingly approved nearly $15 billion for the national passenger railroad Wednesday, more than doubling its funding, just as ridership is at the highest point in its 37-history.

By Blogger for The Christian Science Monitor / June 13, 2008

Passengers wait to board the Silver Star Amtrak in Tampa, Fla.

Marjie Lambert/Miami Herald/MCT/FILE/NEWSCOM

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Things are looking up for Amtrak. The House overwhelmingly approved nearly $15 billion for the national passenger railroad Wednesday, more than doubling its funding, just as ridership is at the highest point in its 37-history.

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Wednesday's bipartisan bill passed 311-104, a wide enough majority to override the veto that the White House has promised, saying that the bill failed to hold Amtrak accountable. Similar legislation has also passed in the Senate, also by a veto-proof majority.

The House bill called for the creation of a high-speed rail between New York and Washington, a provision that the Senate bill lacked. The Associated Press details the difference between the two versions:

Unlike the Senate version, the House bill includes a requirement for the Department of Transportation to seek proposals from private companies to create a high-speed service that would take travelers from Washington to New York City in two hours or less. The idea has long been championed by [Florida Republican and prominent Amtrak critic John] Mica, who says the United States must catch up with European and Asian countries on high-speed rail travel.
Critics say the proposal would undermine Amtrak by peeling off its most valuable asset, the Northeast Corridor.
But Pennsylvania congressman Bill Shuster said provisions such as the one that open the door to private investment should help ease the concerns of fellow Republicans who have balked at supporting Amtrak.
But those provisions could complicate things when the House tries to work out a compromise bill with the Senate.

The bill comes just as ridership is hitting a record high. According to Reuters, the railroad saw ridership up 12.3 percent from a year earlier, and ticket sales up 15.6 percent. This is the sixth straight year of record numbers, Amtrak President Alex Kummant told the news agency. Mr. Kummant attributed about half that growth to rising gas prices.

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