Congressional Lack of Funding to End Passenger Rail Service in Texas

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Amtrak's daily train service to cities and towns in Texas will come to an end if Congress and the Bush administration slash funding as they have promised. Last year, 234,000 passengers traveled on the Amtrak Texas Eagle train.

The Texas Eagle population, while still on the endangered species list, continues to grow. However, a train called the Texas Eagle may be killed this year if Congress and the Bush administration slice funding for national passenger rail service.

“Americans need travel options nowadays,” according to Peter LeCody, president of Texas Rail Advocates, a non-profit organization based in Dallas that promotes expanded rail services. “Gas prices continue to escalate; air service to many cities and smaller communities has being pared back. National bus service is being trimmed, and Congress and the administration are planning to dismantle the national network system of passenger trains run by Amtrak. Frankly, it makes no sense. What we really need is expanded passenger rail service.”

President Bush's fiscal 2006 budget would eliminate all federal support for Amtrak. The House Appropriations Subcommittee with jurisdiction over Amtrak has proposed raising fiscal 2006 highway spending 5.4 percent and aviation spending 6.4 percent, but cut Amtrak funding 55 percent. “That would effectively kill all national Amtrak service except for the Northeast Corridor. Last year, over 25 million passengers traveled on Amtrak trains, up from 2004,” said LeCody. Amtrak’s lone Texas Eagle daily service saw a 9 percent increase in riders last year and a 5 percent increase in revenue.

“Let’s look at another statistic,” said LeCody. “234,000 passengers rode on the Amtrak Texas Eagle last year. They came from large cities like Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas and San Antonio and detrained in smaller cities and towns like Temple, Cleburne, Texarkana and Longview in Texas. Where are these passengers going to go next year when they have travel needs?”

“Doesn’t it seem a bit odd that while we are talking about expanding light rail, commuter and regional rail service in many parts of Texas, Congress is about to cut off the connectivity that a national rail network would offer,” said LeCody. “It’s not only about moving people from point A to point B, but the economic development that helps smaller towns and communities along the rail lines when you have transportation choices.”

“America has much to lose if Amtrak is not funded properly, said LeCody. “The management of Amtrak under Board Chairman David Laney and Amtrak President David Gunn during the last three years has done more to reform that organization and improve its efficiency and rider-ship than at any time in its 34 year history. Why would you want to decimate Amtrak now?

“Amtrak has been historically under-funded and spoon fed just enough by Congress to limp along year after year,” according to LeCody, who is also a director-at-large for the National Association of Railroad Passengers. “We need more frequent services, better equipment, and faster trains. Anyone who has traveled by rail in another country would think we still run a backwaters rail system. Congress and the administration must propose a dedicated source of national funding. National passenger rail service has been neglected for too long.”

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Peter Lecody