WASHINGTON - In a rare burst of bipartisanship, the House moved Wednesday to boost Amtrak's popular service between Boston and Washington while giving states a greater say in the local routes they help subsidize.
The bill, approved by a vote of 316-101, authorizes $7.2 billion in federal subsidies for passenger rail, including $1.7 billion a year over four years in subsidies for Amtrak. That's nearly the same as current spending levels, disappointing Amtrak supporters who had urged a significant increase to help the railroad address its deteriorating infrastructure.
But in a compromise between Democrats and Republicans, the bill separates Amtrak's Northeast Corridor service between Boston and Washington from its long-distance routes. That would allow Amtrak to use profits from the moneymaking corridor for improvements that could enhance service on the route. Amtrak officials have long complained that they've had to use Northeast Corridor profits to subsidize 15 unprofitable long-distance routes around the country.
The bill would also give officials in 19 states "a seat at the table" with Amtrak when deciding changes and budgets for service in their states, said Rep. Bill Shuster (R., Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. And it directs Amtrak to make changes in the financial information it provides state and local governments and the public so that the information is more "transparent," he said.
The bill also includes a provision by Rep. Jeff Denham (R., Calif.) that would allow passengers to bring pets with them.
The White House said in a statement earlier in the week that it supports passage of the bill because it would improve Amtrak service, but complained that the measure doesn't provide enough money and lacks provisions to improve safety.