U.S. House leaders offered their vision for the future of Amtrak on Thursday, with a bill that calls for more autonomy for the Northeast Corridor, while requiring an end to federal subsidies for food and beverage services.
The measure, the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015, is sponsored by the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. It is virtually identical to a bill that passed the committee unanimously late last year but did not come to a vote in the full House.
The bill would grant Amtrak's request to use operating profits from the Northeast Corridor on improvements to that Washington-to-Boston corridor, rather than supporting money-losing long-distance routes elsewhere.
Last year, the NEC profit was nearly $400 million, Amtrak said, while the operating deficit of the long-distance routes was about $600 million.
The bill proposes to eliminate Amtrak's losses in its food and beverage services within five years, as Amtrak has promised to do.
In recent years, Amtrak has been losing about $80 million a year on food and beverage services, 99 percent of that on its long-distance routes. Cafe cars on the NEC break even or make a small profit, Amtrak says.
The new House bill would provide about $1.4 billion for Amtrak next year, rising to $1.5 billion by fiscal 2019. It also would provide $300 million per year in infrastructure investments, half of it for the NEC.
This year, Amtrak received $1.39 billion.
By comparison, President Obama's budget proposal for 2016 seeks $2.45 billion for Amtrak.
Amtrak called the House bill "a bipartisan passenger rail reform bill that is needed to sustain and advance the growth of passenger rail in America."
The bill is sponsored by committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R., Pa.), and Reps. Peter DeFazio (D., Ore.), Jeff Denham (R., Calif.), and Michael Capuano (D., Mass.)