Friday, September 21, 2012

Congress hears of Amtrak's "high return"

Written by  Luther S. Miller, Senior Consulting Editor

Taxpayers are getting their money's worth from their modest investment in Amtrak, especially when passenger rail spending is compared with highway outlays, Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman told a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing Thursday.

"Passenger rail has received only a tiny portion of the annual federal transportation budget," Boardman reminded the committee. "To give just one example, in the past four years the federal government has appropriated $53.3 billion from the General Fund of the Treasury to bail out the Highway Trust Fund. That's almost 30% more than the total federal expenditure on Amtrak since 1971 [$39.3 billion]."

Boardman also told the committee: "Federal expenditures on Amtrak during the past 41 years pale next to what "virtually every one of our European and Asian competitors has spent on passenger rail. But Amtrak has provided a high return on the limited Federal investment we've received. Our aim is to continue to do that in the years ahead."

In releasing Boardman's testimony, Amtrak pointed out that 30.2 million passengers traveled in FY 2011 on more than 300 daily trains—at speeds up to 150 mph— that connect 46 states, the District of Columbia and three Canadian Provinces. Amtrak noted that it operates intercity trains in partnership with 15 states and contracts with 13 commuter rail agencies to provide a variety of services.