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With a new administration in D.C., it's time to think outside of the box because passenger rail's survival just may depend on it

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Real Rail Agenda for the 114th Congress

As a new Congress begins its session, here are some areas it should tackle when it comes to passenger rail re-authorization:

State corridors and competition
I sincerely hope that Congress is serious about letting the states the freedom to select other operators. The new bill has to figure out how state corridors are handled, and there are two options: Uphold the Section 209 measures as laid out in the 2008 law or strike down the measures. 

If Congress decides to leave the provisions as they are, states should be allowed to have greater flexibility if they want to dump Amtrak so there won't be a repeat of the 2013 scarefests.

On the other hand, if the feds decide that funding state-supported trains is their responsibility, then, Congress has to look to Germany as an example on how to protect the states.

When it comes to bidding for passenger routes, Congress would be wise to consider setting up separate processes for corridors and long distance routes.

Northeast Corridor
The 2011 proposal that Ignacio Jayanti put forward to the 112th Congress was practical but got muddled by cries of "privatization." Having someone else fix up the crumbling infrastructure will solve the "Hudson River Tunnels will collapse in 20 years problem."

National outlook
Letting public and private entities compete against Amtrak should be a top priority for a Congress that purports to advocate smaller government. Grand bargaining could result in the the spinoff of NEC infrastructure from operations as mentioned above but could keep other operators off Amtrak's prized jewel while the national operator has to give up routes in other parts of the country.

Finally, Congress and the White House should lay the groundwork for a new national rail network because it would far more practical, connect far more parts of the country, and may cost much less money than having 10-15 separate, disjointed corridors.

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