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Senate takes up transit security bill

(The following article by Herb Jackson was posted on the Bergen Record website on February 27.)

WASHINGTON -- The Senate begins debating a security bill today that New Jersey's Frank Lautenberg hopes will include $400 million for safety improvements to tunnels under the Hudson River and the East River.

Among other things, the funds would update evacuation stairways that are nearly a century old so they are wide enough for escaping passengers to climb up while rescue personnel head down.

The Senate is beginning what will likely be several days of debate on implementing recommendations from the 9/11 Commission, and Lautenberg, D-N.J., plans to attach provisions in a $1 billion rail security bill he's co-sponsoring.

The action comes as a subcommittee Lautenberg chairs began working on a bill providing $19 billion over six years for operating subsidies and capital improvements to Amtrak nationwide.

That bill, which has bipartisan sponsorship from Lautenberg and Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., was praised by transportation officials from Pennsylvania, Oregon and Wisconsin at a hearing this morning.

But the Bush administration continues to insist that Amtrak should operate more like a business and pay its own way.

“The administration believes operating subsidies should be eliminated,” Joseph H. Boardman, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, told the surface transportation subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

He also said the states should pick up more of the cost of operating regional lines, but Lautenberg said a national policy supporting passenger rail is essential to reduce pollution and congestion and to provide maximum flexibility in the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

The Lautenberg-Lott bill would provide about $1.9 billion in annual subsidies each year for six years, up from $1.3 billion in the current fiscal year. Bush’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year would provide only $800 million.

The bill also would provide an additional $1.3 billion in bonding each year for capital improvements, including 100 percent federal funding to bring the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington up to a “state of good repair.” About 6,000 commuters from Bergen and Passaic counties use the Northeast Corridor each day to get into and out of New York on NJ Transit trains.

Lautenberg said the Amtrak bill has broad support on the full committee and he expects to see it advance to the full Senate this spring.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

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