Senate OKs record Amtrak funding

Appropriations Committee also opposes Mexican truck program

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved legislation in mid-July that makes critical investments in Amtrak and rail safety. The legislation also would effectively kill the Mexican truck pilot program.

The bill appropriates $1.816 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration, which is $254 million over FY 2008, and $725 million over the President's request.

The legislation also approves $1.55 billion for Amtrak. This amount is $225 million above FY 2008, and $750 million above the President's request. Capital investment in Amtrak is increased to $1 billion ­ the highest single-year appropriation to address Amtrak's aging capital plant and rail cars.

"In an era of record gas prices and congested highways, the committee rejects the Administration's irresponsible cuts, and funds Amtrak at a level that reflects the vital role it plays in our national transportation system. Operating assistance is increased to $550 million which will keep all Amtrak routes operational and ensure the availability of funds for the retroactive wage payments called for under Amtrak's newly-ratified labor contracts. The bill also provides $100 million for capital assistance to States to help spawn state-supported passenger rail services and eliminate hindrances to improved or expanded passenger rail service, including Amtrak," according to a Committee press release.

"This legislation is all about making smart investments that will pay real dividends for the American people in both the short and long-term," said Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "Unfortunately, even with the skyrocketing price of gas, and with mass transit being used at record levels, the President has proposed to cut Amtrak by $525 million. This legislation rejects the President's ill-advised cuts and provides badly needed funds to build and repair mass transit systems and highways and to help Americans find housing. I applaud Chairman Murray and the subcommittee for crafting a bill that reflects the needs of all Americans."

Also included in the legislation was a provision which kills funding for the Mexican truck pilot program, which allows Mexican truck companies to send vehicles more than 25 miles across the United States border. The Teamsters believe the pilot program creates a dangerous precedent on American highways because Mexican trucks and truck drivers are not held to the same safety standards as their U.S. counterparts.

The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), removes the Bush administration's pretense that it can lawfully operate a pilot program to allow Mexican trucks to travel freely on U.S. highways. It passed by a vote of 20-9.

A federal law took effect on Dec. 26 that bans funding for the Bush administration's pilot program allowing dangerous Mexican trucks into the U.S. interior. In brazen defiance of that and other laws, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) claimed it didn't understand the intent of the law. FMCSA refused to shut down the pilot project that had begun shortly after Labor Day.

"This amendment makes it as clear as day that Congress wants the border closed to dangerous trucks," Hoffa said.

"The Bush administration apparently doesn't give a damn if Americans get killed on the highways," Hoffa said. "We're grateful that Sen. Dorgan and the members of the Appropriations Committee do give a damn."



© 2008 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen