Muckraker: Grist on Politics

The Senate this week voted 74-24 to approve the Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act, which would boost funding for Amtrak. With high gas prices and tough economic times pushing more Americans to ride the rails, Congress is aiming to improve rail infrastructure.

The five-year, $13 billion bill would fund new safety measures for trains, like collision-avoidance technology, plus cover operating and capital expenses and help pay down Amtrak’s current $3 billion debt.

But while the bill authorizes $2.5 billion a year for Amtrak — almost double the amount the passenger rail system currently gets in federal funding — a separate bill is needed to actually appropriate those funds. That will probably have to wait until next year. Another $1.9 billion in the bill is for a “matching-grant program” that would encourage states to pony up part of the funding for rail expansion and repair.

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The House passed the bill last week, so now it goes to President Bush’s desk. He’s threatened to veto Amtrak bills in the past, but this bill passed both bodies of Congress with enough votes to override.