IT TOOK rising gas prices, traffic congestion, and growing concerns about climate change to boost Amtrak's fortune. Passenger rail service is a mode of transportation that is right for this time in America.
Congress agrees. It has voted to boost funding for the intercity rail network and expand rail service as more Americans turn to trains to escape high gasoline prices. The Senate and House have approved a five-year, $13 billion Amtrak funding bill that includes provisions to improve railroad safety.
The momentum for the developments comes as Amtrak ridership is up. The rail firm set another record for passengers in the fiscal year that just ended, and with more than 28 million riders, Amtrak is looking at a double-digit percentage rise.
So now, lawmakers are on board to nearly double Amtrak's current federal funding level. The $2.5 billion a year would cover operating and capital expenses, including equipment purchases and railroad repairs.
The legislation also includes financial reporting standards for Amtrak that are designed to make its management more accountable. Earlier this year, President Bush threatened to veto a previous Amtrak funding bill, but Congress passed this bill with margins large enough to suggest an override.
A pragmatic response to the times should make that unnecessary.