Legislative Outlook

President Signs 2008 Rail Safety and Amtrak Funding Authorization Bill

Fri. October 03, 2008

Without fanfare, President George W. Bush on October 16, 2008 signed into law H.R. 2095, the rail safety and Amtrak funding authorization bill. Though Bush did not support this legislation, it passed in Congress by veto-proof votes. The bill authorizes funding for Amtrak for five years; what Amtrak actually gets will depend on how much is actually appropriated by Congress.  And that will depend on who becomes the next U.S. president: Senator Barack Obama voted for it, Senator John McCain voted against.

Posted October 17, 2008

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Comprehensive Rail Safety and Amtrak Funding Authorization Bills Win Senate Approval, Now on President’s Desk

By a vote of 74-24, the Senate on Wednesday, October 1, passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 and its companion bill, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.  The legislation tightens rail safety protection and authorizes $13.1 billion for Amtrak over five years.

Sen. Barack Obama voted yes.  Sen. John McCain voted no.

The two bills, passed earlier by the House and packaged together, now await President Bush’s signature. 

The rail safety legislation has been termed the “most comprehensive rail safety bill in more than 30 years. “  Among other things, it prohibits carriers from interfering with medical treatment of injured employees; mandates installation of positive train control; and offers railroads incentives to install electronically-controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes and switch position indicators.

For Amtrak, the legislation sets out a “blueprint” to protect Amtrak and expand intercity passenger service.  It includes a five-year cumulative $13.1 billion federal subsidy of the carrier; seed money for development of additional high-speed rail corridors; and directs the Surface Transportation Board to fine host freight railroads that delay Amtrak trains.

The authors of the bill were Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).  The vote shows how each of the candidates would treat transportation issues as president, said Oberstar:  “Obama will mean that when the Congress votes for funding we’ll have a partner in the White House.  It means we won’t have to fight.  With McCain we’ll start where the Bush administration left off…it means an uphill fight  instead of going forward.”

Sen. Obama himself wrote in a letter dated October 1, 2008, he and vice presidential candidate Joe Biden were cosponsors of the Amtrak bill "and we will continue fighting for Amtrak when we're elected."  Read the full letter.

Posted October 3, 2008

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