They may have tussled over homeland security, but there's one thing Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on: the importance of upgrading the nation's passenger rail system.
In a rare show of bipartisan collaboration, the House of Representatives yesterday passed H.R. 749, otherwise known as the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015 (PRRIA), which will reform the way Amtrak is run so that it operates more like a business instead of a government agency.
The bill, which enjoys the president's support, freezes federal funding of Amtrak at current levels for the next four years, but gives states more control over service and budgets within their borders.
Notably, it also separates the Northeast Corridor route between Boston, New York, and Washington, DC, from Amtrak's other long-distance routes. That will allow Amtrak to reinvest profits earned by the high-traffic route into services and infrastructure for Northeast passengers instead of using them to subsidize other, less profitable routes.
Finally, it streamlines environmental reviews involved in approving construction projects, eliminates unprofitable food and beverage subsidies, and for the first time allows pet-loving passengers to travel aboard trains with their cats and dogs.
Although the travel industry had hoped for extra, not frozen, Amtrak funding, it largely applauded the bill.
"Safe, efficient, and reliable passenger rail is critical for business travel. The time for reforming and improving our intercity passenger rail system is now," Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) Executive Director and COO Michael W. McCormick said in a statement. "While this legislation will not solve all of Amtrak's challenges, improvements to the Northeast Corridor (NEC) will be a crucial step in reducing traffic congestion that is costly for both our nation's business travelers and our overall economy. The NEC, which had its highest ridership ever in 2014, is an important mode of transportation for business travelers seeking an alternative to congested highways and airspaces."