U.S. Capitol Building; Capitol Building; Washington D.C.The U.S. House passed a six-year surface transportation reauthorization and reform bill that calls for more than $300 billion in federal funding for highway, transit and rail programs. If approved by the full Congress and signed by President Obama, the bill would become the first long-term transportation law passed since 2005.

The Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 (the STRR Act) was approved by a vote of 363 to 64. It was introduced by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R – Pa.), Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D – Ore.), Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Sam Graves (R – Mo.), and Highways and Transit Subcommittee Ranking Member Eleanor Holmes Norton (D – D.C.).

“The STRR Act provides strong reforms and policies to help us improve America’s transportation system, and now we can get to work on resolving the differences with the Senate bill and carry a final measure over the goal line,” Shuster said in a press release.

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Amtrak LogoSMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch has sent a message to every member of the U.S. House of Representatives seeking their support of a “clean” Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015 (PRRIA) bill, which would authorize and fund Amtrak.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unanimously approved this bipartisan legislation (H.R. 749) Feb. 12.

The Transportation Division is asking all SMART members to contact their representative today and ask them to support a “clean” PRRIA bill when it is called this week.

A webpage created by Transportation Division Colorado State Legislative Director Carl Smith enables SMART members, using their nine-digit ZIP code, to find their U.S. representative and email them a request for their support of a “clean” PRRIA bill. It is also provides their representative’s telephone number to contact their office by telephone.

The link to the webpage is here.

Risch’s message is below.

“On behalf of the SMART Transportation Division – our nation’s largest railroad labor union – I urge you to support a clean version of H.R. 749, the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015 (PRRIA), when it is considered on the House floor this week.

“This important legislation funds and sustains a key component of our national transportation system and we commend Chairman Shuster, Ranking Member DeFazio, Subcommittee Chairman Denham and Subcommittee Ranking Member Capuano for their leadership in crafting this bipartisan, compromise legislation.

“We fully support this legislation despite having concerns that the bill does not provide Amtrak with the funding levels it needs to make needed repairs and upgrades to an aging system. As Amtrak’s annual budget requests have established, its aging fleet needs replacing as the system faces significant and disruptive renovations to tracks, bridges, tunnels and other infrastructure in the coming years.

“We also urge you to oppose any amendments that would undermine this bipartisan compromise. In particular, we strongly oppose any amendments that would seek to privatize parts of the Amtrak system, eliminate long distance routes, contract out important work, including food and beverage services, or otherwise harm Amtrak’s ability to operate effectively.

“This bill is an important step in bringing long-term stability and investment to America’s passenger rail operations. Once again, we urge you to support a clean PRRIA bill and look forward to working with you to create the transportation network that Americans want and deserve.”

capitolHouse Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and other committee leaders yesterday introduced the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015 (PRRIA), which would address infrastructure needs, transparency and other issues for Amtrak.

“By compelling Amtrak to operate more like a true business, cutting red tape, and opening the door to more private sector resources, we can make some long overdue improvements to passenger rail transportation in the United States,” Shuster said in a press release.

Raed the complete story at Progressive Railroading.

In a state-of-the-union speech uncharacteristically short on laundry list projects and policies, President Obama Tuesday night conspicuously singled out high-speed rail as “the most reliable way to move people,” saying that “within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail, which could allow you go places in half the time it takes to travel by car.

“For some [high-speed rail] trips, it will be faster than flying — without the pat-down,”said the president. “As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.”

The White House press office said the president will release more details on his desires for high-speed rail, transit and Amtrak improvements when he delivers his fiscal-year 2012 budget request to Congress in early February.

“Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do,” said the president in his state-of-the-union speech. “China is building faster trains … We have to do better. America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad.”

Many Republicans, however, have signaled they will oppose Obama’s high-speed rail spending proposals and also seek to reduce federal subsidies for Amtrak during congressional budget deliberations.

However, the chairman of the House Rail Subcommittee, Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), indicated he is not opposed to more spending on high-speed rail and Amtrak, but has reservations. Shuster said:

“The Obama administration’s high-speed rail grants, rather than focusing on a small number of projects with the most potential for success, have been spread among numerous projects. Most of these have been grants to Amtrak, and nearly all are slower-speed rail projects.

“In addition, the administration has virtually ignored the one region of the United States where high-speed rail makes the most sense and would have the most national benefit — the Northeast Corridor between Washington, New York and Boston. Amtrak’s Acela currently serves this route, but at an average speed of only 83 mph.”

And Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the subcommittee’s parent, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, has voiced support for more high-speed rail funding in the Northeast Corridor and for a limited number of high-speed rail projects — but with a caveat: private sector investment in addition to federal funding.