During the last few years, Amtrak undertook an ambitious plan to turnaround the troubled system. Under pressure from Congress, Amtrak moved to become free of federal operating support. This involved eliminating rail lines that were losing money.
When Amtrak called for the elimination of our train, Vermont leapt to action. Working with Amtrak, Vermont shortened the route, changed the schedule and put in place a train that is popular with travelers throughout Vermont, New England and the Nation.
More recently, Vermont identified a large market for rail travel. Last December, the Ethan Allen Express began running from New York City to Rutland Vermont. Now, millions of skiers, bikers and travelers from the city are just a pleasant five hour train ride from Vermont's beautiful lakes and mountains. Passenger rail is working for Vermont and we want it to grow.
To maintain our success, two things must happen. First, Amtrak must be given the tools to modernize. This will require one half cent of the gas tax imposed on motor fuels into an Amtrak Trust Fund.
Second, states must be granted the flexibility to use highway trust fund monies to maintain passenger rail. For our two trains, Vermont pays a share of the operating costs. Other states do the same. These states need this flexibility to ensure that passenger rail service is continued.
Finally, this flexibility should be extended to include local rail projects. This will allow states to improve and expand short freight rail lines. Successful commerce in our region depends on strong shortline railroads.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for this opportunity to testify.