Amtrak is a vital part of America's transportation network in both rural and urban areas. Due to increasing highway congestion and air quality requirements in urban areas and the need for more transportation options in rural areas, reliance on rail passenger service will most certainly increase.
Given these facts, the question I believe is not whether the nation needs to support rail passenger service, but how.
Our national passenger rail system is facing serious financial challenges. If something is not done to put Amtrak on a solid basis so it can repair its track, improve its rolling stock and speed its service, we will have more congestion, crumbling highways, dirtier air and wasted energy. What this nation needs is not only good highways but a good passenger rail service.
To meet this objective, Congress must make a significant investment in Amtrak's capital infrastructure.
There are several ways Congress can do this. First, we can give states the flexibility to use their federal transportation dollars, such as their CMAQ and STP dollars, for Amtrak service. Last year I offered an amendment on the National Highway System bill that would allow states to use their federal transportation dollars on Amtrak if they choose to do so.
This language overwhelmingly passed the Senate but was dropped in conference with the house. At the request of states who have lost Amtrak service, this language was later included in the FY 1997 Department of Transportation funding bill.
I am pleased that Senator Moynihan's ISTEA reauthorization bill includes my flexibility language allowing states to use their STP and CMAQ dollars for Amtrak. I am also pleased the Administration adopted my language as part of their ISTEA proposal.
I urge this Committee that whatever bill is reported to the full Committee, to include this important eligibility for passenger rail service.
Second, and the most important in my mind, is giving Amtrak a secure and reliable source of capital funding. Today, Senator Moynihan and will be introducing legislation that would transfer one half cent of the 4.3 cents-per-gallon motor fuels tax now being deposited into the General Fund to a new trust fund for Amtrak.
The fund, totaling $3.6 billion, would allow Amtrak to make the capital improvements necessary to provide for a modern, efficient and financially viable passenger rail system. The one-half cent would revert back to the General Fund after five years.
This legislation would provide Amtrak with a reliable capital funding source, no different than what highways and other modes of transportation currently receive.
It would allow Amtrak to do long-term planning, to enhance the corporation's ability to raise funds in the private market, and to make the necessary repairs to its track and improvements to its equipment. Creating a trust fund for Amtrak is absolutely essential if we are to have a financial sound national passenger rail system.
In closing, I would like to remind my colleagues of the importance of keeping a national passenger rail system.
If we are to fulfill our ISTEA mandate, "to develop a national intermodal transportation system that is economically efficient and environmentally sound", then we must deploy a comprehensive, transportation network that includes a financially stable passenger rail system as an integral component.
As Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, with jurisdiction over the gas tax rates for ISTEA, I am eager to work with your Committee to ensure that Amtrak's financial status is reversed.
It is my view that capital funding for Amtrak must be part of any sensible ISTEA bill. I am pleased the Administration heeded my call for a capital trust fund for Amtrak and included a plan to do so in their ISTEA bill.
My Committee can put the funding mechanism for Amtrak in place but it will require all of us (EPW, Commerce, Finance) working together to make Amtrak sound. I am hopeful that we can make significant strides toward this goal in the 1997 ISTEA reauthorization bill. I look forward to working with your Committee on this issue.