Washington — The House of Representatives will vote on legislation Wednesday that would require Amtrak to determine the feasibility of implementing a new high-speed service from New York City to Boston that would likely cross Connecticut but make no stops in the state.
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., as an amendment to an Amtrak funding authorization bill, would also require the passenger rail company to study how it might implement a new, non-stop, high-speed service from Washington, D.C., to New York.
If approved, the amendment would require Amtrak to study the estimated trip time, ridership, revenue, total cost, capacity “and other metrics” for the new service as well as the impact on existing Amtrak and commuter rail services and on the Northeast Corridor infrastructure. According to Mica’s amendment, Amtrak would have six months to finish the study and the rail company’s Board of Directors 90 days to consider implementing the service.
Mica press secretary James Rockas said the new high-speed rail line from New York to Boston would “in all likelihood” cut across Connecticut but not make any stops in the state.
There was no immediate response from the Connecticut Department of Transportation to Mica’s proposal.
The House plans to finish work on the Passenger Rail Reform and Reinvestment Act Wednesday. The bill would authorize nearly $8 billion for Amtrak over the next five years and set up a new system to safeguard money set aside for the Northeast corridor, which is often raided to shore up other routes.
The bill provides about $982 million per year for Amtrak’s national network and another $470 million annually for its popular Northeast routes that includes service to Connecticut.
Amtrak has historically received about $1 billion per year from the federal government for operations and construction projects.
In previous Amtrak bills, some Republicans have pushed to privatize the Northeast Corridor service, which is the only route that is profitable for the company, but their efforts were pushed back by Democrats and Northeast Republicans.
There was no effort to include the controversial privatization language in the latest funding bill.
Instead, the bill would require Amtrak to reinvest revenues generated on the Northeast Corridor instead of supporting other non-profitable routes.
“Historically, it has been redistributed to other places,” said Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, of the Northeast Corridor revenues. “The result is we have chronic underinvestment in the Northeast corridor.”
The bill also reinstates a $600 million railroad grant program for states like Connecticut that had been eliminated in the last Amtrak authorization bill.
Dogs and cats on the rails
Esty sits on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that crafted the Amtrak bill. She said she supports it, but would have preferred it include safety features. The last Amtrak authorization bill was paired with a rail safety bill.
Esty said she raised the issue “as a serious concern” when the bill was considered by committee.
The bill also authorizes Amtrak to conduct a pilot program that would allow dogs and cats on “specifically designated railcars.”
“The animal must be in a kennel sized in accordance to Amtrak’s requirements for carry-on baggage,” the bill says. “The passenger will pay a fee that, in the aggregate, covers the full costs of the pilot program.”
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., has been promoting legislation that would allow pets on trains since he was unable to take his French bulldog on an Amtrak train several years ago.
Supported by the Illinois state government, Amtrak inaugurated a pet service on two routes in the state last year. Amtrak says the experiment is a success.
Spokesman Marc Magliari said the trains carried 145 pets last year “without a single complaint.” The one-way fare for the traveling animals is $25.
Denham press secretary Jordan Langdon said the bill “reiterates the support of Congress for the current pilot program and expansion of the program across additional routes.”
Supporters of the “Pets on Trains Act” include the Humane Society of the United States.
“Millions of American families have beloved pets, and allowing them to travel by train will support the human-animal bond,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States.
But not a single Connecticut lawmaker has co-sponsored Denham’s bill.
“I’ve had conversations with my constituents about this,” Esty said. “I think we need to see the pros and cons.”