U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) yesterday offered an amendment to H.R. 6003, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 to encourage collaboration between Amtrak and local and regional commuter rail agencies on train schedules and routing in shared rail corridors.  The U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 6003 by a vote of 311 to 104 after voting to include Smith’s amendment.

Local commuter rail transit agencies often share rails with Amtrack, and several agencies across the nation have made substantial investments in tracks and signal capacity in shared rail corridors to enhance commuter rail service.  However, Amtrak’s first right to schedule their service often causes delays to commuter rail passengers and undermines the on-time performance of commuter rail systems.  High gas prices increase demand for passenger commuter rails, so efficient and effective use of rail infrastructure is critical. 

“Amtrak should work in collaboration with commuter rail carriers to facilitate the most efficient flow of intercity Amtrak and commuter rail passengers.  In the Puget Sound region, Sound Transit worked with BNSF and invested substantial sums of public funds in the rail corridor between Tacoma and Everett.

Investments like these all around the country benefit freight rail, Amtrak and commuter rail passengers.  Amtrak should respect these investments and work with our local commuter rail agencies to help maximize commuter rail service so commuters and taxpayers can see improved returns on our public investment,” Smith said.

Smith’s amendment does not replace or affect the existing process for adding additional passenger service on freight rail networks, but rather simply requires Amtrak to engage in good-faith discussions on scheduling with commuter rail agencies to ensure that passenger movement is maximized and a balance is struck between Amtrak’s intercity rail service and commuter rail service.

H.R. 6003 must be approved by the Senate before the President can sign it into law.