John Howell’s Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Amtrak gains senate support

The Amtrak trip south was a refreshing reunion with rail travel. I haven’t made many opportunities for it this year.

The train rolled into Greenwood station exactly on time about nine and by the time it reached New Orleans about two thirty, it was an hour ahead of schedule. They can do that as the train nears its southern terminus. If it had arrived in Greenwood an hour early, I’d have missed it.

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New to the City of New Orleans’ route was an “Cross Country Cafe’” car. Formerly passengers dined in one car, snacked and lounged in another. The Cross Country Cafe’ is apparently an attempt to reduce overhead in Amtrak’s ongoing struggle with funding and costs. Mississippi Republican Senator Trent Lott and Senator Frank Lautenbury, a New Jersey Democrat, have just ridden herd on a bill to fund Amtrak for another six years. In a rare demonstration of bi-partisanship, the bill passed the Senate 70 to 22.

“America needs the whole package of transportation options …,” Lott said in a press release announcing the passage $11.4 billion Amtrak funding legislation. “With the challenges we face on the energy front, and with the growing congestion of our airports and highways, it’s clear investing in passenger rail is a forward-thinking strategy that will pay off in the long run,” the Senator continued.


The veto-proof majority was applauded by National Association of Rail Passengers (NARP) Executive Director Ross Capon. “The importance of passenger rail will only increase as the price of oil pushes towards $100 a barrel, increasing the cost of gas and making cheap airline flights a memory,” Capon said.

“We are appreciative of the efforts of Lautenberg and the bill’s other sponsor, Senator Trent Lott to press Senate leadership for floor time for the consideration of this bill,” Capon continued.  “They also led the floor debate in an eloquent and knowledgeable manner, staunchly defending the entire Amtrak network–both short distance and long distance rail service–against several destructive amendments which would have dismantled the national network.

“We trust that the leadership in the House of Representatives will hear the message that this strong, pro-Amtrak vote sends and draft companion legislation for passage in that body as soon as possible.”

As these lines are written on Monday, I am preparing for my return trip north. Amtrak leaves New Orleans at 1:45 p.m. and is scheduled back in Greenwood around 7:30.