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House Passes Amtrak Bill; Includes Lipinski Amendment that Improves Boarding Procedures for All Americans (March 4, 2015)

With widespread bipartisan support, the House of Representatives passed the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015, the first Amtrak bill since October of 2008.  Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-3), the most senior member from Illinois on the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, supported the legislation, which includes his amendment that improves the boarding procedures for wheelchair users, bicyclists, and other non-motorized vehicle users. 

“My amendment clarifies the responsibilities of the Amtrak Inspector General as it looks at Amtrak boarding procedures and provides a report on improvements,” said Rep. Lipinski.  “Specifically, it would require that when assessing boarding procedures the Amtrak IG also considers the needs of passengers using non-motorized transportation, including all forms of wheelchairs and bicycles.”

An Amtrak Inspector General report issued last August found that less than 10% percent of Amtrak stations were ADA compliant, and recent research by mobility groups found that only 38% of Amtrak lines allow roll-on bikes with only 18% of stations on those lines even allowing for that service.

“Given that Amtrak has had issues complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act in terms of station infrastructure, it’s just common sense that we clarify that it needs to take a hard look at its boarding procedures to ensure that all customers are well-served and to the fullest extent of the law,” said Rep. Lipinski. “And as a bicyclist, I know that Amtrak can do more to increase ridership and revenue by making it easier to take bikes on trains.”

Congressman Lipinski’s amendment received the full support of The United Spinal Association, National Disabilities Right Network, AARP, The League of American Bicyclists, Rails to Trails Conservancy, Easter Seals, People for Bikes, and other organizations.

The Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015 also includes much needed reforms to Amtrak’s business model and the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan program, which will unlock a potential financing source for the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) program and help commuter rail agencies with infrastructure improvements, including the installation of positive train control.  The RRIF program would now allow commuter rail agencies to pledge a revenue stream as collateral, which improves the interest rate and explicitly allows positive train control as an eligible project.

The bill also contains provisions extending Buy America requirements to RRIF projects, which Congressman Lipinski has been working on for more than five years.  It ensures that the $35 billion loan program is investing dollars in American materials and American jobs.

“Overall, this bill shows us what Congress can do when we work together to build consensus and compromise to get things done to advance our nation’s infrastructure system,” stated Rep. Lipinski.