For Amtrak, Santa has been nice all year – if you forget the numerous and vicious attacks on Amtrak by outgoing House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica.
As we look back on 2012, Mica’s attacks were primarily theater, for the benefit of his conservative base, with about as much chance of Amtrak funding being cancelled, its Northeast Corridor being privatized or its higher-speed plans curtailed as there is of Santa landing on a snowy rooftop above Mica’s Florida home.
The realty of 2012 is that it was a banner year for Amtrak, as chronicled by the National Association of Rail Passengers. Here are some highlights:
* Passenger ridership is setting a record – not only for Amtrak, but for mass transit nationwide.
* In New England, Amtrak service was expanded to Freeport and Brunswick, Maine, while Northeast Regional train service has returned to Norfolk, Va.
* Faster and more frequent Amtrak service is on tap for Illinois, Michigan and North Carolina, with improvements allowing 110-mph service between Chicago and St. Louis and Chicago and Detroit advancing, plus California’s high-speed rail initiative is progressing toward initial construction linking Sacramento and Los Angeles.
* On the Northeast Corridor, Acela speeds will soon top out at 165-mph on portions of the route, with plans for post-Acela equipment acquisition and significant corridor infrastructure improvements becoming reality.
Meanwhile, Mica’s successor as chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee is Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who actually rides Amtrak. In the Senate, Amtrak support remains strong among the Democratic majority and many Republicans.
Finally, we can expect continued support for expanded high-speed rail initiatives from President Obama, whose support for high- and higher-speed rail is stronger than any administration since Amtrak was created.