Federal transportation bills have proposed eliminating a source of funding that provides the Amtrak Downeaster with nearly half of its $15 million annual operating budget. The bills have members of Maine's congressional delegation working to restore the money.
Since launching in 2011, the passenger rail service has received $6 million a year from the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program, but a bill under consideration by the U.S. House would not allow those funds to be used for rail service, according to a press release from U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree. The representatives said they plan to introduce an amendment that would allow the U.S. Department of Transportation to continue funding rail lines with CMAQ funds for longer than three years. The Downeaster's current CMAQ funding is set to expire this fall. A Senate version of the bill also lacks a provision to continue allowing the funds to be used for the Downeaster, so U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have submitted an amendment to preserve the funding for two years, according to the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.
It's not the first time the availability of this funding has come into question. The funding was set to expire in September 2009 before Congress, unable to pass a comprehensive transportation budget, instead approved a stop-gap measure to preserve existing funding.
Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which operates the Downeaster, told the Portland Press Herald that the state would have to find a way to replace the lost federal dollars should the bill pass as currently written. Revenue from ticket sales and food concessions generate about $8 million a year.