The two main points I took away from the article are (1), as previously noted that Congress has already authorized resumption of the route, and (2) the budget estimate is being provided to Congress as well. This should properly and legally be a completely federally funded train, and thus it appears to be the intention. But there has been person after person on these and other forums pronouncing that Amtrak will only run the route if the states foot the bill.
It's actually not people here but Amtrak itself, that has previously made it clear, that it will not be run on Amtrak's dime. Someone else will have to pay for the operating deficit (and probably any capital expenses for rebuilt stations etc too, but that's less controversial).
As I understand the current rules Amtrak has to fully fund the operation of the current LD routes out of its operating subsidy. But the 750 mile rule says nothing about having to fund newly started (or restarted) LD routes. Under some conditions (which the Gulf coast service fulfills) Amtrak could fund the train out of its present budget and thus make it federally funded, but the law nowhere states that it should. I think this is probably what is meant by congress already having authorised the route. AFAIK there has been no act specifically mentioning the Gulf Coast service, but I can be mistaken.
On the other hand the length over 750 miles does excempt it from the PRIIA corridor rules, where the states are required to fund not only the immediate operating deficit but also most of the allocated overhead. And what Amtrak has stated is that in order to run the train, someone else has to pay the avoidable costs not covered by ticket revenue including network effects = roughly the amount that the train would increase Amtrak's total operating deficit with. But the bill will not be slashed with overhead as the shorter state supported corridors are.
Is that fair? Maybe not, but it is the political realities that the proponents of the service face.
This leaves three options as I see it:
- The states or other local entities gang together and pay up.
- Congress increases its operating subsidy to Amtrak to cover the costs of the route
- Congress tells Amtrak to run the train within the current budget
Each of these options lets lose its own political brouhaha. But as the amount is pretty limited (can be found in the study released a while ago) there might be enough momentum to push one of the models through, or some combo of them.
So clearly Marks is lobbying for Congress to pick up the tap. The current do-nothing Congress doesn't look very likely to do that, but the political climate might be somewhat different after the election. If not the states or the cities en route will have to pony up, also for the operating subsidy, however likely that is...
The age old question: Who should pay, the federal government and/or the states? I guess it would depend on whether a route is "national" or "regional". I feel the 750 mile rule is stupid. I can argue some trains that run fewer miles than that benefit the nation and some trains than run more miles than that benefit certain states/cities much more than others. If Amtrak did run a train from LAX to Vegas, anyone from the country that can get to LAX can get to Vegas so even if that train is only a few hundred miles and only passes two states that would clearly be IMO a national train. On the other hand the Downeaster is clearly a regional/local train (unless more people want to visit Maine than I think). Of course what separates Vegas from Maine is a judgment call. Maybe all trains (old and new, long and short) should be jointly funded by the federal government and the states/cities it passes through. Make it some percentage for each (50-50, 25 national-75 local, whatever you think is reasonable). I don't think it should be 100% federal or 100% state/local and that includes current trains.