Amtrak says 2013 was the agency's best June on record -- and its second-best month ever. But the railroad continues to be a politically charged topic in Congress.
According to an Amtrak press release, so far this fiscal year the railroad has set monthly records in October, December, January, March, May and June, with March being the best single month in its history.
But even as Amtrak touts its ridership, its federal subsidy is the subject of much debate.
Bill Shuster (R-PA), the chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee, has said a rail re-authorization bill is one of Congress's top priorities this year. But like his predecessor, John Mica, he wants the railroad to get less federal funding.
The committee has been holding a series of rail-themed hearings. The latest, on Tuesday morning, covered "The Role of Innovative Finance in Intercity Passenger Rail."
Shuster declared in his opening statement that, "the only way we will be able to tackle the large capital needs for passenger rail is to partner with the private sector."
The House Appropriations Committee has proposed cutting Amtrak's annual subsidy to $350 million. To make up the difference, the House wants the railroad to leverage its physical assets -- like stations and right of way -- to generate private revenue.
But Amtrak head Joe Boardman has said that won't work. In a statement last month, he said even the Senate's funding level -- at $1.45 billion, far higher than the house -- doesn't go far enough. "In order for the nation’s intercity passenger rail system to reach its full potential," he said in a statement, "Amtrak will need higher and sustained levels of federal capital funding."