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EAGLE FLOURISHES IN TEXAS

Last month I went on a train ride that was a dream come true: from Austin to Fort Worth on Amtrak's Texas Eagle to inaugurate its first day of daily passenger service between Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio.

The expansion of the Texas Eagle schedule from four days a week to seven is a milestone in the development of a Texas transportation system for the 21st Century. It ties our state together -- for families, businesses, and tourists.

Daily passenger rail service provides convenience and greater mobility for Texans who live in rural areas. It expands the transportation options available to Texans young and old. At the same time, tourism is our state's third largest industry, employing more than half a million people. This new, daily passenger service will bring even more visitors to Texas and make it easier for them to stay longer and take in more of our cities and scenery.

Texas' sheer size means that transportation can make us or break us, and Amtrak's new daily service keeps Texas right on track.

This dream was a long time coming, but worth every bit of the effort. Just three years ago the Texas Eagle was slated for discontinuation. When I heard the news, I decided to do everything I could to save the Eagle and see it soar again. As the first step in its resuscitation, I persuaded Congress to extend federal funding on a short-term basis to keep the train operational while Amtrak worked with the State of Texas to secure a life-saving loan.

Without the team effort of communities along the route, we would not be celebrating this milestone in Texas transportation history. Local communities and their elected officials from East Texas to San Antonio provided critical support in urging the state Legislature to authorize a $5.6 million dollar "bridge" loan. This loan was designed to keep the service running while Amtrak went to work on developing its revenue-generating mail and express business (the shipment of time-sensitive goods).

The communities were required to provide collateral for half of the loan amount to ensure its repayment, and did so gladly, knowing that their transportation future was at stake. Everyone cheered when Amtrak paid back the loan ahead of schedule.

The investment quickly began to pay off in steady and sustained growth all along the line. Today, the Eagle accounts for an increasing share of Amtrak's growing ridership, as well as its mail and express revenues. Eagle ridership grew nearly 10 percent from 1998 to 1999, and is up 11.2 percent for the first six months of this year. In fact, the Texas Eagle leads Amtrak's business unit in ridership gains so far this year. I expect to see that growth continue now that we have daily service.

Communities along the route are working hard to bring their local railroad facilities up to par:
A new, intermodal station paid for by the City of Cleburne opened in 1999.

The historic Texas and Pacific (T&P) depot in Marshall was restored after more than a decade of hard work and dedication on the part of the Marshall Depot, Inc., the citizens, and school children of Marshall, and retired T&P employees. It reopened on November 13, 1999.

The train depot in Temple is being restored and is set to be re-dedicated this summer.

Amtrak celebrated the grand opening of its new Sunset Station in San Antonio last year, as well. Built by the city's Via Metropolitan Transit service, this new station is an excellent example of the type of partnerships that Amtrak has developed to improve service to the traveling public.

In addition, Amtrak recently announced plans to create a major hub in Fort Worth and launch a new offshoot from the New York-New Orleans Crescent line to provide service between Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and the Dallas-Fort Worth region. This could mean exciting changes for some Texas communities, which might get train service they don't now have, and I've pledge to work with any communities that might lose out as a result of these changes to ensure other transportation options become available to them.

Rail passenger service is critical to our transportation future. Not everyone can wants to fly or drive to their destination. Amtrak provides a needed alternative: mass transit that connects Texans to bus lines, to light rail systems in our urban areas and to our airports. With an expanding rail passenger service schedule, a whole segment of our population now enjoys many more transportation choices. The future of Texas rail is full of great opportunities, and I remain committed to working with Texas communities and Congress to ensure Amtrak's bright future.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison