WASHINGTON -- In a historic step for the rights of dog owners, legislation that would instruct Amtrak to develop a pet-friendly policy is on the verge of passing the House of Representatives.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed by voice vote on Thursday the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act.
The bill applies some fairly far-reaching policy changes regarding trains in America. It would reduce the money Congress authorizes for Amtrak but also leverage private funds and require more business analyses of Amtrak projects. Under the bill, profits from Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor would go toward improving the Northeast Corridor lines and not the rest of Amtrak’s operations. The bill also would require that Amtrak eliminate, within five years of enactment of the law, the operating losses it currently has from its food and beverage carts. And it would require Amtrak’s Office of Inspector General to submit an evaluation of the boarding procedures at its 10 most populous stations (much to the delight of Matt Yglesias).
It also would redefine the concept of puppy training.
That’s because tucked into the bill is the language requiring that Amtrak develop a pilot program to allow dog and cat owners to ride certain trains with their pets. The specifications for the pilot program are as follows:
- At least one car in passenger trains should be available for ticketed passengers to transport a pet.
- The dog or cat has to be in a kennel and that kennel has to be stowed “in accordance with Amtrak size requirements for carriage of carry-on baggage.” (At this point, St. Bernards are howling “That's RUFFFF!”)
- The passenger transporting a pet will have to pay a fee (the amount of which has not yet been disclosed).
The pilot program would also allow ticketed passengers to transport dogs or cats in cargo storage. Under this program, Amtrak would be responsible for keeping the cargo area at a temperature “controlled in a manner protective of cat and dog safety and heath.”
One year after the program launches, Amtrak is required to report its findings to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
“This is amazing!” you’re saying right about now … unless you happen to be allergic to pets and a frequent user of Amtrak. “But doesn’t Amtrak already have a pet policy?”
The answer is no. Lawmakers have been pushing this very concept since the 2013 introduction of the Pets On Train Act, but it never got far. Two Amtrak lines in Illinois have been running a pilot program. But beyond that, you can’t bring pets on Amtrak trains -- only on some other trains, such as Metro-North.
An aide to Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), who along with Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) has led the push for this legislation, said the current bill will show that it is the “express will of the Congress” to see this become policy.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told The Huffington Post that it's possible the bill would authorize pilot programs beyond the two that currently exist in Illinois, which are set to end in April. As for those pilot programs, Magliari relayed that there had been no complaints from passengers or crew members even after 145 pets had ridden on trains.
Congress still has a little ways to go to before man and his best friend can share a cheese platter and a bad Wi-Fi connection. But this is as promising as the situation has been to date. The House committee passed the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act last fall. That bill included similar pets-on-train language, but it was done too late in the session and the full House never took it up. This time, Congress has nearly two years to get it through both chambers and to the president’s desk.
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