WASHINGTON -- Dog and cat owners of America, rejoice: A five-year highway appropriations bill that Congress reportedly agreed to on Tuesday instructs Amtrak to develop a policy allowing pets on passenger trains.
The provision, tucked into page 877 of a 1,300-page bill, would create a pilot program for the government-subsidized rail system. According to the legislation, Amtrak will have to dedicate at least one car per train “in which a ticketed passenger may transport a domesticated cat or dog in the same manner as a carry-on baggage.”
There are some restrictions.
The dog or cat would have to be “contained in a pet kennel” that complies with Amtrak size requirements for carry-on bags. The passenger transporting the pet will have to pay a fee, which would offset Amtrak's cost of accommodating pets. The authors of the bill made clear that “no federal funds may be used to implement the pilot program.” The government is facing a debt crisis, after all.
Amtrak, for its part, would have to keep pet cars at a “temperature controlled in a manner protective of cat and dog safety and health.” After a year of operating the pet pilot program, Amtrak will be required to submit a report to relevant congressional committees assessing how it worked.
For a the dog-loving lawmakers who have long advocated for pet-friendly Amtrak policy, it was a great day. The first push for such a change came in 2013, with the introduction of the Pets On Train Act, a legislative effort with bipartisan support that failed to get much traction. Earlier this year, language from that bill was inserted into a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee rail reform bill, which, likewise, stalled in Congress.
As lawmakers continued to fail the nation’s canines and felines, Amtrak itself chose to act. In Illinois, two rail lines were set aside to run a pilot program allowing dogs and cats on trains. And in mid-November, Amtrak announced that it would begin letting pets ride on the busy Northeast Regional line, for $25 per pet.
Under that pilot program, only five pets can travel in the designated car at any given time, and no pet may exceed 20 pounds or be younger than 8 weeks old. More ambiguously, Amtrak said pets have to be “odorless and harmless” and “not disruptive” -- a tough standard considering, well, who knows how a dog will act on a train.
Under the language of the highway bill, which seems likely to pass, there appears to be no such restrictions.
UPDATE: Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) the original author of the Pets on Trains Act, took a well-deserved victory lap for his legislative win, with a tweet. And his office sent over a picture of his dog, Lily, who was the inspiration of all this.