All aboard! Dogs and cats could ride along as passengers on certain Amtrak trains under a pilot program passed by the U.S. House as part of a bill to reauthorize funding for the rail service.
The bill was passed 316-101 by the House on Wednesday. It would allow at least one car on many Amtrak trains to be designated so that passengers “may transport a domesticated cat or dog in the same manner as carry-on baggage.”
Amtrak officials would be required to report to House and Senate committees within a year on how the program worked.
The measure, H.R. 749, would authorize $7.2 billion in spending for Amtrak and other rail programs from 2016 through 2019.
An amendment to the bill approved Wednesday would require Amtrak to study the feasibility of a new high-speed, non-stop service from Washington, D.C., to New York City, and from there to Boston.
The measure now goes to the Senate and is backed by the Obama administration.
Under the traveling pets pilot program, dogs or cats would have to be kept in a pet kennel during a trip, and the passenger would have to pay a fee covering the cost. Federal funds wouldn’t be used.
The project is limited to the Northeast Corridor railroad line between Boston and Washington, D.C., as well as other routes as long as 750 miles between endpoints.
The pet travel program was proposed by Representatives Jeff Denham, a California Republican, and Steve Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat. Denham said he has pitched allowing pets on trains since he was prevented from taking his French bulldog on an Amtrak train several years ago.
“Lily often accompanies me when I fly across the country, and it just doesn’t make sense that I can bring her with me on a plane, but she can’t come with me on a train,” Denham said in a statement on his Facebook page.
“This widely bipartisan legislation would help families nationwide save money and time in traveling with their pets while bringing in much-needed revenue for Amtrak,” Denham said.
In 2014, Amtrak began a smaller-scale pilot pet travel program on two routes in Illinois, and it is being continued for another year.
Current Amtrak policy allows people with disabilities to be accompanied by trained service animals. The idea of allowing more pets to travel on trains is supported by groups including the Humane Society of the United States.
“Your pet can join you on many airlines and in many hotels, and it’s time for Amtrak to get all aboard with this common-sense policy,” said Michael Markarian, chief program and policy officer for the Humane Society.
House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said in a statement that the full Amtrak measure “will make for a more reliable passenger rail service and make sure that Amtrak spends taxpayers’ money in a more responsible way.”
The legislation is opposed by some conservative groups including Heritage Action for America and Club for Growth.
Heritage Action said in a statement on its website that it considers the bill sponsors’ assertion that the measure would reduce Amtrak’s authorized funding by 40 percent to be misleading. The measure would keep actual funding steady at $1.4 billion for 2016 from this year, the group said.
The Obama administration announced support for the bill this week.
A statement from the Office of Management and Budget said that while parts of the proposal could be improved, it fits the goals of “driving improved performance at Amtrak through accountability and encouraging states’ participation in planning and funding improvements to passenger rail corridors.”