Amtrak Balks at $762M Funding Plan
Sep. 26, 2002
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WASHINGTON (AP) _ A House panel approved a funding plan for Amtrak on Thursday that critics say would force the railroad to eliminate routes or even shut down.
The House Appropriations Committee's plan would give the struggling railroad $762 million next year, far less than the $1.2 billion the Senate has approved and Amtrak says it needs.
Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky. and chairman of the panel's transportation subcommittee, said giving Amtrak that much money would reward mismanagement. Every time a passenger boards a train, he said, ``Uncle Sam writes a check for $138.71, on average.''
Democrats said Amtrak was being unfairly punished and that other forms of transportation receive much greater federal subsidies. They tried, unsuccessfully, to raise Amtrak's funding to $1.2 billion.
Amtrak received $826 million last year, including an emergency loan of $100 million over the summer. The Bush administration is sticking by its initial proposal of $521 million, saying the railroad must undergo significant reforms before seeking more.
Amtrak was formed in 1971 to relieve freight railroads from the cash-draining responsibility of passenger service and has struggled ever since to meet expectations that it break even or turn a profit.
The railroad serves more than 500 communities in 46 states over a 22,000-mile route system. About 65,000 people ride Amtrak trains each day, roughly half in Amtrak's busy Boston-New York-Washington corridor.
Amtrak's new chief executive, David Gunn, has outlined a number of proposals aimed at improving the railroad's bottom line. Amtrak is considering cutting more personnel, ending freight service and requiring states to fully subsidize money-losing routes within two years or risk losing them.
Rogers backed off a proposal to cut long-distance trains that lose more than $200 per passenger. That plan would eliminate six long-distance routes, including the ``Sunset Limited,'' the biggest money-loser, which receives a $347-per-passneger subsidy for every one-way trip between Orlando, Fla., and Los Angeles.
The committee instead approved an amendment that gives a flat $150 million to the long-distance routes, three-fourths of what Amtrak says it needs.
Rogers said that every long-distance train could continue if ridership and revenues increase, and if states and cities help fund them.
``The Congress, in essence, is saying, `We're going to cut service,''' said Rep. David Obey, D-Minn. ``All you're doing is drawing a veil over the action.''
Other Democrats said passenger rail doesn't turn a profit anywhere in the world, and noted the airline industry received a much bigger subsidy _ $15 billion in loan guarantees and cash _ after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The full House will consider Amtrak funding as part of the overall transportation spending bill, which the committee has yet to approve. Any differences with the Senate will have to be negotiated.
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