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6/27/2002



Rail News: Amtrak

Amtrak, DOT reach short-term agreement, plan to seek Congressional action for long-term


Amtrak Chairman John Robert Smith and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta June 26 jointly announced an agreement enabling Amtrak to continue running trains — at least until mid-August.



DOT agreed to immediately loan Amtrak $100 million to meet its immediate needs. When Congress returns from the Independence Day recess July 8, the Administration and Amtrak will seek Congressional action to secure the balance the national passenger railroad requires until Sept. 30, the end of its fiscal year.



"A number of conditions to this plan need to be worked out, but there are things you know I’ve already started, like better financial accountability and transparence, and monthly reporting to Congress and the DOT," said Amtrak President David Gunn in a June 27 letter to employees. "While you might have heard that there will be a wage freeze, it will apply only to senior management."



Meanwhile, during a June 25 Commerce Committee hearing on cross-border trucking, Sen. Ernest Hollings took Mineta to task for what he considers to be the Administration’s lack of decisive action regarding Amtrak.



"In the last year, we’ve had three hearings trying to get you up here," said Hollings. "In the last one, you wouldn’t appear, but you sent [Deputy Secretary Michael] Jackson and he came with more questions than answers."



In April, the committee passed Hollings’ Amtrak reauthorization bill, S. 1991, by a vote of 20 to 3.



"And then, out of the blue, you go running down to the Chamber of Commerce like, ‘Ooh, we gotta do something about Amtrak ‘cause we gotta have reforms,’ after we’ve been trying to get you up here for a year," he told the committee. "We’re ready for the Administration to lead, not run down to the Chamber of Commerce talking about ‘reforms, reforms’ like we never thought of it."



Hollings also pointed out how separating rail operations from infrastructure has failed in England with 15 of the 25 original bidders going bankrupt and the remaining 10 back in London asking for more money. And he stated that every successful high-speed passenger rail operation has been run efficiently, within fiscal bounds and with governmental leadership.



"We appropriated $180 million for a railroad in space, but we can’t get a dime out of you folks on the ground," he said.



Hollings’ words might not have fallen on deaf ears. The Senate might be ready to vote on S. 1991 as early as June 27, according to a prepared statement from Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission.


Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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