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Rail News: Amtrak

Senate approves amendment that would meet Amtrak's appropriation request

On Jan. 16, the Senate approved an amendment to Amtrak's spending bill that would restore the national passenger railroad's fiscal-year 2003 appropriation to $1.2 billion.

In a pre-vote letter sent to their fellow senators, Sens. Hollings (D-S.C.), Murray (D-Wash.), Hutchison (R-Texas), Biden (D-Del.), Snowe (R-Maine), Byrd (D.-W.V.), Specter (R-Pa.) and Chafee (R-R.I.) announced their intent to introduce the amendment.

"The Senate Appropriations Committee last year unanimously agreed to provide $1.2 billion for FY 2003 for Amtrak," the senators wrote in the letter. "The revised Senate Appropriations bill we are about to consider would provide only $826 million — a cut of $374 million. A funding level of $826 million represents a cut of 27 percent from the prior year's level — no other transportation program has been singled out for a reduction of this magnitude."

The senators believe Amtrak President David Gunn's claim that the railroad will go bankrupt and shut down this spring if Amtrak doesn't receive the $1.2 billion appropriation.

Gunn's ultimatum didn’t sit well with Federal Railroad Administrator Allan Rutter. At a Jan. 16 meeting of commuter rail operators in Washington, D.C., he said the Bush Administration "has consistently cautioned Amtrak to develop contingencies in the likely event Congress appropriates less than the requested $1.2 billion appropriation."

Rutter believes that, without reforms, Amtrak will fail to meet the nation's future passenger needs.

"At [Amtrak's] next board meeting, which is scheduled for next Thursday, we will work with the board of directors to take advantage of the opportunity to assess alternatives to allow for operations within the congressional appropriation," he said, adding that, in the meantime, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta will work with commuter rail agencies to identify ways to preserve services "should Amtrak find itself operationally constrained in the short term."

The bill now moves to House-Senate negotiations on the amendment. The House wants to cut Amtrak's subsidy to $762 million.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 1/17/2003