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Amtrak, NYC closing in on supplemental appropriations

U.S. House of Representatives July 19 approved Supplemental Appropriations Act for Further Recovery From and Response To Terrorist Attacks on the United States (H.R. 4775), which includes $205 million to carry Amtrak to the end of its fiscal year (Sept. 30) and $1.8 billion to replace, rebuild or enhance mass transportation systems in New York City damaged Sept. 11.

Secretary of Transportation may use up to 1 percent of New York’s grant amount for oversight activities and must ensure that eligible projects will substantially improve mobility of commuters in Lower Manhattan. Approved projects will be funded at 100 percent.

The House Committee on Rules reviewed the bill July 22. Pending the committee’s expected approval, the bill will need to return to the Senate.

In earlier bill versions, the Senate proposed $55 million for Amtrak; the House, nothing.

Pending Senate approval, the bill would proceed to the White House where President Bush would have 10 days to sign it.

Amtrak officials expect the Senate to approve the bill next week, and President Bush indicated to Amtrak he would sign the legislation, says Amtrak spokeswoman Karina VanVeen.

Following warnings that Amtrak would cease service July 1, U.S. Department of Transportation agreed June 28 to provide Amtrak with a $100 million loan to be repaid with Amtrak’s FY03 appropriation.

As part of the agreement, Amtrak officials promised to provide DOT all revenue and expense data associated with rail operations by route; budgeted and actual expenditures for all capital investments; monthly performance reports; a report on Amtrak’s operating relationships with commuter rail systems; and an inventory and valuation of Amtrak’s assets, as well as a timetable for obtaining updated asset valuation.

Amtrak management also was directed to provide its board a prioritized list of FY03 expense reduction options totaling at least $100 million. In turn, the board must apply the funds to critical maintenance needs throughout the system. The list also must be provided to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations no later than Aug. 31.

The national passenger railroad already has begun trimming its expenses, laying off 150 employees serving in various positions on Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. More layoffs are expected throughout Amtrak’s system, but officials won’t know exact numbers or locations until they finish revamping Amtrak’s organizational structure, says VanVeen.

If all follows according to plan and H.R. 4775 passes, Amtrak officials next will begin lobbying for the $1.2 billion that George Warrington and David Gunn, Amtrak’s former and current CEOs, agree the railroad needs for FY03.

President Bush’s proposed budget would grant the railroad only $521 million, but Amtrak officials are "very confident" Congress will increase the appropriation, says VanVeen.

Kathi Kube

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 7/23/2002