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Rail News: Amtrak

Amtrak sets aside Bush Administration's 2004 budget proposal, awaits congressional verdict on 2003 appropriation

The Bush Administration’s proposed 2004 budget, unveiled earlier this week, includes $900 million for Amtrak, — significantly less than the $1.2 billion the national passenger railroad says it needs to maintain operations.

But Amtrak officials are saving that fight for another day.

The railroad’s main concern is fiscal year 2003, which began Oct. 1.

"Right now, we’re in the fiscal year and have yet to get an appropriation," says Amtrak spokesperson Karina Van Veen.

Although the Senate has approved an amendment that would appropriate Amtrak $1.2 billion for 2003, the House has yet to do the same. But a decision could come next week, says Van Veen.

Until Amtrak is certain it will receive $1.2 billion, officials say discussions about the 2004 budget are meaningless.

In the proposed budget, the administration recommends that Amtrak eliminate six routes that regularly lose hundreds of dollars per passenger: Sunset Limited, Pennsylvanian, Texas Eagle, Three Rivers, Southwest Chief and Kentucky Cardinal.

However, Amtrak does not plan to eliminate those routes.

"That’s not a possibility," says Van Veen. "We’re going to maintain a national system."

If lines were terminated, several large communities across the nation would no longer have Amtrak service, including Pensacola, Fla.; El Paso, Texas; Tuscon, Ariz.; and Palm Springs, Calif., according to a statement from Friends of Amtrak.

During the last year, Amtrak has eliminated more than 500 positions, adjusted routes and schedules, and cancelled a money-losing express route to become more cost-efficient, the railroad said.

"These reforms show clearly that Amtrak’s administration is not conducting business as usual, and they will continue," said Amtrak Chairman John Robert Smith and President David Gunn in a statement issued Feb. 3.

Angela Claypool

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 2/5/2003