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Rail News: Amtrak

Amtrak Reform Council to release progress report


Congressionally mandated to advise National Railroad Passenger Corp. (Amtrak) in its quest for operational self-sufficiency, Amtrak Reform Council (ARC) also reports Amtrak’s progress back to Congress. And the report ARC plans to release March 20 could have far-reaching influence.

Amtrak in 1998 released its Strategic Business Plan — the means by which it would attain operational self-sufficiency. Last fall, Amtrak proclaimed its performance was $8 million better than projected. But in its fiscal-year 2000 plan, the intercity passenger rail system acknowledged ending the year about $100 million behind projections.

Last month, U.S. Department of Transportation’s Inspector General (DOT IG) and U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) — both of which review Amtrak’s progress — testified in a Senate oversight hearing. DOT IG said 2001 would be crucial for Amtrak, while GAO stated it was unlikely Amtrak would eliminate its need for federal operating subsidies.

Also last month, Amtrak released its FY2001-FY2005 plan with projected long-term capital needs — $1.5 billion annually for the next 20 years. Currently, Amtrak brings in $1.2 billion in ticket revenue and another $900 million in other annual revenues. But it costs $3 billion annually to run the system, which results in a $900 million loss every year.

This year, Congress must reauthorize its commitment to continue funding Amtrak, and the Senate is considering Senate Bill 250, which would allow Amtrak to sell $12 billion in bonds over 10 years.

ARC’s second annual report focuses on three major areas: an annual assessment of Amtrak; an analysis of the railroad’s business model, and institutional model and framework; and several structural and financing options for improving passenger rail service. ARC also provides its estimate of Amtrak’s capital needs — for both its current system and designated high-speed rail corridors.

The report also describes actions ARC plans to take to advance and refine recommended options.

Should ARC determine Amtrak is unable to achieve operational self-sufficiency, it is mandated to submit an action plan for restructure and rationalization of the national passenger rail system. Concurrently, Amtrak would submit to Congress a liquidation plan.

ARC plans to post the report on its Web site March 20.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 3/6/2001