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Amtrak 'sadly disappointed' with House subcommittee's FY2006 funding proposal


Amtrak’s annual battle to secure federal funding rages on. Yesterday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury and Housing and Urban Development, The Judiciary, District of Columbia proposed $550 million for the national passenger railroad in fiscal-year 2006 — a 55 percent decrease compared with FY2005’s $1.2 billion.

Amtrak has requested $1.8 billion for the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Subcommittee members believe the budget would "fully support rail service for four out of five riders, or 80 percent of Amtrak’s ridership," National Association of Railroad Passengers officials said in a prepared statement, adding that it’s unlikely Amtrak could avoid bankruptcy under that funding level.

The subcommittee’s proposal is the same as providing "zero funding" for Amtrak, President and Chief Executive Officer David Gunn wrote in a June 15 letter to the railroad’s employees.

Gunn said he is "sadly disappointed" with the subcommittee’s action, especially since Amtrak has decreased its deficit per train mile from $22 in FY2000 to $13 in FY2004, increased system-wide ridership to an all-time-high 25 million passengers, cut jobs by 20 percent since FY2001, established an efficient management structure and reduced deferred maintenance.

"Regardless of the subcommittee’s vote, I don’t believe that rational people — lawmakers, governors or our regular passengers — want to see passenger-rail service shut down, and I continue to hope in the end that reason prevails," he wrote.

However, federal officials believe the funding proposal is necessary to spur Amtrak reform.

"Today’s action by the subcommittee demonstrates that some in Congress are ready to make the kind of difficult decisions necessary to instill in Amtrak sound business practices and fiscal responsibility," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta. "The subcommittee’s proposed funding level sends the same signal as that of the administration: Amtrak must reform."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 6/16/2005