The Amtrak funding battle resumes this month, when Congress returns from its annual summer holiday. On July 30, a conference committee drawn from the House of Representatives and Senate completed work on a tax package which included US$2·3bn in capital funding for Amtrak over the next two years. However, an authorisation bill passed by committees from both houses to actually give Amtrak the money failed to win approval in either the House or Senate.
The bill would give Amtrak more decision-making autonomy in route restructuring and hiring contractors to perform work currently performed in-house. This has created a major impasse over the current provision granting up to six years’ pay to staff made redundant as the result of a route closure; Congress wants the rule abolished, but President Clinton is concerned about losing support from the unions. ’For Amtrak, it’s reform or die’, predicted Bud Shuster, Chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
’Unfortunately, Amtrak does not have the luxury of time’, said Amtrak President & CEO Thomas M Downs. He says Amtrak needs the US$2·3bn investment if it is to end taxpayer subsidies in 2002, as mandated by Congress and the administration.
An agreement must also be reached on next year’s annual subsidy. The House has passed a budget of US$793m, up US$30m from 1997, with US$250m for the Northeast Corridor upgrading project. But while the proposed capital budget is increased, the US$283m allocation for operating expenses is the lowest in 20 years and US$61m less than the figure requested by government. Congressman Martin Sabo said the operating budget ’is so low that it brings into question whether Amtrak will survive the year’.
H Amtrak announcd on July 26 that the thrice-weekly Chicago - San Antonio Texas Eagle will continue indefinitely beyond September 30, when US$5·6m of loan funding from Texas expires (RG 7.97 p449). Future operation has been secured by growth in express parcels traffic to augment passenger revenue. o