AN ATTEMPT in the US Senate to force an amendment to the President’s 2006 budget giving just over $1bn to Amtrak, in addition to the $360m proposed to support Northeast Corridor services (RG 3.05 p115), was voted out on March 16.

This darkened the increasingly gloomy outlook for Amtrak, whose Bush-appointed board appears to be acquiescing in the government’s plan to force the operator into bankruptcy. The board, which is three short of its normal seven members, failed to submit a routine subsidy request to Congress for the 2006 budget by the February 15 deadline. Two days later Chairman David Laney sent a letter to Congress promising to forward an application but adding that ’the status quo at Amtrak is neither viable nor acceptable.’ The letter said the board was drafting plans for legislation that ’would provide the foundation needed for the development of US passenger rail service, whether or not Amtrak remains its chief steward.’

Since releasing his department’s proposed budget for Amtrak, Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta has repeatedly stated that both he and President Bush strongly support passenger rail but not in its current form. Were this really so, they could surely have given more support to Amtrak President David Gunn’s efforts to turn Amtrak round. As it is, their message is a simplistic one based on the ideology that the market cannot be wrong - a view echoed in Joseph Vranich’s book (p226).