Barnes Says Federal Funds Key to Rail

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- Only the deep pockets of the federal government can adequately fund the major commitment to passenger rail service needed to keep up with growth in Georgia, Gov. Roy Barnes said yesterday during a congressional hearing at the Capitol.

"We can't do it alone," Barnes told U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., who presided over the session as a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. "This is one place where the federal government can help us."

Cleland said he has helped obtain $50 million in federal funding for Georgia passenger rail projects, including proposed commuter lines linking Atlanta with Athens and Macon. But he said the best hope for a major infusion of money is legislation he is sponsoring that would give Amtrak up to $10 billion in bonding authority to expand its nationwide passenger rail system through the Carolinas into Georgia.

Amtrak has announced plans for high-speed rail service connecting its popular Northeast corridor with Charlotte, N.C., and Atlanta. The high-speed line eventually would extend south to Macon and Jacksonville via Jesup.

Cleland said his bill could become part of a tax cut bill that is caught up in the budget negotiations between President Clinton and Republican congressional leaders. But he said if no tax bill emerges from those talks, the chances for the Amtrak funding are slim.

"A stand-alone Amtrak bill next year would be filibustered by [Sen.] Phil Gramm, [R-Texas]," Cleland said. "We have our opponents."

Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, who also testified at yesterday's hearing, said a strong case can be made for boosting the federal commitment to passenger rail. He said the federal government spends $40 billion to $50 billion each year on highway construction and $15 billion on airport improvements, compared to just $500 million earmarked annually for Amtrak. …