Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Amtrak Seeks More Federal Funding

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Amtrak Seeks More Federal Funding

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON (AP) -- America suffers a "rail investment gap" that can be closed with $30 billion in federal money to modernize equipment, improve service and establish 11 high-speed rail corridors, Amtrak says in a new business plan.

The federal government now dedicates less than 1 percent of all transportation spending to intercity passenger rail, Amtrak officials say. Under their plan, that would grow over two decades to 2.5 percent.

"We tend to live from hand to mouth, from year to year, and, as they say, that's no way to run a railroad," Amtrak President George Warrington said.

Warrington said the "rail investment gap" compared with other developed countries represents a missed opportunity to relieve pressure from crowded highways and congested skies.

Congress ordered Amtrak in 1997 to wean itself from federal operating subsidies by 2003. Amtrak has never turned a profit since its creation in 1971 and has consumed more than $23 billion in federal subsidies since then.

But even as they strive for self-sufficiency, Amtrak officials insist the 1997 agreement never anticipated a cutoff of federal capital assistance -- funds to buy train cars and build tracks, for instance. And they contend it's time for more, not less, federal investment.

To emphasize the point, Amtrak drew up its first long-term capital-spending plan, which was delivered Friday to Congress and the White House. In it, Amtrak offers two scenarios:

l For $16 billion in federal support over 20 years, Amtrak says it can maintain minimum capital investment in existing services. That would cover overhauls to the Amtrak fleet, renovations to stations and repairs to fire safety hazards in New York and New Jersey train tunnels. Transportation Department Inspector General Kenneth Mead has called those hazards "appalling."

l Amtrak's preferred scenario calls for $30 billion in federal support -- $1.5 billion a year for 20 years -- to expand and modernize. The extra money would pay for new trains and for tracks, signals and grade crossings needed to develop newa high-speed corridors where trains can travel faster than 90 mph. …

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