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Amtrak Gains Momentum in Senate Subcommittee Proposal Could Lead to an Adequate Budget

Posted Nov. 6, 2008 / Posted by: admin

Contact: 
Colin Peppard - 202-222-0747 (office); 202-841-4491 (mobile)
WASHINGTON , D.C. – In a move that could lead to Amtrak’s first adequate appropriation in years, a U.S. Senate subcommittee recommended $1.4 billion in funding for Amtrak today.  In June, the U.S. House voted to fund Amtrak at the highest level in years.  Amtrak has stated that it needs at least $1.8 billion in FY2006.

“In vote after vote and committee after committee Amtrak’s funding level continues to increase.  Amtrak’s supporters are cautiously hopeful that this momentum is a sign of things to come,” said Colin Peppard, Transportation Policy Coordinator at Friends of the Earth.

Amtrak has been plagued by chronic underfunding throughout its existence.  When Congress first created Amtrak in 1971, the railroad inherited trains desperately in need of overhaul and miles of neglected track.  An inadequate initial outlay of cash forced immediate cancellation of many routes.  The day that Amtrak was founded, routes were reduced by 38,500 miles and daily runs were reduced from 290 to 180.  Since then, Amtrak has consistently received an inadequate budget, which also carries a high degree of uncertainty.

“From the day that Amtrak was founded, Congress has never given Amtrak the opportunity to reach its full potential,” said Peppard.  “Instead, America ’s railroad is forced to sing for its supper each year, while Congress demands greater and greater things from it.  These expectations are completely unrealistic.”

Amtrak continues to limp along on inadequate funding levels. It received $1.2 billion in FY2005, instead of the $1.8 billion it needed to address significant backlogged maintenance.  Such repeated underfunding has forced Amtrak forced to put off vital maintenance, capital investments, and other reforms in order to remain solvent.

“For the first time in decades, Congress may be poised to give Amtrak the money it needs to begin a real transformation into a world class railroad,” said Peppard.

Earlier this year, the Bush administration proposed $360 million for Amtrak, a number that would have forced the system into bankruptcy.  Even so, the House of Representatives passed a measure by voice vote in June that raised Amtrak’s appropriation to its highest level in recent memory - $1.17 billion - showing strong support for the system.  The Senate’s markup is encouraging, but the Appropriations Committee and the full Senate still must vote on this measure.

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