- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 18, 2001

Senators put aside divergent ideas on Amtrak's future and endorsed a $1.8 billion measure to increase safety and security measures on passenger trains.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee voted unanimously yesterday to send the measure to the full Senate after members agreed to hold back some 19 proposed changes, among them restoring service to the Pacific Northwest and adding money to refurbish equipment.
Those changes can still be offered as amendments on the Senate floor, however, so a lengthy battle may be ahead.
Committee Chairman Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat, said he intends to hold a hearing as early as next week on more wide-ranging issues concerning Amtrak, including his proposal to drop the current federal requirement that Amtrak wean itself from government-operating subsidies by 2003.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Amtrak compiled a $3.2 billion list of steps to improve security, rail safety and ridership capacity. Mr. Hollings and the committee's ranking Republican, Arizona Sen. John McCain, whittled the request to the $1.77 billion package that the committee later approved.
Nearly $1 billion would address safety concerns in six aging underwater tunnels owned by Amtrak that carry rail passengers to New York's Penn Station. Reports by the federal government and New York state have highlighted problems with ventilation, the emergency water supply and spiral staircases that would be shared by fleeing riders and arriving emergency workers.
An additional $515 million would be spent on security upgrades throughout the Amtrak system increasing the ranks of its 325-person police force, tripling the number of bomb-sniffing dogs and adding new surveillance equipment.
The measure includes $254 million to improve emergency exits at Penn Station, replace two aging bridges in Connecticut considered susceptible to sabotage, and implement a sophisticated speed-control system in the Northeast Corridor, where Amtrak's high-speed Acela Express operates.
However, there is no plan to institute aviation-style screening of passengers and baggage at the 500 train stations Amtrak serves. Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, said that's a concern.
"You can walk onto the train, your bag is not inspected, there is no passenger manifest, you can get on and off the train and leave your bag on the train," he said. "There are lots of potential problems."

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