- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2002

Amtrak yesterday threatened to end all long-distance train service in October unless Congress more than doubles its federal subsidy to $1.2 billion.
The Northeast and West Coast corridors would not be affected.
"What has to occur is coming to closure on what this system is and what this country is willing to pay for," Amtrak President George Warrington said at a press conference. Under the current system, there is no way Amtrak can operate profitably, he said.
The railroad also plans to lay off 1,000 workers, or 4 percent of its work force, and cut costs by $285 million this year.
Under the Amtrak plan, 18 long-distance routes that run overnight service mostly through several states in the Midwest and West would be eliminated after September without more funding. Long-distance service in the current fiscal year would continue at current levels.
The national passenger railroad already faces a restructuring this year because of complaints in Congress about growing needs for subsidies, and Congressional Republicans criticized Mr. Warrington's announcement.
"Amtrak's new public relations attempt to blame policy-makers and the Amtrak Reform Council for its management problems is disingenuous," said Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. "Amtrak's effort to increase its federal appropriation to cover its management problems is irresponsible."
Mr. Young pledged to hold a hearing Feb. 14 to review Amtrak's finances and managment.
Democrats were more supportive of Amtrak.
"For too long, the federal government has been all too willing to criticize, but none too willing to subsidize this vital transportation resource," said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat.
Rep. James L. Oberstar, Minnesota Democrat, said, "Our nation needs a viable intercity passenger rail system to supplement our air and highway networks. It is time that we recognized that such a system will cost money, more money than we have been willing to commit thus far."
A big part of Amtrak's cost-cutting plan involves deferring $175 million in capital spending on equipment overhauls, station upgrades and similar infrastructure items.
The Amtrak Reform Council the congressionally appointed panel overseeing Amtrak's finances often criticizes the railroad for skimping on infrastructure spending, resulting in a continuing need for federal subsidies to keep the railroad operating. The infrastructure requires $5.8 billion in improvements, according to Amtrak.
Mr. Warrington said inadequate funding from Congress left him with no other choice. Cutting capital spending was among "the only tools we have in our toolbox to manage our business this year," he said.
The Amtrak Reform Council plans to recommend to Congress on Feb. 7 that Amtrak be broken up and have its routes auctioned off as franchises for private companies to operate.
Yesterday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia turned down a labor union request for a temporary restraining order against the reform council. The Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, which represents many of Amtrak's 24,600 employees, sought a court order to stop the reform council from recommending the breakup of Amtrak to Congress.
The unions are concerned that Amtrak employees will lose their jobs if the railroad routes are privatized. About $110 million of the cost-cutting this year involves operating expenses, such as payroll.
Mr. Warrington denied that the deadline next week for the reform council's recommendation influenced his announcement yesterday.
He also said that even a $1.2 billion subsidy in fiscal year 2003 would not reduce Amtrak's need for government subsidies.
"We cannot be all things to all people," he said. The figure of "$1.2 billion is associated with managing today's system, holding the system together," he said.
This year, Amtrak is operating with a $521 million federal subsidy. The Bush administration supports continuing federal funding, but Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta has said he would recommend only that Amtrak's funding be renewed at the $521 million level in the federal budget due for release Monday.
Amtrak officials said they would have to shut down most of their rail system if they received no more than their current subsidy.
The Transportation Department said in January that Amtrak lost $1.1 billion in the last fiscal year, which is a record loss in the railroad's 30-year history.
Mr. Warrington said recession, added security costs after September 11 and the loss of $52 million in financing when the reform council recommended restructuring in November forced the budget and job cuts this year.

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