- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 23, 2002

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said yesterday he would consider providing emergency financial aid to keep Amtrak operating beyond a threatened midweek shutdown.
Mr. Mineta asked Amtrak to convene a meeting of its board of directors to discuss whether, and how, the Transportation Department could help the struggling semipublic passenger railroad. The secretary also said Congress should be prepared to help.
The Amtrak board scheduled a meeting for tomorrow. Mr. Mineta has a seat on the seven-member governing board.
"The administration is not interested in allowing Amtrak to shut down," Mr. Mineta said in a statement.
He offered no specifics about possible aid.
Mr. Mineta and David Gunn, Amtrak's new president, spoke yesterday about the budget crisis, Amtrak spokesman Bill Schulz said.
For now, Mr. Schulz said, "the situation remains unchanged, and we continue to be concerned that a shutdown of Amtrak and the commuter services it supports is growing nearer."
Mr. Gunn said last week that he would begin shutting down the railroad if Amtrak did not get financial help to close a $200 million budget gap. Without a grant or loan, he said, he will stop accepting passengers and will move trains to storage beginning Wednesday.
In addition, Amtrak warned, a shutdown of its passenger trains could hurt commuter railroads serving hundreds of thousands of people, mostly along the Atlantic Seaboard.
The Federal Railroad Administration is reviewing Amtrak's request for a loan guarantee to help it borrow the needed $200 million. Amtrak has had trouble tapping its line of credit because lenders are not sure how long it can remain in business.
If the FRA were to rule that Amtrak does not qualify for a loan guarantee, the only options would be a congressional directive ordering the railroad administration to grant one or an emergency appropriation from Congress.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Friday that he had proposed $200 million for Amtrak be included in the anti-terrorism bill that is the subject of negotiations between the Senate and the White House. Senators from New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Delaware, Maryland and Rhode Island sent a letter to Mr. Mineta on Friday urging immediate action.
Bush administration officials have indicated they would oppose new federal money for Amtrak until it enacts significant reforms.
Mr. Mineta proposed last week an end to the federal operating subsidies, allowing competition for passenger rail, making states more responsible for paying for train service and replacing Amtrak as owner of the 366 miles of tracks running from Boston to Washington, known as the Northeast Corridor.

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