- The Washington Times - Monday, June 24, 2002

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert gave no indication yesterday whether Congress would provide the $200 million bailout Amtrak says it needs to operate beyond midweek and said some railroad routes should shut down.
He said Amtrak's management must correct what he called money-losing policies before turning to Congress whenever the railroad runs out of cash a stance supported by Amtrak's new president.
"I want to change the way we do business," David Gunn said in an interview. "My goal is to turn [Amtrak] into a much more focused organization with tight fiscal controls."
Amtrak's board planned to meet today at the request of Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta. He said Saturday that the government wants to avoid a shutdown and would consider providing emergency help. The railroad is seeking the $200 million in grants or loan guarantees.
Mr. Hastert did not say if such help would be forthcoming.
"I think there are some places that they could shut down," the Illinois Republican said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I think that there are some selective routes that they may want to shut down. That's all a part of reform."
He added: "They haven't taken a look at that and done that. It's time that they do that."
Mr. Gunn said ending the most unprofitable routes "will not solve the immediate problem," adding that he agrees that "there should be standards set in terms of cost recovery."
"That's perfectly reasonable, that's fair and it gets us out of the business of playing God with these routes."
Assuming that Amtrak survives the immediate crisis, Mr. Gunn said he would welcome direction from Congress and states about which routes deserve subsidies and which, if any, should die.
Mr. Mineta said last week that failing routes should be eliminated unless states want to pay for them.
Mr. Hastert decried a system that he said subsidizes some routes by hundreds of dollars per passenger and continues unproductive courses.
"I think there's going to be some reform in Amtrak," Mr. Hastert said. "When you take a train that runs from New Orleans to Los Angeles, and we subsidize each passenger about $350 a person, we could put them in a pretty nice airplane and fly them there."
"I think we need to have some cost effectiveness. I think the costs have gone out of sight on Amtrak."
Mr. Hastert acknowledged the semiprivate passenger rail service has instituted programs that are saving money in some areas but said "that there are some things that we can do to make Amtrak more effective and more efficient."
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which is part of Mr. Mineta's department, is reviewing Amtrak's request for a loan guarantee for the $200 million. Amtrak has had trouble tapping its existing line of credit because lenders are not sure how long it can remain in business.
If the railroad administration were to rule that Amtrak does not qualify for such a guarantee, the only options would be a congressional directive ordering the FRA to grant one or an emergency appropriation from Congress.
A shutdown of Amtrak could affect commuter railroads serving hundreds of thousands of people, mostly along the Atlantic Seaboard.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide