- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

A House subcommittee answered Amtrak's pleas for a major boost in funding, sending a strong signal that the cash-starved railroad will get the money it says it needs to avoid cutting routes.
The proposal adopted yesterday by the House Transportation and Infrastructure railroads subcommittee would guarantee Amtrak's existence for another year, giving lawmakers and the Bush administration more time to debate a long-term policy for passenger rail.
If approved by Congress and signed by President Bush, the bill would give Amtrak the $1.2 billion it requested for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. The bill also would provide $775 million for security and safety upgrades.
The bill enjoys bipartisan support from transportation leaders in the Republican-controlled House, which is generally more skeptical of Amtrak than the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Amtrak has warned it will have to make cuts starting with its 18 long-distance routes if it receives less than $1.2 billion.
"This bill represents the beginning of a new era of passenger rail in this country, because it recognizes the simple fact that it takes real money to provide real service," said Tennessee Rep. Bob Clement, the ranking Democrat on the panel.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Oregon Democrat, said he typically opposes "short-term fixes," but considered the bill an important boost for Amtrak.
One leading Amtrak critic Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican voted against the bill.
"At best, this is a Band-Aid," said Mr. Mica, who favors breaking up Amtrak and letting private companies take over any profitable routes. "It only will stave off the inevitable."
The bill imposes new requirements on Amtrak to submit periodic assessments, business plans and a capital-spending plan to the government, said Rep. Jack Quinn, New York Republican, the subcommittee chairman.
"We simply want to know that the money is being spent wisely," Mr. Quinn said, adding that the full committee will consider the bill in about two weeks.
Before the hearing, Mr. Quinn and Mr. Clement participated in a pro-Amtrak rally near the Capitol that drew about 100 people.
The subcommittee also approved a separate bill that would provide up to $59 billion for development of new high-speed rail corridors around the country. The bill puts states rather than Amtrak in charge of the money, to leave open the possibility that other companies might run the high-speed service.
Amtrak has relied upon government subsidies for its entire 31-year existence and will not meet an order by Congress to end that reliance by the end of this year.
Many Amtrak backers are putting their hopes behind a bill by Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat, that would keep Amtrak operating for five more years and spend $4.6 billion a year on improving and expanding rail service. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved the bill April 18.

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