- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2005


The House yesterday rejected a big proposed cut in Amtrak subsidies that would have led to major cutbacks in rail service.

By voice vote during debate on a spending bill funding Amtrak’s budget, the House approved an amendment by Steven C. LaTourette, Ohio Republican, to add $626 million for Amtrak, to bring its budget up to the current level of $1.2 billion.

The House Appropriations Committee had proposed spending $550 million for Amtrak and eliminating 18 routes, including every cross-country run, the Auto Train and all long-distance runs outside the Northeast Corridor. Those runs include the famed City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans, the Southwest Chief from Chicago to Texas, the Empire Builder across the Northern Plains and the Sunset Limited from Florida to Los Angeles.

The administration contends that eliminating operating subsidies would leave the passenger rail system with stronger routes and entice subsidies from local governments.

Amtrak operates trains through almost every state, which gives it great support among lawmakers. These legislators cite similar government assistance for the airlines, many of which are losing money. The bill provides $134.9 billion in new spending authority, $7.2 billion more than current funding, with much of the increase for highway programs.

Amtrak supporters said that without the additional funding the railroad would have to shut down.

“To slash Amtrak’s operating budget and effectively strand millions of passengers is irresponsible,” Mr. LaTourette said. “The bill before us today … would force Amtrak to shut down all operations and declare bankruptcy.”

The additional money for Amtrak came from cuts elsewhere in the sprawling spending bill.

Floor manager Joe Knollenberg, Michigan Republican, said it is not possible to continue funding money-losing Amtrak routes. The Sunset Limited, for example, costs taxpayers more than $400 per passenger. Instead, reforms are needed to keep the system viable, he said.

“Amtrak needs to get back on track, and it does not need Congress to continue to throw money at its problems,” Mr. Knollenberg said. “Like an overly spoiled child, Amtrak needs discipline, boundaries and restraint.”

In his February budget, President Bush proposed eliminating Amtrak’s operating subsidy and setting aside $360 million to run trains along the Northeast Corridor, if the railroad were to cease operating.

The move came as the House opened debate on a spending bill for housing and transportation programs and Treasury Department agencies, including the IRS.

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