- The Washington Times - Friday, September 9, 2005

Amtrak will raise fares by as much as 7 percent and slash discounts on multi-trip tickets this month in response to higher fuel costs.

Fares will increase Sept. 20 by an average of $3 on most routes, but will increase about $4 per ticket in the busy Northeast corridor that stretches from the District to Boston.

“The cost of propulsion, the cost of fuel, keeps going up,” spokesman Cliff Black said.

The increase comes as federal officials press Amtrak to make reforms. The Bush administration threatened to eliminate funding for the national rail service. But the Senate has proposed $1.4 billion in funding for fiscal 2006, which begins Oct. 1, and the House has proposed $1.2 billion.

Amtrak lost an estimated $1 million a week after defective brakes on its Acela trains forced it to stop the high-speed rail service. Acela was out of service from April 15 to July 11, when it resumed partial service. Eighteen of the 20 trains have been repaired.

In addition to raising ticket prices, Amtrak will reduce the discounts it offers to consumers who buy monthly and 10-trip tickets. That change will boost ticket prices by as much as 50 percent. Amtrak offers discounts for 10-day tickets and monthly fares of up to 70 percent.

Under the new pricing scheme, discounts for monthly tickets will amount to 50 percent, and discounts for 10-trip tickets will be 20 percent.

Nearly 18,000 people who travel the Northeast corridor have monthly passes.

Passenger groups yesterday said the increase is justified.

“We feel that as long as Amtrak is able to keep the increases in control, passengers will be OK with it. We never like to see an increase, but it seems reasonable,” said David Johnson, assistant director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, a rail service advocacy group based in the District.

The high cost of gasoline continues to make driving more expensive and Amtrak a more reasonable option, Mr. Johnson said. The District this week had the highest gas prices in the U.S.

Amtrak’s fare increase isn’t going to be large enough to scare away customers, said J. Bruce Richardson, president of the United Rail Passenger Alliance, an Amtrak critic and passenger rail proponent based in Jacksonville, Fla.

Amtrak’s largest fuel expense is diesel, which powers all but its trains in the Northeast corridor. The rail service budgeted $80 million for diesel fuel in fiscal 2005, Mr. Black said. Those costs will increase more than 50 percent next year, and Amtrak has budgeted $130 million for diesel in fiscal 2006.

Spending on electricity has not risen as dramatically, Mr. Black said, increasing as estimated 7 percent to 10 percent.

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