Panel: Amtrak should be dismantled

| 2/8/2002

A congressionally appointed panel ruled Thursday that Amtrak is "irreversibly flawed" and should be broken up to give the free market a chance to improve the nation's passenger train system.

The Amtrak Reform Council ruled the rail service, created to relieve freight railways of the burden of carrying passengers, should be replaced at least in part by private operators working under franchise. "The council believes that passenger rail service will never achieve its potential as provided and managed by Amtrak," the report says.

Congress created the council to evaluate Amtrak's finances and to make a definitive judgment about the railway's financial viability. Since then, Amtrak officials contend they've made progress toward weaning themselves from federal operating subsidies, but the council ruled it still won't meet Congress' deadline of Dec. 2, 2002, to begin operating without government subsidies.

The council voted in November that the rail service would not achieve that goal, a finding that gave the panel 90 days to propose a restructuring plan. The House Transportation Committee has scheduled a Feb. 14 hearing on the report.

Amtrak has threatened to cancel all long-distance train service in October unless it receives $1.2 billion in the 2003 budget year. President Bush has proposed $521 million for Amtrak, the same amount as the past three years.