States asked to ante up for Amtrak

| 7/30/2003

The Bush administration wants to eliminate direct federal funding of Amtrak and turn over much of the responsibility for passenger rail service over the next six years to state governments, according to news accounts.

Under a Bush administration proposal that went to Congress July 29, billions in federal subsidies that have kept Amtrak afloat for decades would be replaced by 50-50 matching grants to states. Amtrak has received $26.6 billion in government subsidies during its 32-year existence.

The plan also would split Amtrak into operating and maintenance companies and open both to competition from outside contractors.

"I believe that our states and localities, in partnership with the federal government, are best suited to decide how and when to operate passenger rail service," Transportation Department Secretary Norman Mineta said.

States would create regional coalitions to oversee train service and eventually would have the option of contracting service to private rail companies. State officials would set priorities and make decisions about how and where to provide train service.

The chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. John McCain, said the railroad had little to show for the billions of dollars spent on it.

"Clearly reform is needed," the Arizona Republican said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, chairwoman of the Surface Transportation Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee, plans to introduce legislation this week that will spend substantially more than the administration proposes.

“If you turn Amtrak over to the states, it's gone,” Hutchison said.

Amtrak, formed in 1971 from defunct passenger railroads, serves 500 communities in 46 states on 22,000 miles of track.