June 21, 2002
Passenger Rail Systems Fate Tenuous
A White House plan under consideration, details of which were released on June 20, would effectively end Amtrak as we know it, leaving the 31-year old national passenger rail system up to the states to pay for operations.
The plan would shift the cost from the federal government to individual states, many of which are making drastic cuts in existing state services in a post-economic boom era. Such an eventuality could make passenger rail service a thing of the past in some states.
Amtraks new president, David Gunn, announced earlier this month that dire financial straits could cause the system to shut down by July 1 if he cannot secure a loan. He also announced plans for greater operational disclosure and fewer high-level executives. But Gunns plans, which he detailed on Capitol Hill Thursday before a Senate subcommittee, were accompanied by more bad news for Amtrakthe revelation that it lost $160 million more in the last fiscal year than it had previously thought, and $37 million more in earlier years than its books reflect.
Over the weekend, the Administration said it did not want Amtrak to shut down, at least this week, as Gunn has said is possible. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta called an emergency meeting with Amtraks board of directors for today.
The IBEW has stated that a national passenger rail system should be considered an integral part of the countrys transportation network. Airlines, roads and mass transit receive much more public support than railroads. Last fall alone, our federal legislators agreed to spend $10 billion to keep the airlines solvent without hardly any debate. In the decade between 1985 and 1995, the government spent 52 percent of its transportation funding on building and maintaining highways. Twenty-four percent was spent on airlines. Mass transit received 12 percent, ports and waterways received 10 percent. Amtrak got a mere sliver of the pie at less than 2 percent. No other segment of Americas transportation system is forced to meet its capital and operating needs without substantial government assistance.
"No amount of councils, commissions, study groups or symposiums will find a painless answer to what to do about Amtrak," Gunn said in testimony to Congress. "Recent proposals to privatize or restructure are exercises in problem avoidance. The federal government must decide what role rail should play just as it does with highways and air, even waterways."
Amtraks shutdown would be devastating to Amtrak workers, nearly 1,000 of whom are IBEW members. (To read the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Departments statement, click here.)
Senators To Hear Amtrak Chief on Thursday - June 18, 2002
Amtrak Facing Total Shutdown, Says System Chief - June 7, 2002
All Aboard: Amtraks Survival is at a Crossroads - IBEW Journal, May 2002