September 12, 2002
Ill-timed derailments and well-publicized problems with the high-speed Acela line may be responsible for a Congress close to funding Amtrak at its requested level for next year.
As appropriations bills wind their way through the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, Amtraks supporters have nearly succeeded in pushing the Amtrak request through. The $1.2 billion for Amtrak in the 2003 Transportation spending bill is double the amount the Bush administration proposed. A possible factor in legislators goodwill toward Amtrak is the chartered Amtrak train that carried 300 members of Congress to New York City for a historic session on September 6.
The request, which has been approved by Senate appropriators, will finance operating costs, not the necessary infrastructure upgrades Amtrak officials say are necessary. And Amtrak still does not have its own federal revenue stream, as do highways, airlines and mass transit. Each year during appropriations season, a fight ensues between Amtrak boosters and those who would dismantle and privatize the system
The good news about Amtraks future comes nearly three months after a showdown between Amtrak President Davis Gunn and the Bush administration. In June, Gunn said if the system did not receive $200 million in loans by July 1, he would begin an "orderly" shutdown.
Such a possibility would have done more than inconvenience 60,000 Americans who rely on Amtrak daily; it would have halted service on commuter lines and even freight trains in the "integrated system" on the Northeast Corridor from Washington D.C. through New York to Boston. It would also endanger the jobs of 23,000 Amtrak employees nationwide and place the Railroad Retirement system in immediate danger of bankruptcy. The IBEW has approximately 1,500 members working at Amtrak; more than 11,000 IBEW members and staff rely on Railroad Retirement for pensions. A last-minute agreement averted a shutdown.
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.)
Deal Will Save Amtrak