Again Facing Uncertain Future
Once again, Amtrak has found itself poised for fiscal crisis as the U.S. Congress moves the fiscal 2003 budget closer to passage.
Two radically different funding proposals for the nations passenger rail system have been proposed by the Senate and the House of Representatives. Whether they settle on the $762 million the House of Representatives has passed or the more generous $1.2 billion the Senate approved will make the difference between a path to Amtraks financial health and a road to service shutdowns and layoffs.
Amtrak President David L. Gunn said in a statement that if negotiators from the two chambers settle on a figure closer to the Houses proposal, it "will take us right back to the near-shutdown we experienced last summer."
That eventuality looks possible, considering an apparent agreement by Republican leaders in the House and Senate to the $762 million Amtrak budget. If that happens, Amtrak will likely be forced to shut down passenger rail service to millions of Americans. Many IBEW members will probably be laid off.
"Our members wouldnt be the only ones to suffer if Amtrak doesnt receive the money it needs to keep the trains running and make vital infrastructure improvements," said IBEW President Edwin D. Hill. "Travelers and commuters from coast to coast will lose an important transportation option. Shortchanging Amtrak is shortchanging America."
Amtrak serves more than 500 communities in 46 states over a 22,000-mile route system. About 65,000 people ride Amtrak trains each day, half in Amtrak's busy Boston-New York-Washington corridor.
Amtrak is heavily unionized, with approximately 1,400 IBEW members out of a total workforce of 25,000.