July 2011

House GOP Calls for Privatizing Amtrak
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House Republicans are once again threatening to dismantle the nation's passenger rail carrier, putting good jobs and customer service at risk.

House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) tells the Hill newspaper that he plans to introduce a bill this summer that would sell off Amtrak's Northeast Corridor to private investors.

Connecting Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City and Boston, the corridor is Amtrak's busiest and most profitable route.

"If Congress pulls the Northeast Corridor out of Amtrak it will dry up funds for the rest of the system," says IBEW Railroad Department Director Bill Bohné. "The reality is that a lot of these investors would love to take in the ticket money but can't commit to the infrastructure spending necessary to keep a passenger line running."

New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D), who represents many constituents dependent on Amtrak for their daily commutes, told a transportation committee hearing that "if we shut down the Northeast Corridor rail service, you'd have to build seven new lanes on Interstate 95 just to carry all the travelers that use these trains every day."

Congress created Amtrak in 1971 to help keep inter-city passenger rail service alive after years of underinvestment by private carriers.

"Without government support, we would not have passenger rail service, period," Bohné says. "Amtrak was created in the first place because the private sector—the freight railroads—weren't interested in funding it and got out of the business.

A 1998 Federal Railroad Administration report, commissioned by Congress in response to an earlier proposal to sell off Amtrak, found that privatization would result in "inconsistent reservation services, uncoordinated service times and unnecessary gaps in service."

As gas prices hit record levels, Amtrak's popularity continues to grow. The carrier saw an increase of ridership of nearly 10 percent from last year according to the National Association of Railroad Passengers.

Privatization of the Northeast Corridor would also be disastrous for Amtrak's work force. "Taking out the most popular line puts a lot of good rail jobs at risk throughout the country," says Railroad Department International Representative James Meyer.

The IBEW represents more than 1,300 workers employed by Amtrak.