Smith: Amtrak Waiting on Congress

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The chairman of the Amtrak Board of Directors is Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith and put the question of the rail service's financial viability to him.

"It's absolutely true," said Smith. "We've been very clear with the administration, with Congress, about the capital and financial needs of Amtrak."

The problem, Smith said, is the current Congressional gridlock.

"Every year during the spring and summer we'll use short term bank borrowing to get through the end of the year until we get to the new appropriation from Congress," he explained. "This year, however, with the Amtrak Reform Council Report and Congress as yet not having dealt with the appropriation for next year, that short term bank borrowing has been called into question."

Amtrak has requested from Congress $1.2 billion. Smith said the banks will loan what the rail service needs if Congress indicates the money will be in next year's budget. The question is, when will Amtrak know?

"Oh ,I think we're two weeks away from having an absolute answer one way or another from the lending institution concerning short term borrowing for Amtrak," said Smith.

As for the Crescent from New York to New Orleans through Meridian, the mayor says overall it's doing well.

"Coach ridership has been down some since last year but sleeper ridership is way up over last year," he said. "What that tells you is elective trips, those people who are traveling purely for enjoyment, those trips are down. But those who must travel for work or family reasons are doing so and they're traveling by sleeper. To put it in perspective though, nationally counting coach and sleeper ridership, Amtrak is up while the airlines are down about 19 percent."