Will Amtrak be Shut Down?

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The Amtrak debate is about money. $200 million to be exact. It's what the company says is necessary to keep passenger rail running beyond the middle of this week.

The Amtrak Reform Council, of which Meridian's Gil Carmichael is a member, wants to see changes made in the way Amtrak operates.

"The White House and the Secretary of Transportation have recommended to Amtrak that they restructure themselves and that they spin off their real estate, their infrastructure, the tracks into a separate organization and concentrate on their core business which is running passenger trains and carrying mail and express," said Carmichael.

Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith is chairman of the Amtrak board. He was in Washington today for the meeting with Amtrak's new
president and the transportation secretary.

"The question I reckon right now is, if Amtrak's board and the new president will restructure, they'll get tremendous support out of the White House and I've got a feeling they'll get all the money they need to start to start to develop a new national rail passenger system and to fund the corridor," said Carmichael.

Carmichael says he believes, with change, will come more and better passenger rail service.

"We need not one train a day each way in Meridian," said Carmichael.
"We probably need four trains a day each way. The more frequency we get the more train use we'll have and the lower the cost of tickets or the subsidy will be."

Asked for a prediction of what will happen this week, Carmichael said, "I think they're going to give them the money in the next two or three days."

But what will happen after that remains to be decided as the nation struggles with the need for better passenger rail service.

Meanwhile, a senator says President Bush has promised him that Amtrak won't shut down.

New Jersey Democrat Robert Torricelli says the president and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta promised the rails would keep humming.

Amtrak's president says the rail needs $200 million to close a budget shortfall.

If the cash doesn't show up soon, the railroad has said it could turn away passengers this week.