Amtrak Plan Heads to Congress

By: Stan Torgerson
By: Stan Torgerson

President Bush wants to restructure the nation's passenger railroad. The president's plan would have states assume a portion of the cost and eliminate Amtrak's unprofitable long-distance routes.

It would, in effect, force states to spend more on services between cities. It's intended to solve Amtrak's continuing financial problems.

Amtrak has been having annual operating deficits of $1 billion. The plan would give states the responsibility to form regional railroads that would hire Amtrak or other operators to run the trains.

The federal government would help pay for some of those services, but the goal would be to ease the government subsidies.

Critics of the plan say the railroad's troubles stem from years of too-little investment in rails and equipment. They say all passenger railroads need government subsidies.

Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith, former Amtrak board chairman, said that could kill the service.

Smith said Congress allocates $35 billion for highways, $18 billion for air travel, but denies Amtrak less than $2 billion it needs to operate.

"Almost every state in the union is facing very tough financial times," said Smith. "They cannot possibly afford to take on funding for what is a national passenger system. States simply don't have the money."

But supporters of the plan say if it's put in place properly, it would improve service and encourage private investors to build railroads.

The plan goes to Congress Tuesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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