Amtrak Funding: What’s the Answer?

Can Amtrak operate without government funding?

“Earlier today I met with Senator Patty Murray of the Appropriations Committee concerning Amtrak funding for FY ’03,” Amtrak President David L. Gunn said on Jan. 15, 2003.

“I updated Senator Murray on the progress being made to stabilize Amtrak’s operations and finances and to bring tight new fiscal controls to bear on the company. I also repeated my concern that federal funding substantially less than $1.2 billion in FY ‘03 will take us right back to the near-shutdown we experienced last summer.”

Murray, D-Washington, along with several Senate Republicans, on Jan. 16 ensured that the Senate would pass an amendment restoring Amtrak’s funding to the $1.2 billion previously approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee for fiscal year 2003. The amendment, one of only a handful to be successfully attached thus far to the Omnibus Appropriations bill, restores funding for the struggling rail system to the amount necessary to maintain service.

“Passage of this amendment provides stability for Amtrak and security to the millions of Amtrak riders and commuter rail passengers across the country who depend on its service,” Murray said. “Restoring funding to Amtrak is the right thing to do while we continue to debate the larger issues regarding the company’s future.”

Six months ago the Appropriations Committee unanimously passed a bill that funded Amtrak at the level of $1.2 billion, the level requested by the Amtrak Board of Directors in order to keep the railroad running.

The Murray amendment provides an additional $374 million to Amtrak for the remainder of fiscal year 2003. Senator Murray also provided $1.2 billion in Amtrak funding in the fiscal year 2003 Transportation Appropriations bill adopted by the full Senate Appropriations Committee last summer.

The House of Representatives failed to adopt a Transportation Appropriations measure, leading to the Omnibus Appropriations bill now before the Senate.

“Once again, the Senate has demonstrated strong bipartisan support for Amtrak. I will continue to fight for Amtrak in Conference,” Murray said. “We now await a response from the White House and House Republicans. It is time for our nation’s leaders to assure travelers across the country that Amtrak will remain viable and more forward with reform.”

Gunn contends slashing funding would bankrupt Amtrak.