WASHINGTON – Congress on Feb. 13 passed legislation granting Amtrak a $1.05 billion operating and capital grant for the 2003 fiscal year. Additionally, repayment of a June 28, 2002, $100 million from the U.S. DOT loan from has been deferred.
“We have no plans to shut down,” Amtrak spokeswoman Karina Van Veen told Gannett News Service.
Amtrak’s $1.2 billion request for the fiscal year was predicated upon projected revenue levels and tight controls on spending. Despite the appropriation, Amtrak still believes sustaining operations will be an ongoing challenge.
“Though the budget will be extremely tight, this funding level should be sufficient to operate the national system for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends September 30, 2003,” Amtrak said in a Feb. 14 statement. “Amtrak will of efficiency to its operations without degrading the level of service to our customers and the safety we provide to our customers and employees.”
Amtrak President David Gunn has said anything less than $1.2 billion in funding may force the railroad to cut operations.
“My concern that federal funding substantially less than $1.2 billion in FY ‘03 will take us right back to the near shut down we experienced last summer,” he said Jan. 15.
Sen. Patty 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.
“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.”
Published in the March 2003 edition of The Cross-Tie.