WASHINGTON – Don’t expect to see any trains Oct. 3 if unions representing Amtrak get what they want.
Union leaders have threatened a one-day strike to focus attention on what they are calling gross under funding of the national passenger railroad.
Acting Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees President Freddie N. Simpson noted that Amtrak’s President, David Gunn, said Amtrak needs $1.8 billion for Fiscal Year 2004 to maintain its operations. And without that level of funding, Gunn said he will seek to shut down Amtrak nationwide.
The US House of Representatives has agreed to provide $900 million in funding for Amtrak.
"Even though a majority of the House members signed a letter pledging to vote for $1.8 billion for Amtrak, the Republican leadership used procedural gimmicks to prevent a vote on that figure," Simpson said. The Senate appears likely to provide $1.35 billion to Amtrak, which is better but still inadequate, Simpson added.
"Amtrak is a vital national resource that is being starved to death by politicians who have a variety of different agendas and none of these agendas have a goal of providing efficient, high-speed rail service for the American people," said General Chairman Jed Dodd of the Pennsylvania Federation, which has jurisdiction over the BMWE track maintenance, building, bridge and electric catenary system workers on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.
"We hope that this action on October 3, 2003 will serve as a wakeup call that rail service is vital to the economy of the Nation. The government must make the proper investments into Amtrak to ensure that this resource is protected for the American people. The funding levels being proposed mean that the railroad cannot be safely maintained. The lives of the traveling public are being gambled with as the politicians continue to play their games with Amtrak."
Earlier this month in an Amtrak "Employee Advisory," Mr. Gunn said, "Our infrastructure and equipment is in such dire need of repair and investment that on any given day something could fail – as it already has – and large parts of the system could be shut down or the necessary consists for trains could not be met."
Dodd contends Amtrak’s catenary system, which was built prior to World War II, and "the inability to properly keep the system repaired has led to train delays and outages.".
"The traveling public must understand that Congress’ failure to appropriate sufficient funds for Amtrak means the end of a rail passenger service in the United States," Simpson said. "The House Republican leadership and the White House have pursued this misguided course even though rail passenger service is more popular than ever, and every improvement brings additional passengers," he added.
Contracts mandate that Amtrak service be provided every day. It remains unclear what impact there will be on trains traveling overnight.