Committee Recommends Saving Amtrak

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Amtrak will be bankrupt within a year, says a report released two weeks ago by a federal committee.

The federally-subsidized passenger train service has been losing $700 million a year for the last nine years. Amtrak’s debt and capital lease obligations have almost doubled from 1993 to 1996, according to the report.

The report blames the problems on congressional involvement instead of poor management by Amtrak officials.

“Amtrak has operated for too long under conditions that no business could endure,” the report states.

The report was issued by the Working Group on Intercity Passenger Rail, which was appointed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to study the financial status of Amtrak and recommend ways to improve passenger rail service.

The committee supported continuing passenger service and saving Amtrak. The members endorsed a recent decision by the Senate Finance Committee to transfer a half-cent of the federal 4.3-cent fuel tax to a Rail Trust Fund that would be used to help reduce the deficit of Amtrak.

The committee also recommended several ways to increase competition in the passenger rail system.

Among the more controversial suggestions was the creation of a new government agency, which the report called Amrail, that would own and manage railroad tracks used for passenger service. The arrangement would be similar to other federal transportation agencies in which infrastructure is owned by the government but no federal assistance is paid to operators who use the facilities. The federal government currently subsidizes Amtrak at more than $700 million a year.

A congressional hearing is expected on the report this month. Several bills have been proposed in Congress in the last year designed to help save Amtrak.