WASHINGTON – Amtrak's operating subsidies would be cut but the railroad would receive more money for improvements to tracks and equipment, under a bipartisan proposal to be considered by a Senate committee Thursday.
The bill calls for reducing Amtrak's operating subsidy by 40 percent, leaving the railroad $3.3 billion in subsidies over six years. Those cuts would be absorbed through cost cutting, restructuring and reform.
The railroad, however, would receive $4.9 billion over six years for capital grants, and the bill would create a grant program giving states $1.4 billion for intercity passenger rail service (search).
Amtrak (search) received a $1.2 billion subsidy for the current year. Another Senate measure would give Amtrak a $1.4 billion subsidy next year.
But the Bush administration and some lawmakers have pushed to eliminate Amtrak subsidies. An attempt by the House Appropriations Committee to cut the railroad's budget by more than half and cut off subsidies for every cross-country route was reversed by the full House in June.
The bipartisan bill — sponsored by Sens. Trent Lott, R-Miss.; Ted Stevens, R-Alaska; Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.; and Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii — was scheduled for consideration by the Commerce Committee, where Stevens is chairman, on Thursday.
"Amtrak as an organization must change culturally to think and run more like a business," said Lott, chairman of the Commerce surface transportation subcommittee. "That is why our bill requires Amtrak to develop much better financial systems and be held accountable for its use of federal funding."
Lautenberg said the bill provides needed funding to national passenger rail service, which he called a necessity, not a luxury.
Amtrak President David Gunn called the measure a positive first step. But Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta (search) said he was concerned that the bill does not "provide the fundamental changes Amtrak needs if it is to survive."