Senate Panel Considers Funding Boost for Amtrak

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The financially challenged Amtrak passenger railroad would see its federal subsidy increased by 8 percent under a bill ready to advance in the Senate.

Amtrak would receive a $1.4 billion federal subsidy for the budget year beginning Oct. 1. The figure is contained in an as-yet-unreleased bill slated for a vote Tuesday by the Senate Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee.

Amtrak received a $1.3 billion subsidy for the current year, but the White House proposed cutting that figure to $900 million in its February budget. Amtrak supporters in the House increased the figure to $1.1 billion.

The Senate also approved $1.4 billion for the money-losing railroad last year but ultimately settled for the lower figure in talks with the House.

The development cheered Amtrak and its many supporters on Capitol Hill. Amtrak runs trains through almost every state, which gives it great support among lawmakers despite criticism from the Bush administration and some lawmakers for excessive subsidies on its cross-country trains, high labor costs and questionable management practices.

Amtrak sought $1.6 billion when presenting its budget request to the White House. An Amtrak spokesman said the $1.4 billion would not affect operations but would mean deferring some investments such as track upgrades.

"We consider that a very strong number," said Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black. "We'd have to make some decisions about some capital projects, but we consider that a very strong number."

Last year, Bush proposed eliminating Amtrak's operating subsidy entirely, setting aside funds for the Northeast Corridor and for some capital improvements.