Mayors Tell Congress Amtrak Is Essential to Homeland and Economic Security
By Ron Thaniel
October 21, 2002
The nation's mayors urged Congress on October 4 to fully fund Amtrak, warning that Amtrak funding below $1.2 billion would jeopardize passenger and commuter rail service across the country devastating the United States economy and national security.
"An adequately funded national passenger rail system is essential for the economy and security of our cities and the nation," said Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Mayors Transportation Committee, during a press conference at the annual Rail-Volution Conference.
The mayors released a letter, signed by Conference President Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Mayor Barr, that was sent to members of the Senate and House leadership and Appropriations Committees, expressing concern with the plan approved by House Appropriators that would fund Amtrak at $762 million in FY03, $440 million less than Amtrak needs to prevent serious service disruptions, including the potential elimination of up to 13 of the nation's 18 long distance trains. $762 million is $66 million less than Amtrak received last year.
Amtrak needs $1.2 billion in funding for FY -03 to operate without service cuts, a figure supported by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The House-spending plan would have to be reconciled with Senate legislation.
The Administration proposed $521 million for Amtrak, which would keep Amtrak operating for only weeks in the new fiscal year. No comparable national passenger rail system in the world has succeeded without operating subsidies.
According to Charlotte Mayor Patrick McCrory, "Mayors from both political parties strongly support Amtrak's funding request and will continue to work with Congress and the Administration to build a strong national passenger rail system."
Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson said, "Europe has shown the success and importance of regional and national rail systems. Until the U.S. commits to sufficient funding for rail, our transportation system will continue to be out of balance with an over-reliance on highways."
According to a recent Washington Post poll, a large majority of Americans favor continuing federal subsidies to Amtrak, and a substantial percentage would increase federal funding so the passenger railroad can increase service.
Mayors were joined at their press conference with Congressman James Oberstar (MN), Ranking Minority Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Congressman Earl Blumenauer (OR), also a member of the Committee. "The amount of funding allocated in the FY03 Transportation Appropriations bill for Amtrak threatens to cut off the oxygen supply to the national rail passenger system," said Oberstar.
Oberstar said, "if the current appropriations stands, 13 of Amtrak's 18 long-distance routes would be terminated and of those 13 trains, 10 go through Chicago. If this happens, we will be the rail equivalent of a Third World country."
Mayors Meeting With Amtrak President and CEO David Gunn Spotlights the Future Of National Passenger Rail
Prior to the Conference's press conference focusing on Amtrak's FY03 appropriation request, Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth L. Barr and Charlotte Mayor Patrick McCrory met with Amtrak's President and CEO David Gunn to talk about the future of passenger.
Gunn thanked the U.S. Conference of Mayors for being a terrific partner and described a vision where Amtrak continues the operation of a national passenger rail system. He also described a national system of high and higher speed passenger trains operating frequently on upgraded tracks between urban centers.
He also proposed the creation of a federal trust fund for passenger rail similar to those that help build roads and airports. Gunn did not mention highway gasoline taxes as a possible source. He noted that freight railroads now pay 4.3 cents per gallon in fuel taxes equaling about $170 million a year that go directly to the treasury. He said that could become the seed money for a trust fund.
Mayor Barr said the nation's mayors stand ready to work with Amtrak and Congress in identifying a permanent source of funding for Amtrak.
Continuing Resolution: Amtrak Secures Funding To Prevent Interruptions In Service
The House approved October 16 a stopgap spending bill (H J Res 123) 228 172 that would keep the government operating through November 22. The action cleared the Senate on a voice vote. Amtrak will be funded at a rate of just over $1 billion per year ensuring uninterrupted service while Congress decides Amtrak FY03 funding levels.