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Support Urged for Letter Backing Amtrak Funding

By Light Rail Now! Publication Team • February 2005

As we report in our article Bush budget proposal to kill Amtrak sparks widespread outrage, America's George W. Bush administration has proposed a budget eliminating funding for Amtrak's nationwide intercity rail passenger operations – a move that would effectively shutdown virtually all Amtrak operations. The National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) is urging support for a letter (below) protesting the Bush Administration's efforts, particularly aimed at building support to block the administration's attempt to cut all Amtrak operational funding support from the fiscal 2006 Department of Transportation budget. The letter will be sent to Senate Budget Leaders Senators Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Kent Conrad (D-ND).

The text of the letter is published immediately below. Following that is a listing of senators who have signed the letter as of Friday, 11 February 2005. American supporters of Amtrak are urged to check whether their senators are on the list; if not, please encourage them to sign. In the case of those senators on the list, "please thank them for their support!" requests NARP.

Text of Letter to Senate Budget Leaders

Dear Senators Gregg and Conrad:

We are writing to express our deep concern regarding the President's proposed elimination of funding Amtrak in his 2006 Budget proposal. At a time when Amtrak is setting ridership records and congestion at our airports and on the highways continues to increase, we believe it would be a grave mistake to cut the essential federal funds that keep Amtrak operating. Without such funds or other intervening action, Amtrak would quickly enter bankruptcy and shutdown of all Amtrak services, leaving millions of riders and thousands of communities without access to the essential and convenient transportation that Amtrak provides.

Therefore, we ask that you provide sufficient funding in the Fiscal Year 2006 Budget Resolution to sustain Amtrak's national network of passenger rail service. Amtrak's 5-year Strategic Plan, which was approved by Amtrak's Board of Directors on June 10, 2004, specifies that approximately $1.8 billion will be required for fiscal year 2006 to provide safe and efficient operation of the railroad. In addition, the most recent reauthorization proposal from the Administration would require a funding level of at least $1.5 billion for fiscal year 2006, according to the Department of Transportation inspector General.

Where Amtrak service is available, Americans ride the train and are doing so in record numbers. Despite a sluggish domestic travel industry, Amtrak carried more than 25 million passengers nationwide.

Amtrak's ridership has been soaring. Passengers board Amtrak's Texas Eagle at Longview, Tx, in October 2004.
[Photo: L. Henry]

If Amtrak had the same opportunity to receive Federal infrastructure investments as highway and aviation interests, with a federal match comparable to funds available to those modes of transportation, many more communities would avail themselves of passenger rail service.

Amtrak has made real progress reforming itself over the last few years by reducing its operating costs to help fund needed capital improvements. Over the last 30 months, Amtrak CEO and President David Gunn has cut operating costs, reduced the employee headcount from slightly less than 25,000 to just under 20,000 employees, has increased the number of trains it operates by 20%, and implemented internal reforms designed to control costs and improve efficiencies. Amtrak's core operating expenses are now less than they were in 2000.

There is an enormous amount of work needed on the infrastructure, fleet and equipment Amtrak owns and operates. Amtrak cannot continue to defer this important work without jeopardizing safety and reliability of its operations or putting at risk service that is relied on by hundreds of thousands of commuter and intercity passengers each day. Please consider our request for adequate funding for Amtrak in preparing the FY 2006 Budget Resolution.

Signatories to Senate Budget Letter
(as of Friday, 11 February 2005, 16:30)

· California – Boxer (D.)

· Connecticut – Lieberman (D.), Dodd (D.)

· Delaware – Biden (D.), Carper (D.)

· illinois Durbin (D.)

· Maryland – Mikulski (D.), Sarbanes (D.)

· Maine – Collins (R.), Snowe (R.)

· Massachusetts – Kennedy (D.)

· Michigan – Levin (D.)

· Minnesota – Coleman (R.)

· Montana – Baucus (D.), Burns (R.)*

· New Jersey – Lautenburg (D.)*, Corzine (D.)

· New York – Clinton (D.), Schumer (D.)

· Oregon Wyden (D.)

· Pennsylvania – Specter (R.), Santorum (R.)

· Rhode island – Chafee (R.), Reed (D.)

· Texas – Hutchison (R.)

· Vermont – Jeffords (i.), Leahy (D.)

· West Virginia – Rockefeller (D.)

· Wisconsin – Kohl (D.)

* co-author of letter

Light Rail Now! website
Updated 2005/02/13

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