Amtrak financing nearly eliminatedBy Matthew L. Wald
Highway financing would rise slightly while almost all spending for Amtrak would be eliminated under the Transportation Department budget. The plan would also give the Federal Aviation Administration more money to hire air traffic controllers but cut spending for airport improvements.
The budget provides no money for Amtrak itself, but it does include $360 million to maintain commuter service that uses Amtrak tracks in the Northeast corridor if the railroad goes bankrupt.
Norman Y. Mineta, the transportation secretary, said federal subsidies for Amtrak had almost doubled in the last four years, to $1.2 billion in 2005 from $520 million in 2001. "After 34 years of Amtrak operating losses and $29 billion in taxpayer subsidies, it is clear that the current model of passenger rail service is flawed and unsustainable, " Mr. Mineta said.
Amtrak, however, has always survived because of supporters in Congress. And they rallied to its defense on Monday. Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said, "Eliminating Amtrak wouldn't just cost us billions of dollars in operating funds for the trains and the businesspeople and tourists they bring here, it also shreds the safety net we'll need in case - God forbid - our airspace is shut down again like it was after 9/11."
Likewise, airport improvements are a favorite in Congress.
Under the budget, the Airport Improvement Program in the aviation agency would be reduced to about $3 billion, from nearly $3.5 billion. The plan does include money to hire about 1,200 air traffic controllers, for a net increase of 595, at a time when the agency is facing a wave of retirements.
The budget also calls for Congress to reauthorize $284 billion over six years, a $28 billion increase, for highway construction; passage of a highway bill stalled last year when lawmakers and the administration could not agree on spending levels.
The plan also seeks $14 million to improve the Global Positioning System, the satellite-based navigation system, so it would be accurate enough for railroads to use to track their trains, even on closely spaced tracks.
Copyright ©2005 New York Times. Published 02/08/2005.