Four Republican senators announced a six-year, $60-billion plan Wednesday to help Amtrak, countering a Bush administration proposal that would reduce federal support for passenger rail service.
The plan by members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee would give Amtrak the $2 billion in annual operating subsidies it has requested. The plan also calls for issuing $48 billion in bonds to raise money for repairs and track construction.
“The reason that Amtrak is always coming up short and running to the Congress to say, ‘We need more money,’ is because we have starved them to death,” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), the bill’s author. “Amtrak has been a stepchild in the national transportation system.”
The senators -- Hutchison, Trent Lott of Mississippi, Conrad R. Burns of Montana and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine -- represent states outside Amtrak’s busiest corridor, between Boston and Washington. They have adopted the motto “National or Nothing” to highlight their view that Amtrak must devote more money to improve and expand service throughout the nation.
The senators acknowledged the challenge in proposing a major spending initiative at a time of federal deficits.
“You are talking about real money,” Lott said. “But we have to make up our minds in America: Do we want a national rail passenger system or not?”
The administration’s six-year plan for Amtrak would end its monopoly on intercity passenger rail service, minimize federal subsidies and promote competition among railroad operators.
“If, after 2 1/2 years, that’s all they can come up with, they ought to be ashamed,” Lott said. “It is a guarantee to fail.”