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Amtrak Dying, Sec. Mineta Says

Money-losing routes must end, says DOT Secretary

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Dateline: February, 2005

Amtrak “is dying and everyone knows it,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said during a news conference at Chicago’s Union Station. Mineta came to reaffirm President Bush’s commitment to reform of the nation’s passenger rail system a week after the Administration unveiled a budget that proposed an end to taxpayer subsidies for the current Amtrak system.

Mineta rejected critics’ claims that he is just trying to kill the railroad, saying if that were the case he “wouldn’t have to lift a finger.”

“Everyone agrees that Amtrak is on financial life support. But the answer to the problem is not throwing more money into a system that is fundamentally flawed. The answer is top-to-bottom reform,” Mineta said.

Mineta said he and the President support passenger rail, and they understand that “it is too important, in too many parts of the country, including here in Chicago, to just stand by and watch a major mode of transportation strangle under a funding system that is fundamentally irrational.”

He said Amtrak has problems partly because it runs money-losing routes and regularly diverts cash away from repairs to cover operating losses. “It’s nuts,” Mineta said. “We cannot afford to continue to waste money this way when there are critical investments that have to be made in passenger rail.”

The Administration soon will re-introduce the “Passenger Rail Investment Reform Act” to put “passenger rail back on track by recognizing the reality of rail travel today,” Mineta said.

The proposal, according to Mineta, would establish a 50-50 federal match for state investments in passenger rail infrastructure, like stations, trains and tracks, and open passenger rail service to competition.

More importantly, Mineta said the President’s plan “does not call for an end to Amtrak,” but would position the federal government to work hand-in-hand with states and local entities to invest in railroad infrastructure, while allowing Amtrak to focus on providing service.

For example, in Chicago, Mineta said Amtrak owns Union Station and controls the schedules for its trains and those operated by METRA, even though Amtrak runs just 17 percent of trains using the facility.

The Administration’s proposal would transfer ownership of Union Station to a regional transportation authority, a plan Mineta said would allow Amtrak to focus on providing better service to its Chicago customers and one he says makes more sense than the current arrangement, which he likened to “the tail wagging the dog.”

“With such a significant stake in operations at Union Station, we think it makes sense to put control into local hands to ensure the highest level of service to the millions of Chicagoland residents who rely on this vital transportation hub.”

Mineta said the President’s budget for Amtrak “is a call to action and his proposed legislation is the solution,” adding that “true reform is the only real solution.”

Secretary Mineta's Speech: Amtrak Budget and Call to Action on Reform

Order Books About Amtrak

"End of the Line," by Joseph Vranich
The Failure Of Amtrak Reform And The Future Of America's Passenger Trains
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"Amtrak," by David C. Nice
The History and Politics of a National Railroad
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