Schumer Urges Full Funding For Amtrak To Avert Service Shutdown
Proposed federal budget allots just half of what Amtrak says it needs to stay afloat this year; Without further funding, Albany trains with daily stops in NYC, Canada, and Boston will be permanently cut
Schumer proposal would provide federal funds to restore service this year, further develop federally designated high speed routes (including New York-Albany-Buffalo), and authorize large
With an Amtrak fiscal crisis threatening to shut down the company's rail service this year, US Senator Charles E. Schumer today unveiled a proposal to inject Amtrak with the $1.8 billion the company needs to maintain and improve its service in New York State. Schumer's proposal comes on the heels of proposed cuts to the Amtrak budget that would shut down Amtrak completely this year and President David Gunn's visit to the area Saturday to detail the dire situation.
"If you shut down Amtrak you're shutting down more than just trains," Schumer said. "In New York we count on Amtrak for jobs, economic growth, vacations, you name it. Here in the Capital Region, a strong Amtrak is vital to the continued development of Tech Valley. The bottom line is that the proposed budget for Amtrak is half of what it should be and we need to fix it now."
In the federal budget proposal released last month, the Administration proposed spending just $900 million for Amtrak for 2005, half of the $1.8 billion Amtrak says it needs to stay afloat this year. Without the full funding, Amtrak has said it would be forced to shut down its service completely for the year, and permanently cut three lines that go through Albany: its Lake Shore Limited (New York/BostonBuffaloChicago), Adirondack (New YorkAlbanyMontreal) and Maple Leaf (New YorkBuffaloToronto) lines.
In each of the last two years, Schumer has helped increase the allotment of federal money for Amtrak by over $300 million. In both Fiscal Years 2003 and 2004, after the Administration asked for $900 million for Amtrak and the House approved the request, Schumer and several of his Senate colleagues refused to pass the appropriations bill that funds Amtrak until more money was allocated. As a result of Schumer's efforts, Congress acknowledged that the initial amount of funding was insufficient and ended up approving $1.2 billion both years. The Administration has said it would support as much as $1.4 billion in future years if reforms it is pushing are made, such as splitting Amtrak into two separate companies so that the Northeast Corridor infrastructure is separated from longdistance train operations, and shifting control of train routes to the states. This would shift a great deal of the burden of maintaining the Northeast Corridor from the federal government to the states. As a result of these proposed reforms, Schumer said long distance service would be drastically cut as states would then have to pay for losses trains incur, something the states do not have the money to do.
To avert a potential shutdown in Amtrak service this year, Schumer unveiled ARRIVE 21 (The American Railroad Revitalization, Investment, and Enhancement Act of the 21st Century), a bill he is cosponsoring that would fully fund the Amtrak budget and protect long distance trains. In addition to funding the full $1.8 billion Amtrak needs to stay afloat in 2005, the proposal introduced by Senator Ernest Hollings (DSC) would: " Allow Amtrak to start adding new service. Schumers plan would reorganize and forgive almost all of Amtraks debt, the majority of which is held by the federal Treasury Department. One of these debts is a $100 million loan approved by the Administration that includes a provision saying Amtrak could only qualify for the loan if it agrees not to start any new service until the loan is repaid in full. ARRIVE 21 forgives that loan, allowing new service to be added.
" Further develop federally designated high speed routes (including New YorkAlbanyBuffalo) and allow the federal government to issue more debt for construction of high speed lines. The plan would create a new Rail Infrastructure Corporation, a nonprofit company incorporated in Delaware that will have a board appointed by the President. The new company would be authorized to issue up to $30 billion for passenger and freight rail projects all over the country. Highspeed routes such as New YorkAlbany Buffalo will be eligible to receive this money.
" Authorize substantial increases in security funding. The plan would also authorize $515 million this year to carry out security upgrades that would be distributed based on a security assessment conducted by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation, and Amtrak with input from local officials.
In a letter to the President today, Schumer wrote that depleting the Amtrak budget would have negative repercussions beyond its impact on transportation. "The United States leads the world in so many aspects of technology, innovation and infrastructure, it is a tragedy that we are so far behind in intercity rail development and implementation," Schumer wrote. "I fear that your Amtrak proposal will only ensure that our country will continue to remain far behind the rest of the world in intercity rail."
In 2003, the AlbanyRensselaer station was the 14th busiest Amtrak station in the US out of more than 500 train stations nationwide. During this time, 633,939 riders came and went through the station. The new station, which opened in September 2002, cost $53 million to construct and was publicly funded. It is one of the only stations in America from which trains travel in each direction, with four daily trains going west, including one to Toronto and one to Chicago. There is also a daily train to Montreal and Boston, and 12 daily round trips to New York City.
Over ten million people traveled on Amtrak in New York State last year, representing over 40% of Amtraks total ridership. As of December, 2003, Amtrak employed 2,087 New Yorkers accounting for over $72 million in wages. In the Capital Region Amtrak employs roughly 400 people between the station, train crews, and trades at the locomotive and turbo maintenance facility.
Schumer was joined by ESPA President Bruce B. Becker; Phil Larson, Amtrak's District Superintendent; Darrell Lafferty, Union Rep. for the Boilermakers, Stan Dembrosky, Union Rep. ARASA; Joe Bowers, Union Rep. Sheet Metal Workers; and Joe Cannon, Vice Chair, Union Transportation Union.