June 16, 2005 in City

Cuts would derail Empire Builder

From staff and wire reports

WASHINGTON – Amtrak would have to end all of its cross-country routes, including the Empire Builder route through Washington and Idaho, under big cuts approved Wednesday by a House subcommittee.

The proposal was part of a transportation bill that would reduce Amtrak’s budget by more than half and limit federal subsidies.

The cuts, which would require House and Senate approval, would not apply to most Amtrak service in the Northeast, Midwest and California. Subcommittee Chairman Joe Knollenberg, R-Mich., said those routes account for 80 percent of Amtrak’s ridership.

Amtrak generally has stronger support in the Senate. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the Senate transportation appropriations subcommittee, said what the administration really wants to do is push Amtrak into financial collapse.

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said in a statement that the subcommittee’s action “sends the same signal as that of the administration: Amtrak must reform.”

The overall bill would provide $550 million for Amtrak, compared to the $1.8 billion in federal funds the rail system requested. The House knows the practical impact of $550 million in federal support is the same as no funding, said Amtrak’s president and chief executive, David Gunn.

Other routes that would lose federal subsidies include the City of New Orleans, which runs from Chicago to New Orleans, and the California Zephyr from Chicago to Oakland.

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