May 8, 2003

WASHINGTON (May 8)–Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) told a key Senate subcommittee today that while Illinois is paying more than its fair share to keep Amtrak corridor trains operating in the state, the federal government is still dodging its share of the responsibility for funding both intrastate corridor trains and long-distance trains.

“The president’s budget proposed only $900 million for Amtrak in Fiscal Year 2004,” Durbin told the Transportation, Treasury and General Government Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Unfortunately, that’s only half of what Amtrak President David Gunn has said is needed to keep intercity passenger service running.”

Earlier this year Gunn told another congressional committee that Amtrak needed an absolute minimum of $1.8 billion to operate all of its trains for another year. Gunn also warned the administration that if full funding was not provided, cutbacks would occur system-wide, not just on the long-distance trains between Chicago and the coasts.

“While I’m no longer amazed at the game of chicken this administration plays with Amtrak,” Durbin added, “I am surprised that they would intentionally slice the request this low without specifically outlining a ‘reform’ proposal or specifics on a plan for keeping intercity passenger service operating.”

And in a clear warning to administration ideologues who continue to insist that a British-style privatization of Amtrak is a potential solution to problems caused by lack of federal funding, Durbin said, “for the record, I don’t believe that attempting to establish the same system that failed in the United Kingdom or searching for private companies to operate long-haul trains or dividing the costs between the affected states are the silver bullets that this administration believes it has found.”

Durbin addressed his remarks directly to Transportation Sec. Norman Mineta, who was in the hearing room and scheduled to testify minutes later.

“Mr. Secretary, I stand ready to help, but I believe the administration has to meet us at least halfway,” Durbin said. “Forcing a standoff with Amtrak or Congress is just not the most productive solution to this perennial problem.”