March 7, 2002
WASHINGTON (March 7)–Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) took the stand and himself became a witness today when the Transportation Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing to into the financial debacle that could soon force the company to make drastic cuts in its passenger-train network.
Durbin also lambasted the Amtrak Reform Council for its recent report urging that some Amtrak routes be turned over to private-sector operators and that those unable to attract investors be allowed to go out of existence.
“The idea of breaking up Amtrak is short-sighted,” Durbin told Subcommittee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Washington). “It would leave us with a set of unconnected rail corridors that may fill a regional need but, in the end, would not constitute a coherent, national system.”
Durbin added that “…without sufficient funding, Amtrak will be forced to terminate 40 per centof its scheduled rail service in the Midwest. This would diminish the prospects for development of Midwest high speed passenger rail.
“My home state of Illinois benefits greatly, both directly and indirectly, from Amtrak jobs and service,” Durbin said. “An average of 48 Amtrak trains run each day from 30 Illinois communities. Ridership in the state exceeded 2.9 million during 2000. Amtrak employes more than 2,000 Illinois residents.”
Money, and particularly the lack of a steady and reliable funding source like the Highway Trust Fund and Airport and Airways Trust Fund, is what is keeping rail from realizing its potential, Durbin concluded.
“That’s why Congress needs to step in and provide some predictability in funding Amtrak operations and high-speed passenger-rail development,” he told Murray. “In the last six months, Amtrak’s critics, including the Amtrak Reform Council (ARC), have attempted to portray our nation’s only intercity passenger railroad as a failed experiment. I reject that notion and believe a majority of Members of this Committee and of Congress do as well.”
Wednesday’s Senate hearing was the second probe into Amtrak in as many days. On Tuesday, the Railroad Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held its own hearing, with Chairman Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) offering high praise to Metra Executive Director Phillip Pagano for the high level of commuter service his agency provides to riders in the the six-county Chicago area. UTU International President Byron Boyd seconded Quinn’s praise for Metra, saying he was impressed with the strength of the agency’s labor-management relations.
“I was very pleased with the bi-partisan approach Congressman Quinn took during the hearing,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “This is the approach that Congress will have to follow if this country is to go forward in developing a strong passenger railroad system. History shows that all of this nation’s great transportation programs have flourished only when they received bi-partisan support.
“There’s no such thing as a ‘Republican airport’ or a ‘Democratic highway,'” Szabo said, “neither party alone can pass a program to develop the advanced railroad infrastructure we need to run good passenger trains. When you see both parties working together, you’ll know that a strong infrastructure program can’t be far behind.”