June 5, 2002
CHICAGO (June 5)–The UTU’s Illinois Legislative Board and the national union have issued an appeal for all members to contact key their congressional representatives IMMEDIATELY and ask that Amtrak be given sufficient funds to continue in operation.
The appeal followed disclosure late yesterday that Amtrak’s dwindling cash reserves will run out in mid-July, forcing the carrier into a drastic curtailment of its nationwide operations and perhaps into bankruptcy.
“Neither option is acceptable to the nation’s travelers,to Amtrak’s employes, to the rail industry or to the national economy,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo.
“A reduction in Amtrak’s schedules or routes in the middle of the peak vacation-travel season would be devastating,” Szabo said. “Amtrak’s long-distance trains have been carrying record numbers of passengers since September 11, and many of those customers have become ‘repeaters.’ They are essential to Amtrak’s future success. An Amtrak shutdown would deprive these air-travel ‘refugees’ of their only transportation alternative and would have a negative ripple effect on many hotels, restaurants, theme parks, car-rental agencies and national parks dependent on these vacationers.”
Szabo said a shutdown, cutback or bankruptcy would result in mass layoffs of Amtrak employees that could threaten the financial viability of the Railroad Retirement System.
“You would have a sharp reduction in employees paying into the Fund at the same time as you get a spike in laid-off employees drawing benefits from it,” Szabo said. “The railroad industry and its employees both would suffer a financial body blow from trying to keep the system funded.”
Szabo said a bankruptcy would be even more devastating.
“IfAmtrak goes bankrupt, Congress and the Department of Transportation would lose their control over the company and watch helplessly as the Federal Bankruptcy Court named a new management,” he said. “Amtrak is chartered as a privately owned railroad. If it were to go bankrupt, the Federal Bankruptcy Code would govern, and the Court would appoint a Trustee whose duty is to protect the creditors first. Amtrak could come under a court order to liquidate its assets and pay off its creditors, and Congress would be powerless to do anything about it.”
Szabo asked all UTU members and their families to begin making phone calls and sending e-mails at once demanding that Congress and the administration pursue the following three approaches:
First–support $1.2 billion in appropriations for Amtrak in Fiscal Year 2003, which begins October 1. This is the minimum funding necessary to keep all of Amtrak’s current trains and routes operating while Congress debates long-term funding during the reauthorization process next year.
Second–support immediate emergency appropriation of $55 million so Amtrak can rebuild nearly 100 wrecked passenger cars and return them to revenue-earning service. This money currently is in the Senate’s Emeregency Supplemental Appropriations bill, which also reimburses Amtrak for $12 million the company spent on emergency security precautions following September 11.
Finally, support the current national passenger-rail system, with Amtrak as the operator and manager of the entire system. This is important: The banks that have lent money to Amtrak are concerned that their loans may not be repaid if the company is broken up, reconfigured or franchised to operators from the private sector. They want to see a single owner/operator in charge of the entire national intercity passenger-trainsystem.
Szabo said the number-one target of Illinois members shold be the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, J. Dennis Hastert (R-Batavia). It is particularly important that UTU members living in Speaker Hastert’s own district contact his office.
“The fastest and most effective way to reach Speaker Hastert’s staff is to call his office in Washington at (202) 225-2976,” Szabo said. “The next best approach is to fax him at (202)225-0697. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Conventional letters should be mailed as well to:
The Honorable J. Dennis Hastert
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515-1314
In addition to the Speaker, members are urged to reach out to the congressman representing their respective districts. If you do not know your congressman’s name, go to the UTU’s national Web page at www.utu.org and click “Links,” then “Government Websites,” then “House of Representatives” then “Member Offices.” After inputting your ZIP code you will be presented with the name of your U.S. Representative and a form on which to e-mail him.
Finally, make sure you contact two critical members of the Bush administration about the need to save and fund Amtrak. They are:
The Honorable Norman Y. Mineta
Secretary of Transportation
400 Seventh St. S.W.
Washington, DC 20590
Fax: (202) 366-7202
Mr. Andrew H. Card, Jr.
Chief of Staff to the President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500
Thanks. Let’s get to work now.