Amtrak rolls toward self-sufficiency

December 26, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Although Amtrak is getting closer to self-sufficiency in its operating budget, the government-owned railroad needs a huge infusion of federal money to replace dilapidated equipment and property, federal and Amtrak officials say.

Amtrak passengers paid 80 percent of the railroad's operating costs in 1993, continuing a steady increase from the 48 percent they contributed in 1981. The officials say the railroad could operate self-sufficiently in the next decade.

But they also say the railroad needs nearly $4 billion in federal money to repair and replace its aging trains, dilapidated stations and inadequate maintenance yards. Without this money, experts say, Amtrak will have to curtail routes and service.

The government's current $351 million operating subsidy to Amtrak augments passenger revenues of nearly $1 billion. The subsidy has fallen over the years from $720 million in 1981 as more passengers have traveled farther and as costs have been reduced through increased efficiency.

The Clinton administration's current budget provides $200 million more for Amtrak's capital improvements, and railroad officials expect about the same amount next year.

But Bijay Pandit, Amtrak's manager of capital investment, said the railroad needs $3.9 billion for capital improvements in the next five years, including $2 billion for new cars -- more than half are more than 40 years old.

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