Amtrak Line Would Benefit From Bill Backed By Cardin

Legislation Would Provide $4 Billion Over Five Years

April 25, 1997|By John M. Biers | John M. Biers,STATES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Amtrak received a boost yesterday when a bipartisan group of Northeastern lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, introduced legislation that would provide more than $4 billion for the financially strapped carrier over the next five years.

The funding, if approved by Congress, would enable the railroad to begin high-speed rail service in the Northeast in 1999.

Amtrak officials say the high-speed service would draw enough new customers to earn $150 million in annual profits.

In recent years, Amtrak has run high deficits.

45-minute improvement

With high-speed service, the Baltimore-New York trip would take about two hours and 15 minutes -- 45 minutes faster than the current ride -- by 2010.

But those improvements -- as well as Amtrak's long-term solvency -- are contingent on the railroad's ability to turn around its debt-troubled operations.

Amtrak President Thomas M. Downs told a Senate committee Wednesday the carrier would survive only for the next 18 to 20 months without funding for major capital investments.

Under legislation introduced yesterday by Cardin and other lawmakers, Amtrak would garner a half-cent from federal gas taxes slated for deficit reduction.

Some call for overhaul

The bill faces obstacles.

Some Republicans question additional funding for Amtrak without an overhaul of the company's obsolete operations.

"Money alone is not the answer. We need to have reforms first," said Pia Pialorsi, a spokeswoman for Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who chairs the Commerce and Transportation Committee.

Pub Date: 4/25/97

Contributing writer Robert Gee provided information for this article.

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