Amtrak to get $555 million in Senate compromise bill Money is 11 percent less than Clinton wanted

July 09, 1998|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Amtrak is expected to receive $555 million for the next fiscal year under a Senate compromise reached yesterday within a larger bill that would set the amount of money that can be spent on transportation projects.

Despite his outspoken opposition to subsidies for Amtrak, Sen. Richard C. Shelby, an Alabama Republican who leads a subcommittee that allocates money for transportation, approved the figure.

The money represents an 11 percent cut from the $621 million proposed by President Clinton early this year for the national passenger rail system.

At a news conference, Amtrak's strongest supporters -- a group of Northeasterners from both parties that includes the two senators from Maryland -- hailed the compromise as a victory for public transportation.

Amtrak operates 70 trains a day in Maryland and an additional 50 trains for MARC, the state's commuter rail system.

But Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Delaware Democrat, said senators had been forced to resort to accounting sleight of hand to secure the money for Amtrak that had been agreed to by Congress last year.

"What's being done is what was promised," Biden said. "I am happy. I am not grateful."

In the fall, Congress passed legislation to overhaul Amtrak that required it to become self-sufficient by 2002 but also set aside $2.2 billion for capital improvements.

Amtrak officials say they need additional money for operating costs to keep the federally chartered for-profit corporation solvent if they are to maintain current routes.

The $555 million, while also technically reserved for capital improvements, can be used for some operating costs under guidelines drafted to give Amtrak more leeway.

"You did what some might call some very innovative financing," Sen. Pete V. Domenici, a Republican from New Mexico, told Shelby.

Pub Date: 7/09/98

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