WASHINGTON - The House Appropriations Committee voted yesterday to give Amtrak $900 million in the new fiscal year, restoring cuts that had been made by a subcommittee but falling far short of the $1.8 billion that the railroad says it needs to survive.
"Although it's an improvement from the subcommittee's budget, it still won't be enough for us to cover our costs and that means the end of Amtrak," railroad spokesman Cliff Black said after the vote.
Earlier this month, a House appropriations subcommittee voted to slash the government's subsidy to Amtrak to $580 million. The Amtrak funding was part of an overall transportation bill that also included money for highway construction and airports.
Concerned that the lesser sum would end Amtrak service, committee members of both parties vowed to hold up the entire transportation bill unless funds to the railroad were increased.
With the increased spending on Amtrak, the committee approved the transportation bill by voice vote.
The full House is expected to take up the legislation in September.
Rep. John E. Sweeney, a member of the committee, said the proposed $900 million appropriation - which matches the amount requested by President Bush - was a "better plan" than the subcommittee's proposal. He said he would urge a larger Amtrak appropriation when the transportation bill reaches the House floor.
"I think it's possible we can get some more money," Sweeney, a New York Republican, said in an interview.
But Black said an additional $100 million or $200 million would not save the ailing railway. He said Amtrak must receive $1.8 billion or it will shut down.
Black said Amtrak has long postponed spending for capital improvements, such as track repair and computer updates, to save money. But those improvements can no longer wait, he said.
"We've reached a point where waiting another year could pose safety issues or could result in unacceptably poor service to our customers," he said in an interview. "It's time to pay the piper."
Rep. Ernest Istook, an Oklahoma Republican who chairs the subcommittee that proposed the $580 million funding, said $900 million would be "more than enough" to support Amtrak's core operations in the Northeast and West but would probably force the railroad to shut down unprofitable routes.