CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET FOR THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT FOR THE FISCAL YEAR 2006 -- (Senate - March 15, 2005)
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I commend Senator Byrd for standing up for the future of our Nation's national passenger rail service system with this amendment.
For the past 4 years, this administration has acted in a thoroughly cynical way on Amtrak. Each year they have requested less funding than the railroad needs to operate and improve its services, and then they pillory Amtrak when it falls short of truly impossible goals.
David Gunn, the CEO of Amtrak since 2003, has stated numerous times to Congress and administration officials that to put Amtrak on solid financial footing and increase ridership, key capital improvements are desperately needed, and would cost an estimated $1.8 billion a year.
In fact, Amtrak's 5-year strategic plan calls for $1.8 billion this year, but the Bush administration simply refuses to request it from Congress, because they are bent on destroying the railroad.
Compared to the railroad investments made by our major economic competitors like Japan and Germany--each of which invests nearly 20 percent of its total transportation budget on rail or between $3-4 billion each year--Mr. Gunn's request for $1.8 billion--or 2 percent of the Federal Government's transportation budget--doesn't seem outrageous.
Amtrak operates a nationwide rail network, serving over 500 stations in 46 States. It has over 22,000 miles of track and 20,000 employees.
Amtrak's request for $1.8 billion doesn't even come close to rivaling the amount the Federal Government spends on highways and air travel. Last year, we invested $34 billion for highways, and provided airlines with $14 billion to subsidize air travel.
Yet despite Amtrak's clear and compelling needs, the administration has proposed only $900 million in each of the past 2 years, forcing Congress to scramble to provide a ``barebones'' budget of $1.2 billion needed to prevent the railroad from shutting down.
As a result, instead of being able to focus on a long-range plan of restructuring and reform, Amtrak has been forced into a permanent plan of crisis management.
They have been forced into accepting short-sighted capital investment deferrals and bookmaking wizardry simply to keep the railroad afloat. They haven't had any choice, and they are barely holding on.
As anyone in the transportation industry will testify, repairs delayed only become more costly in the future. Yet that is what Amtrak has been forced to do because of chronic underinvestment.
Despite these hardships, Mr. Gunn and his Amtrak team have had some successes, and we should acknowledge them.
First, they were able to increase ridership by 4 percent during fiscal year 2004, for a total ridership of over 25 million nationwide.
In addition, measured against domestic airlines, Amtrak has moved into 8th place in total ridership and 1st place in terms of on-time performance.
After undermining Amtrak's efforts to make critical capital investments and improve services in recent years, the administration now simply proposes to eliminate funding altogether.
In fact, the administration's budget itself advises that Amtrak will be forced into bankruptcy, and some sort of restructuring will take place.
What we see again and again from this administration is the call for reform, without the resources to achieve it. It doesn't work in education, and it won't work with the Nation's passenger rail system.
If the administration's plan--bankruptcy were--to happen, all of Amtrak's assets its stations, its track, its railroad cars, its locomotives--will be sold at fire-sale prices to pay off its creditors.
Among the assets that could be permanently removed from the Nation's transportation network are:
2,141 railroad cars; 425 locomotives; 20 high-speed train sets; 97 miles of high speed track in Michigan; 62 miles of track between Hartford, Connecticut and Springfield, MA; 104 miles of high speed track in Pennsylvania; and the 363 miles of Northeast Corridor track connecting Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.
Make no mistake, if these assets are pulled from the Nation's passenger rail system, no one will be able to put it back together again. Travel will be permanently undermined, to the detriment of our economic competitiveness, the quality of our environment, and our national security.
The administration suggests that perhaps the governors will step in. But what will they step into? The States individually, and collectively, don't have the resources to acquire an operate the system.
Even if they did, they haven't been consulted about such a proposal. Not a single State has come forward to express any interest in assuming the financial or legal responsibility for operating an interstate rail service.
Can you imagine if the administration had proposed to eliminate the FAA and suggested that perhaps the Governors should take it over?
This budget is a serious danger to the stability of our nation's transportation system. The Senate should reject the Bush administration's mindless plan of forcing Amtrak into bankruptcy.
A safe, reliable, and efficient national transportation system demands that Congress act responsibly on passenger rail issues, even if the administration continues to refuse to do so.
What if we have to shut down the national air traffic control system, as we did after 9/11, or if key parts or our Interstate system are compromised by terrorist attacks, as they may well be?
Shouldn't the mere possibility of one or more of these crises force us to recognize the importance of maintaining a viable national rail network?
The Senate should reject the administration's irresponsible passenger rail bankruptcy plan, and pass the Byrd amendment to ensure that America's transportation network remains strong and flexible for the future.
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