DURBIN PUSHES TO SAVE AMTRAK
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) joined fellow Appropriations Committee member, Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) last night in proposing an amendment to the federal budget that would fully fund Amtrak. At a hearing this morning, Durbin also questioned U.S. Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta about the Bush Administration's decision to under-fund Amtrak in the President's budget for fiscal year 2007.
"The funding level proposed for Amtrak is inadequate. It's as if a man was drowning 50 feet from shore and the Bush administration has thrown him a 25 foot rope," said Durbin. "Last year, almost every Amtrak line in Illinois saw an increase in ridership. Cutting funding for Amtrak when ridership is on the rise simply makes no sense."
The President's FY '07 budget included just $900 million for Amtrak operations- $700 million less than Amtrak itself requested for 2007 and $400 million less than Congress appropriated for 2006. This under-funding could force route reductions and service cuts at the 29 Amtrak stops in Illinois that serve over 3 million passengers a year.
Durbin noted that Illinois benefits, both directly and indirectly, from Amtrak jobs and service. An average of 48 Amtrak trains run each day on more than 1,000 miles of track in Illinois. Amtrak employs more than 2,000 Illinois residents and annually spends $ 56 million for goods and services in the state. Illinois is undoubtedly the central rail hub of the North American continent, bringing 2.5 million passengers through Amtrak's Midwestern hub in Chicago each year.
"The State of Illinois is not only willing to pay its fair share for passenger rail service but has recognized the recent surge in ridership by considering proposals to increase funding or add additional routes," said Durbin. "If the President follows through with these proposed cuts, state contributions that could go towards improvements and expansion would have to be used to compensate for the lack of adequate federal funds."
The state of Illinois is already one of the top states in the nation in helping to pay for Amtrak's operating costs and has contributed $250 million total to date. The legislature is currently debating whether to spend an additional $30 million to increase service and add new rail cars on its three major Amtrak routes. If federal Amtrak funding is drastically cut, Illinois will not be able to improve Amtrak service and may not even be able to continue with current service levels.