State Journal-Register

November 14, 2003

Negotiators agree to $1.2 billion for Amtrak


WASHINGTON - House and Senate negotiators have agreed to provide $1.22 billion for Amtrak, which serves about two million riders annually in Illinois, and allotted millions of dollars for other central Illinois projects.

The $1.22 billion is close to what Amtrak officials said is needed to keep the taxpayer-subsidized passenger railroad in business.

Amtrak, which serves 30 Illinois communities, reported the highest ridership in its 32-year history last year - more than 24 million passengers in the federal fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

"The federal government spends $33 billion per year on highways and $12 billion per year on aviation, yet less than $1 billion a year on passenger rail service," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "The federal government cannot ignore Amtrak any longer.

"We are well past the crisis point, and I am pleased that the conference has acted to preserve this vital component of our national transportation system."

President Bush had asked Congress to provide $900 million for Amtrak, an amount the House approved. Amtrak officials said the rail service would be forced to shut down with that level of funding.

The Senate voted to provide $1.35 billion. Amtrak president David Gunn said anything less would jeopardize the continued operation of the system. Last summer, Gunn had said $1.8 billion was needed to retain reliable and safe service.

The Amtrak funding is included in a $90 billion compromise agreement reached by the House and Senate for spending on transportation projects, the Treasury Department and several smaller agencies for fiscal 2004, which began Oct. 1.

Congress is behind schedule in approving funding bills and has continued government operations through a series of short-term extensions. The House and Senate are expected to approve the compromise next week and send it to the White House for the president's signature.

The bill also includes $7 million for buses and bus facilities statewide. That figure includes $3.5 million for replacement buses in Bloomington, Champaign-Urbana, Decatur, Peoria and Quincy and bus facilities in Bloomington and Galesburg.

In addition, $750,000 is included for a multi-modal transportation center in downtown Normal.

Also included in the bill is $6.2 million for repairs and alternations to the Paul H. Findley Federal Building in Springfield. That funding comes through the General Services Administration.