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(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Following up on a Senate hearing Thursday during which the Bush Administration continued to ignore the looming shutdown of passenger rail service, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) sent a letter to President Bush urging him to support immediate funding for Amtrak.

Murray, Chair of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, suggested that if the Administration would remove its veto threat over the Emergency Supplemental bill currently in a House-Senate conference, then Congress could provide the desperately-needed money to keep the nation's trains moving.

A copy of the letter follows

June 21, 2002

George W. Bush
President
United States of America
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500



Dear Mr. President:

I am deeply concerned over the Administration's approach to the operation of passenger rail service in this country.

At my Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee hearing yesterday, Amtrak's new President David Gunn laid bare that the Administration's current budget request is not only woefully inadequate, but will result in the shutdown of passenger rail service.

Yet the Administration has said it would not approve any addition to Amtrak's budget prior to the approval of a radical overhaul. To date, Congress has not seen a formal proposal from the Administration. We have only heard the Transportation Secretary make a speech before the Chamber of Commerce. The concepts he outlined struck many people across the country as controversial and problematic.

One Administration principle is to turn control of the nation's passenger rail service over to the states. While Americans enjoy an interstate highway system and an air transportation system supported by the federal government, it seems strange to suggest that the federal government would walk away from our critical rail infrastructure.

Collectively, the states already face between $40 and $50 billion in deficits, and their burden will only grow heavier with your proposal to cut $8.6 billion in highway transportation funding. In reality, the states can no more afford the responsibility of our national railroad system than they could pay for Medicare.

So presuming, as Secretary Mineta conceded Thursday, that reauthorization of Amtrak will not happen this year, you have put Amtrak in an untenable situation.

As the straight talking new President of Amtrak testified yesterday, Amtrak cannot operate on the $521 million you have proposed. Indeed, to sustain passenger rail service in this country, Mr. Gunn contends that more than twice that amount, $1.2 billion, is needed.

But any discussion of Amtrak's 2003 budget will be moot if the railroad does not receive an immediate guarantee of $200 million by next week. Mr. Gunn said that he would begin shutting down passenger rail service nationwide by the middle of next week without that funding.

This will not only impact Amtrak passengers, but regional transit systems throughout the nation, especially in the busy northeast corridor. Many commuter trains run on either Amtrak-owned track, or are dispatched or operated by Amtrak crews. An Amtrak shutdown would cause massive disruptions to men and women all over the country trying to get to work.

On Monday, Mr. Gunn sent over an application for a loan guarantee to avert a shutdown next week. The Department of Transportation has now been reviewing that application for a full week. The loan guarantee should be approved.

I agree with Senator Byrd that another way to address this problem is through the 2002 Emergency Supplemental spending bill. But this is only a real solution if the conference can move expeditiously. With Administration veto threats and House delays, time is running out.

I am eager to work with you to solve this problem and to ensure the continuation of passenger rail service. Given the congestion on America's roads and the precarious state of some of our airlines, now is a particularly inopportune time to shut down passenger rail service.

Sincerely,

Patty Murray
United States Senator