Murray Calls on Administration to ‘Come Clean’ about Amtrak’s Needs

Apr 21 2005

Amtrak Board requests a 50% increase over current funding levels; proves that rail reform is not possible under Bush’s budget request of zero

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today, Amtrak’s Board of Directors – all of whom are Bush Administration appointees – requested a $1.82 billion federal subsidy for the coming fiscal year in order to continue passenger rail service across the country. This request for dramatically increased federal dollars – a 50 percent increase over current funding levels - comes two months after the Board failed to submit a grant request to Congress and despite the fact that the President included no funding for Amtrak in his fiscal year 2006 budget.

Today’s request by Amtrak’s Board of Directors proves that neither the continuation of passenger rail service nor Amtrak reform is possible without significant federal investment.

At a hearing of the Transportation, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development Subcommittee of which she is the ranking Democrat, Senator Patty Murray today pressed OMB Director Josh Bolten, to submit a budget amendment to Congress that realistically addresses the funding needs of Amtrak.

“It is time for the Administration to come clean about the true funding needs of Amtrak,” Murray said. “Whether we adopt the Administration’s plan for reform, the Board’s plan, or any other plan, the fact remains that passenger rail service costs money. If the Administration doesn’t agree with the request of the board made up entirely of its own appointees, they need to present some alternative plan that clearly tells Amtrak’s 25 million riders who will have rail service come October and who will be left standing on the platform.”

Even Ken Mead, Inspector General of the Department of Transportation, today said that Amtrak would require a $200 to $300 million dollar increase over current funding levels just to continue current service levels.

“In just over six months, Amtrak will run out of money. If the Acela trains can’t be fixed rapidly, that day may come even sooner,” Murray said. “The Bush Administration needs to come forward with a realistic funding request that maintains service while Congress and the Administration have a meaningful debate over how best to protect and expand passenger rail options for America. By continuing to bury its head in the sand over Amtrak’s true financial needs, the Bush Administration is putting rail service at risk in every State where Amtrak operates.”


In February, Murray, a long time supporter of Amtrak, rebuked the Amtrak Board for their unprecedented action in failing to submit a subsidy request. Full text of her letter to the Board follows:

February 18, 2005

The Honorable David M. Laney
Board of Directors
National Railroad Passenger Corporation
60 Massachusetts Ave. N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002

Dear Chairman Laney:

We write to you today having just received your letter dated February 17 and the accompanying reports regarding Amtrak’s financial condition as mandated under Subtitle V of Title 49, United States Code. Each and every year since Amtrak’s creation, the Board of Directors has submitted these reports to Congress, providing us with a vital and independent assessment of Amtrak’s Federal subsidy needs for the coming fiscal year. That is, until this year.

This year’s report as submitted by a largely new Board deliberately evades the question of the railroad’s subsidy needs and instead praises the President’s irresponsible proposal to bankrupt Amtrak as “the right message.” Such an approach undermines Congress’s ability to assess Amtrak’s needs and is a disservice to the Corporation that you are charged with governing. The law mandating these reports calls on the Amtrak Board to “submit recommendations for legislation, including the amount of financial assistance needed for operations and capital improvements” and every one of your predecessor Boards has done so. In just two weeks, the Congress is scheduled to begin drafting a Budget Resolution for the coming fiscal year. By not submitting a grant request prior to our budget considerations, you deliberately leave uncontested the Administration’s request to eliminate all funding for Amtrak and push the railroad into bankruptcy.

These actions on the part of the Board are irresponsible. In fiscal year 2004, some 37 percent of all of Amtrak’s revenues were derived through Federal grants. By not specifying Amtrak’s federal funding needs to Congress prior to our budget deliberations, the Board is failing to serve as independent stewards of the Corporation’s assets, operations, and employees and is ignoring its legal responsibility to Amtrak’s financial condition. We must question whether these actions are consistent with your fiduciary duties as Directors as stipulated under Title 29 of the Code of the District of Columbia and other applicable laws.

The Congress and Amtrak’s 25 million annual riders expect the Amtrak Board to responsibly and independently work to improve and sustain a safe and efficient passenger railroad – not to dutifully line up behind the reckless policies of the President that appointed them. In explaining why the Board has failed to submit a grant request, your letter states that the Board is going through a “strategic planning process” and that a grant request might be submitted “as the planning process permits.” No date is supplied as to when, if ever, this grant request might be forthcoming. We must respectfully point out that Amtrak’s Board has often engaged in critical planning processes regarding the railroad’s operations and infrastructure, but such endeavors have never kept any prior Board from submitting a grant request.

We hope that, in the future, the Amtrak Board will be attentive to these responsibilities so that we can all work cooperatively toward a sound rail transportation policy for the nation.


Patty Murray
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury, and General Government
Committee on Appropriations

Daniel K. Inouye
Ranking Member
Committee on Commerce
Science, and Transportation

cc: The Honorable Floyd Hall
The Honorable Enrique Sosa
The Honorable Norman Mineta
Mr. David Gunn (Ex Officio)