Amtrak asked Congress yesterday for $1.81 billion in federal aid next fiscal year, a 73 percent increase.
The request for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 is double what President Bush wants. The passenger railroad will need about $2 billion more in each of the next four years to cover losses and pay for track, bridge and equipment repairs, Amtrak President David L. Gunn said.
"We are close to insolvency, with a lot of deferred maintenance," Gunn said at a news conference. "We are trying to prepare a realistic budget that stabilizes the system."
Amtrak gets 40 percent of its money from the government. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) and House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) want the railroad to cut costs.
"It's the same old story," said Ross B. Capon, executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. "Do you want to give Amtrak just enough to squeeze by? If you do, there will be a time when they don't get the backlog done. Then they will have to reduce speeds, which will mean ridership declines or fare cuts to keep passengers."
Gunn said in June, six weeks after becoming Amtrak president, that the railroad would have to shut down because it was running out of money. Amtrak got $205 million in federal emergency funding to keep trains running as the Transportation Department pressed Amtrak, which has never made money in 32 years, to cut expenses such as a $62.8 million annual loss on the Chicago-Los Angeles train.
Amtrak lost $1.2 billion in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2001. Its debt has tripled to $4.4 billion over five years, mostly to pay for high-speed Acela trains and adding electric power between Boston and New Haven, Conn.