Merle Haggard's Farm Aid train, scheduled to roar out of Bakersfield, Calif., Monday morning bringing the plight of farmers to America's attention, is no longer bound for glory.
Organizers early this morning threw in the towel when last-ditch efforts to get money guarantees to satisfy Amtrak demands fell through.
"It's canceled," said Rod Hunter, media and publicity director for the Luckenbach Agency, which handles Haggard's tours. He said the agency would try to reschedule the train sometime within the next few weeks.
"Our biggest problem is that we have to have an absolute guarantee of cash money to run this train by Monday noon and we don't have it," Hunter said. But he said he held no ill will toward Amtrak, which had extended its deadlines and lowered its cash requirements several times over the last 10 days.
"You can't run a train without money up front," Hunter said.
"We tried," said Amtrak spokesman John Jacobson. "We both came to a mutual agreement to call it off . They just couldn't come up with any combination of cash and promissory notes that would meet our requirements that the money be pinned down before the train operated."
The train, to have been loaded with country music stars, was scheduled to leave Bakersfield at noon Monday and make 38 stops in eight states on its way to the Farm Aid benefit concert in Champaign, Ill., Sept. 22.
Its cancellation has no effect on the 12-hour concert, at which more than 40 country and rock performers are scheduled to perform.Concert promoters say they hope to raise between $30 million and $50 million, to be used to help family farmers at a grass-roots level.
Amtrak officials were asking for cash and guarantees totaling about $600,000 to cover the cost of running the 18-car train and insuring its celebrity passengers. Jacobson said Haggard officials claimed to have $350,000 cash Friday "and we said fine, if you can come up with notes for the rest from anyone with assets to back it up."
But Luckenbach officials blamed Philip Morris, sponsor of a major Haggard tour, for cutting back on its guarantee. Philip Morris officials could not be reached early this morning for comment.
Hunter's announcement followed hours of on-again, off-again negotiations that had begun when Jacobson announced yesterday afternoon that Amtrak was canceling the train.
By early evening, Jacobson said that Amtrak would wait until 11 p.m., and that if that deadline were met, the train would still run on time Monday. That deadline came and went, however, with Haggard's organization still searching for guarantors and Amtrak still holding the door open until train spokesmen announced the cancellation about 1 a.m.
Amtrak was reportedly willing to proceed with $400,000 up front if it could be assured that the Philip Morris money would be on hand Monday and if it could get a personally guaranteed promissory note for $150,000 from Haggard himself, as well as a promissory note for the balance. It was unclear early this morning how much Haggard was personally willing to guarantee.
Originally, Haggard was to have given Amtrak a certified check for $500,000 on Sept. 6. Amtrak extended the deadline four times, with the final deadline for money to be wired to the bank at 3:15 p.m. EST yesterday.
"We are not in a position to operate a train without having the cost covered," Jacobson said, pointing out that no airline, train or other transportation system would allow someone to charter its services without being paid in advance.
The contract, which had not been signed by Haggard or his Luckenbach Agency, was with a separate shell corporation that would cease to exist when the event was over, "so it wouldn't have been good business sense for us to go through with it under those conditions."
Amtrak had been planning the route but hadn't actually pulled any equipment because the train was not to be put together until Sunday. As a result, all Amtrak invested up to yesterday was staff time, Jacobson said.