America is getting out of training, if the Reagan administration has its way.
The Transportation Department yesterday confirmed weeks of leaks that it plans to eliminate federal subsidies to Amtrak, the National Railroad Passenger Corp., an idea supported by the Heritage Foundation and other conservative groups.
Amtrak says it would mean the end of its train service Oct. 1 and would take America out of training -- to paraphrase the system's television commercial.
The proposed action -- which already is generating a counterattack from Amtrak and such advocates as the National Association of Rail Passengers -- is consistent with the administration's position that the federal government should not run railroads.
The administration recently sold the Alaska Railroad to that state, and the new Reagan budget anticipates that the Treasury will receive $1.2 billion from the sale of Conrail, the federally owned northeastern freight railroad.
The Amtrak proposal is also consistent with a list of Heritage Foundation suggestions to get federal transportation programs into an appropriate conservative mold.
Immediately behind Amtrak on the Heritage Foundation hit list is the subsidy program for urban mass transit systems, which the Reagan budget would cut by $2.7 billion, thus hurting the plans of several cities, including Los Angeles, to build rail systems.
The budget also proposes to eliminate $50 million in subsidies that guarantee scheduled airline service to 100 or more small communities.
And, in a final bow to the Heritage Foundation, the department's Federal Aviation Administration is planning to study the feasibility of giving private companies the job of providing pilots with weather and other information, a role now performed by FAA flight service stations.
A study, however, falls considerably short of a Heritage proposal that the FAA consider transferring all of its air traffic functions to private industry.
The big public fight is certain to be over Amtrak.
"Amtrak carries less than 2 percent of intercity passengers and receives exceptionally large federal subsidies relative to the number of passengers carried ($35 per passenger in 1984)," the Reagan budget says.
Amtrak responded, "By the same analysis, for each airline passenger, federal tax expenditures due to business travel deductions alone average $33.
"If all federal support for such services as air traffic control were included, the federal cost per airline passenger would be considerably higher than Amtrak's."
Amtrak carried almost as many passengers last year (20 million) as Trans World Airlines and recovered 58 percent of its operating budget from fares, which is better than Congress had asked it to do.
Amtrak's goal is to reach 60 percent of its costs from fares, officials here said.
Amtrak said if it ceases to operate, it would lay off 25,000 employes; the labor protection buyout costs to the federal government would be $2.1 billion over six years; all 250 of its trains (including 68 that use Washington's Union Station) would stop running; and 500 stations it owns would close.
"We have a strong case for continuing operations," said Amtrak President W. Graham Claytor Jr.
He said he will ask Congress for $684 million in subsidies next year, the same amount it received this year. Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole said at her budget briefing that the end of federal subsidies does not necessarily mean the end of Amtrak.
"I think there are a number of ways that service might be retained," she said. "There may be a considerable amount of interest on the part of local and state authorities to pick up the service . . . .A lot of Amtrak's riders are middle- and upper-income people; conceivably there might even be a thought of some rate adjustment which would make possible a retention of service."
Amtrak also owns the track and facilities on the Northeast Corridor, between Washington and Boston.
If it dies, somebody will have to buy that track, which currently provides access for Conrail to at least 400 of its customers, including those served in Baltimore and in the Potomac Yard in Alexandria.