Archive for Sunday, June 23, 2002

Secretary’s words buoy ailing Amtrak

Transportation chief says administration doesn’t want to allow service to shut down

June 23, 2002

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— Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said Saturday that he would consider providing emergency financial aid to keep Amtrak operating beyond a threatened midweek shutdown.

Mineta asked Amtrak to convene a meeting of its board of directors to discuss whether, and how, the Transportation Department could help the struggling semipublic passenger railroad. The secretary also said Congress should be prepared to help.

The Amtrak board scheduled a Monday meeting. Mineta has a seat on the seven-member governing board.

"The administration is not interested in allowing Amtrak to shut down," Mineta said in a statement.

He offered no specifics about possible aid.

Mineta and David Gunn, Amtrak's new president, spoke Saturday about the budget crisis.

For now, Amtrak spokesman Bill Schulz said, "the situation remains unchanged, and we continue to be concerned that a shutdown of Amtrak and the commuter services it supports is growing nearer."

Gunn said last week he would begin shutting down the railroad without financial help to close a $200 million budget gap.

Without a grant or loan, he said, he will stop accepting passengers and will move trains to storage beginning Wednesday.

In addition, Amtrak warned, a shutdown of its passenger trains could hurt commuter railroads serving hundreds of thousands of people, mostly along the Atlantic Seaboard.

The Federal Railroad Administration is reviewing Amtrak's request for a loan guarantee to help it borrow the needed $200 million. Amtrak has had trouble tapping its existing line of credit because lenders are unsure how long it can remain in business.

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