Amtrak Lost $1.1 Billion, Needs More Help, Report Says

WASHINGTON -- A wire service reports that Amtrak lost $1.1 billion in 2001, the biggest deficit in its 30-year history, and has not made progress toward meeting Congress's goal of self-sufficiency, a government report said.

The report by the inspector general of the Transportation Department, Kenneth Mead, supported Amtrak's plea for a greater federal investment in railroads.

Mr. Mead's annual assessment of Amtrak reported that its 2001 cash loss was $585 million, $24 million more than in 2000.

The cash loss will determine whether Amtrak will meet a 1997 order by Congress to end its reliance on federal operating subsidies by Dec. 2, 2002.

Mr. Mead, the Transportation Department's internal watchdog, said Amtrak must reduce its cash loss by more than $300 million to meet the deadline and could not do so without the "cannibalization" of the company. He said Amtrak faced "a formidable challenge" this year making ends meet. Last summer, Amtrak mortgaged part of Pennsylvania Station in New York, one of its most important assets, to raise $300 million to continue operating through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

The report supports the longtime assertion by Amtrak leaders that, regardless of the company's effort to become self-sufficient, the government must invest in tracks, rail yards, stations and other assets.

Mr. Mead said Amtrak needed at least $1 billion a year for the immediate future to handle deterioration that had to be repaired if passenger rail service was to continue, regardless of who operated the business.

And he warned, "It is not clear whether Amtrak or any other entity could ever operate a linked national system such as that in place today without operating subsidies."

The report is the fourth by the inspector general under the 1997 Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act, which provided billions of dollars for Amtrak but gave it five years to prove it could run without subsidies.

The report was expected in November, and its delayed release was the subject of a dispute on the Amtrak Reform Council, which was formed under the 1997 law to report to Congress on Amtrak's progress toward self-sufficiency. The council is finishing a report that recommends opening passenger rail service to competition.

Last week, 11 unions sued in an effort to stop the council from issuing its recommendations. The council reached its conclusions prematurely, the unions said, because Mr. Mead's report had not been released.