April 26, 2003
>Amtrak President Outlines Plans to Improve Passenger Rail Service
>By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS>
>WASHINGTON, April 25 - Amtrak will renovate Civil War-era tunnels and
>replace overhead electrical wires installed when Franklin D. Roosevelt was
>president under a five-year upgrade plan announced today.
>The plan by Amtrak's president, David Gunn, ignores calls for eliminating
>some money-losing long-distance trains and would keep the nation's
>passenger railroad's high-speed service at existing levels.
>Amtrak came under pressure from Congress last year after announcing that
>18 of the long-haul runs would be scrapped to save money.
>"If you're going to have any service left, this is what you're going to
>have to do," Mr. Gunn said of the plan presented to Amtrak's board on
>Thursday. "When it's done, we'll have a good railroad."
>Mr. Gunn said Amtrak needed twice the $900 million President Bush wants to
>spend in 2004 to keep the trains running, but a spokesman for the
>Transportation Department, Leonardo Alcivar, said the department did not
>expect to ask Congress for more money. Mr. Alcivar was also skeptical of
>Mr. Gunn's plan.
>"What was presented today represents a staff draft and is unfortunately a
>best-case scenario that consists of several assumptions, multiple risks
>and is noticeable for what is not included as potential costs," Mr.
>He said the plan made unrealistic cost estimates for buying new rail cars
>and assumed that the troubles of the high-speed Acela service would go
>away. The Acela trains, which run between Boston and Washington, were
>taken out of service last year because of cracks in shock-absorbing
>assemblies that keep the locomotives from swaying.
>Mr. Gunn wants to buy 14 self-propelled diesel cars to run between New
>Haven and Springfield, Mass., and on the Chicago-Milwaukee line. He also
>wants to replace 75 50-year-old cars that would cost more to overhaul than
>the cost of new cars.
>Now, only 81 percent of Amtrak's passenger cars can be used. Overhauling
>old cars and rebuilding them by replacing toilets and electrical systems
>would make 90 percent of them available in five years, Mr. Gunn said.
>Overhauling the trains will save money by requiring fewer employees to
>maintain them, he said.
>The railroad also needs to install 162 miles of concrete ties and replace
>270 miles of track on the 1,900 miles of track it owns. Station platforms,
>roofs and escalators need repair. Electric wires strung in the 1930's
>between New York's Penn Station and New Rochelle, N.Y., must be replaced.
>Replacing a Baltimore tunnel that was built in the late 1860's would cost
>hundreds of millions of dollars, but Amtrak is instead planning to fix the
>tracks and drainage inside, a spokesman, Cliff Black, said.
>Mr. Gunn said he hoped the manufacturers of the Acela can keep the
>troubled equipment on the tracks after last year's shock-absorbing problem.
>The plan calls for about $2 billion annually from the government through
>at least 2008. Amtrak has averaged $1.5 billion in government money in
>each of the past five years, Mr. Gunn said.
>Last year, Mr. Gunn's threat to shut down the railroad resulted in a $200
>million government loan.
>Congress allowed Amtrak to survive through 2003 by granting almost all the
>$1.2 billion requested through September. That money was split between an
>operating subsidy and capital expenses.
>Unless the railroad is brought into good operating condition, Mr. Gunn
>said, fewer people will take trains, and Amtrak will need a bigger
>operating subsidy. Amtrak no longer claims it can ever become self-sufficient.