April 26, 2003

>Amtrak President Outlines Plans to Improve Passenger Rail Service



>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.

>Alcivar said.


>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.