|Hutchinson seeking $60 billion for Amtrak|
The latest bill, introduced July 30 by Senate surface transportation subcommittee Chairman Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), would authorize $12 billion over six years in federal aid for Amtrak operations and $48 billion in private, but tax-exempt, bonds for capital improvements.
The Hutchison measure competes with DOTs plan, which emphasizes turning operations over to states.
The Hutchison bills backers emphasize that they want Amtrak to continue as a national system. "Our motto is: national or nothing," says Hutchison. "We are not going to continue to support just a Northeast Corridor for Amtrak."
Hutchison says 80% of the bond proceeds would go for improvements outside the Northeast Corridor. One example of capital projects, she says, would be bypasses to let passenger trains avoid congested freight rail bottlenecks.
Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), a co-sponsor of the legislation, says that getting the bill passed wont be easy, noting that with its $60-billion price tag, "You are talking about real money."
Lott slammed the DOT legislation as "a guarantee to fail," and "a total non-starter." Hutchison was more measured, but said that DOTs proposal of "turning [Amtrak] over to the states, I think, will doom [the DOT bill] to failure."
The DOT proposal, announced July 28, would divide into three components: a private company to operate trains under contract to states or multi-state organizations; another private company to maintain the Amtrak-owned Northeast Corridor track; and a government corporation that would continue to hold Amtraks rights to run trains over track owned by freight railroads outside the Corridor.
Hutchison concedes that commerce committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) prefers the DOT bill to hers, but says McCain also likes many of her bills elements.