Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta has sent Congress proposed legislation that eventually would split Amtrak into three new entities. Under the plan, announced July 28, Amtrak would be divided into: a private company unit that would operate trains under contract to states or multi-state organizations; a private company to maintain the Amtrak-owned track in the Northeast Corridor; and a government corporation that would continue to hold Amtrak’s rights to run trains over track owned by freight railroads outside the Corridor.

The U.S. Dept. of Transportation has argued for months that it opposes continuing Amtrak’s status quo. Mineta said, "Business as usual is a recipe for failure." He added, "I believe that our states and localities, in partnership with the federal government, are best suited to decide how and when to operate passenger rail service."

Amtrak President David L. Gunn said the railroad is withholding comment on the DOT plan for now. "Amtrak wasn’t asked to work on developing the plan and hasn’t been consulted or briefed on it," Gunn says.

But Gunn also is continuing to push for $1.8 billion in federal funds for Amtrak in fiscal 2004. That’s double the sum President Bush is seeking. In approving a 2004 bill funding DOT programs on July 24, the House Appropriations Committee went along with the $900 million Bush requested.

But there has been no action yet in the Senate on 2004 spending for Amtrak.

(Photo courtesy of U.S. Dept. of Transportation)