States may be put in charge of Amtrak service

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(Host) State transportation officials say they have a lot of concerns and questions about the Bush administration’s new plan to restructure Amtrak, the nation’s passenger rail network.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) According to Charlie Miller, the director of Rail Service at the Vermont Transportation Agency, the new Bush proposal could effectively mean the end of a national rail program in this country. That’s because the plan transfers a lot of the responsibility for financing rail service over to individual states. The proposal allows states to opt out of participating in specific service routes.

Miller says this policy means that some longer distance routes that pass through a number of states could be discontinued if some of the states don’t want to provide financial assistance to keep the train running:

(Miller) “What bothers me more than anything else is the potential for the lack of connectivity to the major markets that we’ve experienced up until this point. These would be state compacts which, rather than dealing with this national rail network to connect to these major population bases, we would have to deal with a compact that was operating that particular service in order to get that same type of access.”

(Kinzel) Senator James Jeffords, who’s a long time supporter of Amtrak, thinks the president is taking the wrong approach with the new plan:

(Jeffords) “That’s ridiculous. There is no other nation in the world that doesn’t recognize the people who are less affluent and can’t fly, want to and need to travel and should be able to travel. And if you cut the subsidies from the federal government then the whole thing is going to collapse. There will be no trains or essentially convenient trains for people to use to be able to move about the country. And that would be a disaster.”

(Kinzel) Amtrak currently operates two passenger trains in Vermont. The Ethan Allen Express provides service from Rutland to New York City along the western border of the state, while the Vermonter runs from Saint Albans through Montpelier to New York along the eastern side of Vermont.

The state provides a $2.6 million subsidy for these trains and state officials doubt that the subsidy will increase in the coming year.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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