Rail cuts: Tracks of tears?

Published 4:41 pm Saturday, February 19, 2005

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily News
Local officials from the area vented their frustration Thursday with the Bush administration's "change or die" Amtrak ultimatum.
Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said Wednesday that junking the cross-country passenger rail system except for urban commuter lines would be preferable to spending $1 billion a year in subsidies.
Dr. Fred L. Mathews, who championed high-speed rail as Downtown Development Authority chairman, at Dowagiac Rotary Club's luncheon said other modes of transportation, such as airlines, also rely on subsidies, yet "Amtrak is supposed to stand alone."
Bush's 2006 budget scratches Amtrak's annual subsidy, which was $1.2 billion this year, to force Congress and Amtrak to usher in an overhaul.
Bush would limit Amtrak to owning and operating trains. It would be left to others - including state or local governments - to own the rails, stations and physical property, similar to private businesses running airlines that operate out of airports the government maintains.
Dowagiac Mayor Donald Lyons said that scenario could spell "tragedy" for Dowagiac.
Amtrak carries 24 million passengers a year along cross-country and inter-city rail lines, as well as regional commuter services. It operates rails over 22,000 miles of routes and owns 730 miles of tracks, mostly between Washington and Boston.
Amtrak President David Gunn, who visited Dowagiac last year, advised employees last week that the Bush administration has "no plan for Amtrak other than bankruptcy."
The administration's attitude seems to be that except for the Eastern corridor "the rest of the country can take a flying leap," said Cureton, a great fan of trains who has never flown once.
Amtrak supporters hope Congress keeps providing money Amtrak needs even if Bush refuses, as has happened previously. Federal subsidies climbed from $520 million in 2001 to $1.2 billion each of the past two years.
Dowagiac Municipal Airport, on the other hand, this year will be starting a project to reconstruct the runway, along with apron and approach improvements.
The city's share of the airport project is being funded with part of the proceeds from the $70,000 timber sale at Rudolphi Wildlife Preserve.
The rest is earmarked for replacing Rotary Park playground equipment.