Will Amtrak’s Truckee service end? Company’s woes may eliminate stops
The nation’s only passenger-train company may eliminate up to 18 long-distance lines that it calls unprofitable if Congress does not approve its request for over a billion dollars in appropriations for the 2003 fiscal year.
The National Railroad Passenger Corporation, or Amtrak, is also considering cutting up to 1,000 positions from its 24,600-strong workforce and deferring various capital improvement projects.
Included in the proposed cuts is the Zephyr line, which runs from Emeryville to Chicago, and through Truckee. Two trains on the Zephyr line, one eastbound, one westbound, stop in Truckee every day.
And the economic impacts that may result from the elimination of those stops has several downtown hotels worried.
“I would say at least 20 percent of our weekday customers and maybe 10 percent of our weekend guests come from Amtrak,” said Truckee Hotel Manager Jenelle Potvin. “I think it would be a negative impact to the whole town. A lot of those guests go out to eat at the restaurants that are within walking distances.”
Other hotel managers shared Potvin’s concerns.
“We would lose some business. I don’t know what the exact percentage would be, but we have a lot of people who like to take the train up and then stay in an old Victorian house like this one,” said Patty Zwers, who manages the Richardson House on High Street.
Potvin added that despite the reliable tardiness of the train, “I never really hear from people that are upset about it.”
But Rachelle Pellissier, the president of the Truckee Donner Chamber of Commerce, said the dysfunctional nature of the existing service makes her wonder if there would be any significant economic impacts.
“Being someone who has an office at the station, a majority of the people who get on and off are not happy, because Amtrak is late daily,” Pellissier said. “And I’m not talking 20 minutes. [The westbound train] can be eight hours late, so a lot of the time you are dealing with really [upset] people. If I saw 50 people getting off every day that were happy, maybe I would feel differently, because we do want people to get out of their cars and still come here.”
Amtrak is citing “policy problems” created by the Amtrak Reform Act, passed by Congress in 1997, as reasons for the proposed cuts if the company doesn’t receive the $1.2 billion in appropriations it’s requesting.
The Amtrak Reform Council (ARC) is an independent federal commission established under the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act of 1997.
The Council is required to submit an annual report to the Congress, as well as reports on Amtrak’s use of its annual appropriations.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee also oversees Amtrak, which was formed in 1971 when the company took over a number of smaller passenger service railroads in the eastern U.S.
One of Amtrak’s biggest critics is U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the chairman of House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Just before the committee began hearings last month on the financial problems at Amtrak, Young issued a statement highly critical of the company.
“We know that Amtrak has been a drain on the federal treasury for years,” Young said. “Despite continued congressional efforts to get Amtrak to correct the problems, the situation is getting worse every year. Amtrak’s new public relations attempt is to blame policymakers and the Amtrak Reform Council for its management problems is disingenuous. Amtrak’s effort to increase its federal appropriations to cover its management problems is irresponsible.”
While slamming Amtrak, Young has introduced the legislation designed to improve the nations railroad infrastructure in hopes of facilitating the country’s first high-speed rail system.
Amtrak has said such improvements in infrastructure would also help its operations and service.
In the 2002 fiscal year, Amtrak received federal appropriations totaling $521 million. They are requesting $1.2 billion for the 2003 fiscal year, and with anything less than the amount requested, Amtrak says they will cut unprofitable long distance lines like the Zephyr line.
“An appropriation below this level will require the elimination of unprofitable long distance service as early as Oct. 1, 2002,” the company said in a prepared statement just before last month’s hearings.
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