Senate Restores Funding for Amtrak

WASHINGTON, DC, January 24, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Senate has voted to restore $400 million in funding for Amtrak, a move that environmental groups are calling a victory for mass transit.

A bipartisan group of senators, led by Washington Democrat Patty Murray and Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison led support for the amendment to the fiscal year 2003 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which was offered in response to a proposed 31 percent cut to Amtrak's budget.

The Senate Appropriations Committee last fall agreed to provide $1.2 billion for Amtrak. But this week, the Senate's new Republican leadership reneged on the agreement by unveiling an Omnibus Appropriations Bill that slashed $374 million from Amtrak's budget.

"When it comes to Amtrak, senators thankfully broke their gridlock and decided to roll up their sleeves, reach across party lines and keep the trains running in this country," said David Hirsch, director of economic programs for Friends of the Earth.

Friends of the Earth opposed the budget cut as an assault on an environmentally friendly transportation system that already receives billions less than highways and aviation.

The amendment to restore the funding cut was drafted by Hutchison and Murray, and cosponsored by 18 senators.

While applauding the Amtrak funding increase, Friends of the Earth expressed concern about the severe cuts that the bill makes to overall spending on the environment. The Omnibus bill, which funds agencies including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Interior, proposes deep cuts to accounts including clean water infrastructure, safe drinking water, toxic waste cleanups and public lands management.

"The Senate took a small step toward a cleaner environment by restoring Amtrak's funding," said Hirsch. "Unfortunately, Congress needs to take a giant leap in order to ensure that funding is restored to the many other programs that protect our health and environment."