WASHINGTON — House Democrats gave a cool reception Thursday to a proposal to break up Amtrak, voicing concerns about routes in their states and the impact of free-market competition in passenger train service.
"Let's not 'Balkanize' Amtrak," Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.) said at a hearing of the House Transportation subcommittee on railroads.
Oberstar and other lawmakers questioned a 1997 law that has put Amtrak on the brink of major change. The law required Amtrak to operate without government subsidies by December 2003--something the Amtrak Reform Council has said won't happen.
Amtrak lost $1.1 billion last year, the most in its history.
"We expect Amtrak to operate where the country needs it, yet any profit-oriented business would refuse to serve money-losing routes," said Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.), chairman of the railroads subcommittee. He said the federal government has not spent enough on developing a national train network.
The hearing was held to discuss a report from the council, a government oversight panel that recommended dividing Amtrak into three pieces: one to make policy, one to oversee the tracks and stations Amtrak owns in the Boston-Washington Northeast corridor, and the third to conduct train operations.