Amtrak stops in jeopardy

Published 8:02 am Sunday, February 10, 2002

By By Robbie Byrd, News Editor
Amtrak announced last Friday it anticipates $285 million in spending cuts and capital investment deferrals to counter the expected $120 million less-than-anticipated earnings for 2002 and a loss of $52 million in financing after a decision by the Amtrak Reform Council to break the company into three parts and privatize passenger rail service. Amtrak also warned it could be suspending all of its money-losing routes, traditionally its 18 long-distance routes, by October if it did not receive a $1.2 billion package for the 2003 fiscal year which would allow Amtrak to subsidize its long-distance services.
While Amtrak announced that it is not planning to stop any routes at this time, it is necessary to announce the loss estimate and plan to close the lines 180 days in advance according to US guidelines.
The Sunset Limited, which runs from Orlando, Fla. to Los Angeles and stops in Atmore, is one that Amtrak officials have threatened to close if it did not receive the $1.2 billion supplement package.
The Limited line travels through Atmore 6 times a week, departing for Los Angeles on Mon., Wed. and Fri. at 3 a.m., and returns on Wed., Sat. and Mon. at 3:26 a.m.
Mayor Howard Shell said he would hate to see Amtrak's Sunset Limited stop running through Atmore.
"It's good for Atmore to have one of the two stops in Alabama," Shell said. "There's been an increase in ridership over the last few months."
Kevin Johnson with Amtrak said that there is no definite plan as of yet to shut any of the rails, but that it was a preemptive measure required by US laws.
"The last thing we want to do is close any routes," Johnson said.
Railroad and train heritage run deep in Atmore, Shell said. The closing of the rail could be a detriment to a chapter of history.
"It's a very good asset to us," Shell said. "There is such a fascination with riding the train, but few people do anymore. It's something that's partially been lost already. We don't want to lose it all together."
Congress has received several recommendations from the Reform Council on the future of Amtrak but have yet to officially review the 111 page report sent Thursday.
See related story, page 1.

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