MARCH 24, 2005

CONTACT: John DeLora, Executive Director or Mike Whims, Chairman
PHONE: (313) 575-6608 or (248) 892-4545  

Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta and the Bush Administration think letting Amtrak go into bankruptcy is the solution for intercity passenger rail. However, the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers (MARP) views this plan weak and irresponsible.

Secretary Mineta is visiting various cities across the U.S. talking about the Bush Administration’s plan for intercity passenger rail, which includes the “Passenger Rail Investment Act” that will soon be re-introduced to Congress. MARP feels this plan is full of holes and could leave many parts are the country without intercity passenger rail service.

Part of the Bush Administration’s plan is to shift passenger rail funding to the individual states. This plan is weak for states to be able to afford passenger rail funding when they are suffering from budget woes. Here in Michigan, the state currently funds the operation of the Chicago to Port Huron Blue Water and the Chicago to Grand Rapids Pere Marquette, while Amtrak funds the Chicago to Detroit Wolverine Service. This year, the Michigan Department of Transportation provided $7.1 million in operating subsidies to keep the Blue Water and Pere Marquette trains running. Under the Bush Administration’s plan, those subsidies are expected to significantly increase if the state is responsible to subsidize the Wolverine Service.

Finding dedicated passenger rail funds will be difficult for the state of Michigan and the federal government. In Michigan, it’s often an annual legislative battle to get transportation dollars while the federal government has to appropriate subsidies from the general fund for Amtrak. Secretary Mineta has not addressed where any dedicated rail passenger funding will come from.

“Mineta commends states like California for creating a partnership with Amtrak and expanding passenger rail.” Said John DeLora, MARP Executive Director. “He (Mineta) does not mention passenger rail gets funding through a dedicated gas tax that California voters approved in the early 1990’s.”

DeLora fears Michigan may not support a rise in gas taxes to pay for passenger rail, especially with the current fuel costs. This could mean all Michigan Amtrak could come to a grinding halt if there is no money.

Mineta contends the long-distance Amtrak trains are the real money losers and the “anchor bringing down the entire Amtrak system.” MARP argues this is not true when the long distance trains help support a bigger network and offer transportation services to places where there are no airlines, buses, or easy access to highways. Mineta thinks it would be cheaper to give a passenger an airline ticket versus subsidizing an Amtrak train. How can this be done in cities like Port Huron, Lapeer, Durand, or Niles where there are no airports or bus services?

The Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers is a non-profit corporation established in 1973 to improve passenger train service, travel conditions for passengers, and to work for the preservation of historic rail stations.

For further information please contact John DeLora at (313) 575-6608 or Mike Whims (248) 892-4545 or visit MARP’s website at http://www.marp.org.