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Cash crunch threatens Amtrak

Amtrak's high-speed Acela train
Amtrak's high-speed Acela train  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Northeast Corridor legislators on Sunday decried the pending shutdown of Amtrak, the country's only nationwide rail transportation system, if the federal government doesn't guarantee $200 million in loans to close a budget gap.

New Amtrak President David Gunn said last week that, without a guarantee, he would stop accepting passengers and begin moving trains to storage by the middle of next week.

Sens. Robert Torricelli, D-New Jersey, Charles Schumer, D-New York, and Jon Corzine D-New Jersey, warned that shutting down would affect thousands of customers of a pair of major Atlantic seaboard transit systems that use Amtrak rail lines -- New Jersey Transit and South Eastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA).

"If the Bush administration allows this to happen, it would be catastrophic to the commuters in our area," said Torricelli.

Torricelli said Gunn "set false objectives in his attempt to make Amtrak profitable," and demanded the federal government subsidize railways "just as [it] has subsidized highways, airlines."

House Majority Leader Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, said Sunday he thought there were "some places that they could shut down."

"I think that there are some selective routes that they may want to shut down," Hastert said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "That's all a part of reform. ... It's time that they do that."

But Corzine said reform wasn't the issue.

"It's a simple bankruptcy issue," he said. "With no cash, you can't run a train."

The Federal Railroad Administration is reviewing Amtrak's request for the loan guarantee, and its board has scheduled an emergency meeting Monday to discuss how the government can help. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta has a seat on the board.

"Wednesday is D-day for New York-area commuters," said Torricelli.

If the federal loan guarantee comes through, "the short-term crisis can be averted," said Schumer, but it won't end the need for a longer-term solution.

-- CNN's Duarte Geraldino and Alyson Teich contributed to this report.




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