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Passenger trains at stake as Amtrak board meets

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

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Amtrak's board of directors is scheduled to meet Monday to discuss emergency funding to keep its passenger trains running.

The meeting, called at the request of Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, comes as Amtrak faces the possibility of shutting down its passenger operations by the middle of the next week. The panel is considering requesting a $200 million appropriation from Congress to close its budget gap.

Over the weekend, legislators from the Northeast Corridor, where Amtrak passenger trains are regularly employed from Washington, D.C., to Boston, Massachusetts, lobbied the federal government to come up with cash to keep the nation's only nationwide rail transportation system on track.

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).

Amtrak's 10 busiest train stations in 2001 

"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.

"If the Bush administration allows this to happen, it would be catastrophic to the commuters in our area."
— Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J.

"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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