Confusion over access fees on Amtrak tracks has some states roiling |

Confusion over access fees on Amtrak tracks has some states roiling

WASHINGTON – Three Northeastern state governors are complaining to the Bush administration about the prospect of paying extra fees to run commuter trains on Amtrak’s rails.The governors – Ruth Ann Minner of Delaware, Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania – asked Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta in a recent letter to be kept informed about the access fees through an “open and transparent process.” The governors also asked for a meeting to discuss how the fees would be allocated.But federal transportation officials said Monday that the fees are part of a “new congressional mandate” that was included in the transportation appropriations bill for 2006 passed by Congress late last year.”The Department of Transportation is committed to a fair and inclusive process as we implement a new Congressional mandate to charge commuter railroads access fees along the Northeast Corridor,” said DOT spokesman Brian Turmail. “As part of that process, we are reaching out to the affected railroads and states for input as we evaluate every aspect of passenger rail operations, including capital investments and ownership of tracks, to determine how best to proceed.”Just how much more money states will have to pay to use Amtrak’s tracks is unclear, since no formula has been set. President Bush’s budget for the fiscal year beginning on Oct. 1 calls for $59 million from commuter rail agencies.The Northeast Corridor, which runs from Boston to Washington, is used by several commuter lines, Amtrak’s intercity trains and some freight trains.In its 34-year history, Amtrak has never turned a profit. It has a debt of more than $3.5 billion and its operating loss for 2005 topped $550 million. In the 2006 budget, Bush offered no subsidy for the railroad, but Congress decided to grant Amtrak $1.3 billion. For the 2007 budget, Bush has proposed giving Amtrak $900 million to “enable Amtrak’s new management team to keep the trains running and act on its mandate to reshape the company.”

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