Amtrak on May 14 announced that the Texas Eagle would continue serving the Chicago-San Antonio route through September 30, 1997, thanks to supplemental funding provided in the form of a bridge loan by the State of Texas. The decision to continue this train, which provides the only passenger service to Arkansas and much of Texas, culminates a nine-month battle to preserve train service on this route. Unfortunately, the positive aspects of continued service are overshadowed by Amtrak's ominous fixation on yet another deadline for this train.
Amtrak Intercity's defacto creation of a third discontinuance date (September 30, 1997) for this train is unprecedented, and casts grave doubts about the corporation's previous commitments for long-term operation of the Texas Eagle. Amtrak has twice established deadlines for this train (November 10, 1996, and May 10, 1997), and in each case the deadline created chaos in the train reservations system which resulted in significant lost revenues for Amtrak. Yesterday's announcement of restoring train inventory only through September 30th is absolutely unacceptable to the many elected officials and interested individuals who have worked diligently to preserve service on this route.
Of the four routes targeted by Amtrak for discontinuance, two were successfully saved. The Boston to Albany section of the Lake Shore Limited was saved as a result of an agreement with the State of Massachusetts to help fund a mail handling facility which would help generate revenues for the Lake Shore Limited and other trains. Construction has not started on this facility, and indeed a construction contract has not even been signed. Nevertheless, the Boston section of the Lake Shore was restored to the train reservation system for the full eleven month period during which train inventory is customarily available for advance reservations. In the case of the Texas Eagle, however, the completion of a $5.6 million loan is apparently sufficient only to guarantee operation through September 30. Amtrak management has failed to explain their rationale for the different treatment of the two trains.
Part of Amtrak's commitment to the State of Texas was to stabilize the Texas Eagle, and to place a high priority on securing mail and express revenues needed to keep the Eagle running permanently, without further state support. Instead, Amtrak appears to be continuing the on-again, off-again pattern of the past year, during which time it has been impossible to secure reservations more than four months in advance because of uncertainty over future operation.
The proposal to reallocate one-half cent of the existing gasoline tax for Amtrak is seen as the best hope for long-term Amtrak funding, in a manner similar to other transportation trust funds. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are currently being urged to support Amtrak by becoming co-sponsors of HR 1437. Support for this critical issue is unlikely to be forthcoming from either Arkansas or Texas as long as the cloud of a September 30 discontinuance hangs over the Texas Eagle. Amtrak's removal of this arbitrary date is a necessary step towards stabilizing the Eagle and securing necessary support for the half cent proposal in Congress.
Prepared for Arkansas Rail by Bill Pollard.
Posted: Thursday, 15 May 1997.
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