WASHINGTON (AP) -- A leading congressional critic of Amtrak on Friday proposed a radical restructuring that would break up the national passenger railroad.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., introduced legislation that would direct the Federal Railroad Administration to begin franchising rail routes to companies that meet certain safety and liability requirements.
Amtrak, currently the nation's exclusive provider of intercity passenger train service, would be broken up into an operations unit, a maintenance unit and a rail reservation unit. Each would be turned over to the private sector within four years.
The bill also would create an Amtrak Control Board to oversee the restructuring and eventual privatization.
"Given Amtrak's extremely precarious financial situation, I strongly believe we must work together to pass legislation this year that will provide for a restructured, revitalized and streamlined rail passenger network," McCain said.
Many of his recommendations are in line with those of the Amtrak Reform Council. The council, created by Congress in 1997, issued a report on Feb. 7 calling for competition in passenger rail.
At a hearing Thursday, House Democrats gave a cool reception to the council's report, voicing concerns about routes in their states and the impact of free-market competition in passenger train service.
Congress is expected to vote this year on whether to authorize Amtrak's continued existence.
Amtrak and its supporters say the problem with the nation's passenger rail system is a chronic shortage of federal support.
Amtrak President George Warrington announced Feb. 1 that 18 long-distance routes will be eliminated unless Amtrak receives $1.2 billion in the 2003 budget year.
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