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Mixed bag for Amtrak 2012 funding

WASHINGTON — Amtrak funding for fiscal year 2012, which began Oct. 1, is about to be finalized following partisan debate and delay – and the result is mixed.

House and Senate negotiators have agreed to provide Amtrak with $1.42 billion for FY 2012, or $64 million less than Amtrak received in fiscal year 2011 that ended Sept. 30.

The negotiators also agreed to scrap a House effort to eliminate the use of federal dollars for 26 state-supported Amtrak routes, which help fund some 150 regional passenger trains serving nine million passengers annually.

House and Senate negotiators agreed to zero-out new funding for high-speed rail. The Senate had proposed $100 million for high-speed rail projects.

A final vote on the Amtrak funding bill is expected by Nov. 18, and indications are that the appropriations bill will be passed by both chambers.

The 1.42 billion for Amtrak includes $466 million for operations — 17 percent below operating assistance provided Amtrak for the previous fiscal year. The House Rail Subcommittee had proposed only $227 million in operating assistance.

The remainder, or $952 million, is for capital improvements and debt service, or 3 percent above what was provided for capital improvements and debt service in FY 2011.

House and Senate negotiators also agreed to limit overtime payments by Amtrak to no more than $35,000 per employee, although there is an exemption if Amtrak finds that the cap for any specific employee would pose a risk to safety or operational efficiency.

Until Congress finalizes Amtrak’s fiscal year 2012 budget, the national rail passenger network is relying on extension of its fiscal year 2011 appropriations that Congress earlier approved for the interim.

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