Election Section

Four California rail routes still at ‘high risk,’ Amtrak warns

By Andrew Bridges, The Associated Press
Saturday April 06, 2002

LOS ANGELES — Amtrak officials warned Friday that California’s four long-distance routes remain at “high risk” despite signs of help from Congress as it seeks to secure $1.2 billion in federal funding. 

In a letter to Gov. Gray Davis and his counterparts in the 45 other states served by Amtrak, railroad President George Warrington said that 18 long-distance routes may be discontinued in October. 

Among them are the Sunset Limited, California Zephyr, Southwest Chief and Coast Starlight. The four are the lone long-distance passenger rail routes that connect California with the rest of the nation. At least one of them, the Southwest Chief, has been established as a route since the 1920s. 

Warrington wrote that Amtrak is encouraged by the response of lawmakers to the beleaguered railroad’s plight, but that it must prepare for the possibility it will not have enough money to maintain its current routes. Other, shorter routes are also at risk. 

“We’re just dealing with reality here. You can’t run service without funds. This is an effort to give the governors an update to where we are,” said Elizabeth O’Donoghue, a spokeswoman in Amtrak’s western regional office in Oakland. 

The Coast Starlight, a daily train that connects Los Angeles and Seattle, carries 500,000 passengers a year, or more than any other of Amtrak’s long-distance routes. 

Pierre Bagley, a film producer and director, was dismayed to learn of the potential cuts. The 48-year-old rides Amtrak two to three times a week between his home in San Diego and Los Angeles, and was planning to take the Starlight north next month with his wife. 

“I would hate to see this happen, because it limits the options. I would really be distressed,” Bagley said Friday as he prepared to return home from Los Angeles’ Union Station. 

Jeff Morales, director of the state Department of Transportation, said California’s focus will be on its three intercity routes. 

Each year, about 3.5 million passengers use those increasingly popular routes, which are underwritten by the state. Just 1.2 million ride the long-distance routes, a number that is slipping. 

“On a relative basis, it’s a very minor impact,” Morales said of the potential loss of the longer routes. 

Jack Kyser, the chief economist at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., echoed that viewpoint. 

“It would have a modest impact on tourism, because most of the visitors to California either fly or drive,” Kyser said. “If those four lines went away, you would have more of an impact on people living along the route who use this as basic transportation.” 

Alan C. Miller, of the Sacramento-based Train Riders Association of California, said Warrington’s letter was likely intended to increase political pressure on Congress to approve Amtrak’s funding request. 


Associated Press Writer Sandra Marquez contributed to this report.