WASHINGTON, June 23 (UPI) -- House Speaker Dennis Hastert declined Sunday to say whether Congress would provide a $200 million bailout that Amtrak says it desperately needs to operate beyond midweek.
Hastert, R-Ill., said Amtrak's management has to correct what he described as money-losing policies before turning to Congress for assistance.
"I think there are some places that could shut down," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I think that there are some selective routes that they may want to shut down. That's all part of reform."
Amtrak's board was scheduled to meet Monday. On Saturday, Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said the government wanted to avoid a shutdown and would consider providing financial assistance.
"The administration is not interested in allowing Amtrak to shut down," said Mineta, who has a seat on the seven-member Amtrak governing board, in a statement. He also said Congress should be prepared to help.
However, during his appearance on "Meet the Press," Hastert didn't say if emergency grants or loan guarantees would be forthcoming.
The Federal Railroad Administration, a part of the Transportation Department, is reviewing Amtrak's request for a $200 million loan or loan guarantee.
On Sunday, Sen. Joseph R. Biden, D-Del., urged the Bush administration to lend its support to Amtrak by providing the $200 million loan guarantee.
"With a loan guarantee from the administration, rail service can be maintained in this country as Congress continues to work with public and private partners in devising a long-term strategy for reform," Biden said in a statement.
A shutdown of Amtrak by the end of next week could affect commuter railroads serving hundreds of thousands of people nationwide. New York area senators claim 300,000 people in the tri-state area use Amtrak on a daily basis to get to work.
"This is not a question of losing a few tourist trains through rural Montana that will inconvenience tourists; this is our economic infrastructure," Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., told reporters Sunday at a Manhattan news conference. "Without regular train service in northern New Jersey and New York, our economy will come to a halt."
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also called on President Bush to provide the emergency aid and then develop a long-term subsidy plan to keep the railroad solvent.
"I would ask the administration," Schumer said, "if Amtrak goes under, what's going to take its place? How are some half a million commuters going to get onto Manhattan island?"
The nation's largest passenger rail service provider lost more than $1 billion last year.
Amtrak was created by Congress in 1971 to ensure travelers would still have the option of getting to their destinations by train. The company was subsidized with federal money, but in 1997, Congress mandated that Amtrak be self-sufficient by this year.
Amtrak officials say that without a federal guarantee, no private bank will give the railroad any money because lenders are unsure how long they will remain in business.