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Amtrak: down -- but far from out

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remember all those dire predictions about what would happen if Amtrak's budget was cut back as part of the Reagan administration budget reductions? Amtrak, so the warnings went, would be destroyed as a national railroad passenger system. Or, at least, the system would be so truncated as to virtually eliminate most runs. Well, the cuts have been made and guess what?

Amtrak's board has approved a plan to restructure routes while trimming passenger service something like a modest 10 percent.

Welcoming the belt-tightening and front-office economizing that have enabled the National Railroad Passenger Corporation -- as Amtrak is formally known -- to make its cuts is not in any sense to slight the necessity for or sheer pleasure of railroad travel. There is probably no more enjoyable way to journey through a region of picturesque beauty as say the Pacific Northwest or Uppwer Midwest on a cool autumn day than by passenger train. But at the same time it has been absolutely essential that Amtrak officials demand of themselves the same attention to efficiency and cost-accounting required of every other business and profession in American society, including competing private transportation systems. That they have now done so, and apparently with minimum sacrifice to the traveling public, should be looked upon as a matter of genuine achievement.

The carrier, it should be recalled, originally sought a 960 million subsidy for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. Then it said it could meet its obligations with $853 million. The administration proposed $613 million. Congress compromised after a grass-roots citizens campaign in favor of Amtrak and granted $735 million.


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