Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Firearms amendment could undo Amtrak FY10 funding

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The Senate voted Wednesday 68-30 to prohibit federal funding to Amtrak unless it allows licensed gun owners to check their weapons as checked baggage aboard Amtrak trains by early next year.

Amtrak amendments offered on the Senate floor that adversely impact the passenger rail carrier are hardly a novel threat to Amtrak's existence. The firearms amendment, offered by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), would terminate Amtrak funding after March 30, 2010, if the national rail passenger carrier fails to accept guns as checked baggage by that time.

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Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black, interviewed early Wednesday before the Senate vote, said the railroad would face a fiscal Hobson’s choice—An apparently free choice that offers no real alternative—under such an amendment. “It would be very expensive; accommodating firearms would require that they be properly secured,” Black told Railway Age.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) concurred with Black’sassessment after the vote. “In order to receive any federal funding under this amendment, Amtrak would have six months to build a process for checking and tracking firearms,” said Murray, who voted against the amendment. “It would have to find the manpower necessary to screen and guard firearms, and it would have to purchase the equipment necessary. Now, there is nothing in the underlying appropriations to pay for any of that. So this amendment is going to put a severe burden on them, and if they do not comply, Amtrak will shut down.”

A second amendment by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) would have recommended elimination of any unspent Amtrak funds from the current fiscal year appropriations law and the Recovery Act, according to the National Association of Railroad Passengers. But by late Wednesday, Ensign had not offered the amendment for consideration, NARP said.