Damaged and destroyed cars put Amtrak in a tighter squeeze

Tuesday, July 30th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ With money exceedingly tight, the last thing Amtrak needed was another derailment.

The accident in Maryland, which injured at least 100 people, also took a toll on Amtrak equipment, adding more cars to an already long list of those awaiting repairs.

The train that derailed Monday, the Capitol Limited from Chicago to Washington, consisted of two engines, eight double-decker ``Superliner'' passenger cars and five baggage, mail and express cars. All eight passenger cars and three baggage cars derailed.

Amtrak spokeswoman Karina Van Veen said Tuesday that while some of the damaged cars likely are beyond repair, others appear fixable.

But that could take time. More than 100 cars have been awaiting repairs for months at Amtrak shops in Indiana and Delaware. The railroad has a fleet of 1,500 cars.

For now, Amtrak has canceled just one train on one day _ Wednesday's Washington-to-Chicago Cardinal _ in order to shuffle its usable equipment.

Some of the single-decker ``Viewliner'' cars normally used on the Cardinal will be moved to the Capitol Limited, Van Veen said. But no decisions have been made yet on longer-term adjustments to trains or routes.

``We're taking it day to day right now,'' she said.

Amtrak has struggled to maintain full service this year because so many of its cars and locomotives _ most of them serving long-distance trains _ are damaged and out of service.

The situation became particularly tight after the April 18 crash of Amtrak's Florida-to-Virginia Auto Train. Most of the train's 40 cars derailed in the accident, including 14 ``Superliner'' cars, which are used on most of Amtrak's long-distance train routes.

The railroad's acting president at the time, Stan Bagley, warned in May, ``I'm one derailment away from having to cut service.''

Amtrak supporters in Congress tried to help. The Senate this summer included $55 million for Amtrak in an emergency appropriations bill, earmarking $20 million of that amount for wreck repairs.

By the time the House and Senate agreed last week on a $28.9 billion bill, Amtrak's share had grown to $205 million _ but none of that was earmarked for repairs. Rather, the money was intended to help Amtrak close a $200 million budget gap that could have forced a nationwide service shutdown.