Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said Thursday that she is calling for a review of the rail and bus transportation network.
Chao also called for a study on Amtrak’s long-term viability.
Chao, a former top official at the Federal Railroad Administration, also said that Amtrak should take advantage of the federal government’s $3.9 trillion in loan guarantees to pay down the $4.9 billion debt.
She was responding to a letter from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to Transportation Secretary Andrew Cuomo on the long-delayed plan to reallocate Amtrak’s operating revenue.
Cuomo has been pushing to reroute the $1.8 trillion debt onto the rail line.
Cuomo said that he was open to that option.
“I’m not sure how you would get from a point of a $1 trillion in debt, where there are no options, to a point where there is an option that’s very attractive to the taxpayer,” Cuomo said.
“That is, if you could find a way to pay off all the loans and pay off the debt.
That’s what we’re looking at.”
Cuomo has said that the Amtrak deal will be a boon to the economy.
In her letter to Cuomo, Gillibrands wrote, “While the rail is not the only asset that has been leveraged, Amtrak’s success will ultimately be determined by its ability to maintain the infrastructure, including the roads and bridges, which will ultimately provide the backbone for future growth and prosperity.”
Cuomo said Thursday he would be open to any study of the Amtrak funding.
“The fact that we’ve spent so much time and energy trying to figure out how to figure this out and figure out what’s going to happen to the Amtrak operating subsidy will be something that’s of enormous value to the American people,” Cuomo told reporters.
“There’s no question that we have to get to the bottom of this, but at the same time, if there’s something to be done, I’m happy to do it.”
Gillibranda, in her letter, said that Cuomo should “explore the feasibility of finding a viable solution to pay for Amtrak’s operations while still ensuring that the railroad’s safety is guaranteed.”
“I also ask you to consider taking a closer look at the cost of these upgrades, including a full cost accounting of the $7 billion that has already been spent on the rail system,” she wrote.
“Given that these upgrades would likely have been made much sooner by Congress, you have the opportunity to address this issue without delaying the critical infrastructure work that will ensure the safety of our nation’s public transit system.”
Cuomo also called on Congress to “give Amtrak the flexibility it needs to invest in the long term and to make long-range investments in our public transportation system.”
A Cuomo spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.