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Cities send letters to Congress in bid to keep Amtrak service alive

Trains may stop rolling Oct. 1

At the unanimous urging of the Bingen City Council, Mayor Brian Prigel of Bingen has sent a letter to Congress in support of Amtrak service.

Earlier this month, the Bingen City Council voted 5-0 to go on record as wanting the rail system to remain operational.

"We all felt real strong about it," said council member Betty Barnes. "We felt it's about the only form of public transportation we have here, and we have a lot of people who don't have their own transportation. We thought it was essential to keep Amtrak running if at all possible."

Despite the continuing upward trend in the cost of gasoline and increased complaints about the airline industry, President Bush has proposed ending all federal funding for the nationwide railroad passenger system as of fiscal year 2006.

In a June 24 letter addressed to U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D.-Wash.) and U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings (R.-Wash.), Prigel pointed out that the passenger train service helps boost the area's economy.

"Not only is Amtrak important to the Northwest, but it is important to the city of Bingen," Prigel wrote. "Bingen is the only stop in the Columbia River Gorge between Portland and Wishram. We no longer have the luxury of offering a variety of alternatives for transportation to and from the metropolitan areas. Bus service is no longer available in Bingen. Many of the residents of west Klickitat County use Amtrak to connect in Portland and on to Seattle and to travel eastward ... Now is not the time for the Bush administration to be enacting policies that will hamper the economic recovery and viability of the state of Washington or the United States ... the city of Bingen is in opposition to any proposed reductions in Amtrak funding."

The Klickitat County towns of Bingen and Wishram are served daily by the Amtrak Empire Builder, which runs east and west through the Columbia River Gorge on its way between Chicago and Portland.

White Salmon Mayor Linda Jones said she plans to send a letter similar to the one issued by the city of Bingen later this week, and Klickitat County Commissioner Don Struck has also indicated support for the campaign to maintain Amtrak service through the region.

Amtrak officials have warned that the entire nationwide passenger network may be shut down on Oct. 1 if Congress does not approve sufficient funding for the service.

Dr. Curt Mathisen, a White Salmon dentist, said he is glad to hear there is local action to support Amtrak service. He explained that he and his wife Elaina have been taking the train from Bingen to Montana on skiing trips in recent years.

"It's very enjoyable, and we definitely appreciate the service Amtrak provides," Mathisen said. "We don't ride a great deal, but we would miss it greatly if service is discontinued. It would be a tremendous loss."

Mathisen added that he believed the letters could make a difference.

"I hope so," he said. "But it is hard to know how bureaucrats will react."

Amtrak, which serves more than 500 cities across the United States, was created in 1971.


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