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Congressional efforts to continue operations of Amtrak's rail passenger system have been sidetracked by a dispute over job protection for workers on freight lines.

A House committee has abandoned efforts to move a bill that would renew Amtrak's federal subsidy because of the disagreement, leaving any rescue operation to the Senate.Leroy Jones, vice president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, says it isn't the unions' fault.

Labor agreement to the bill was contingent on there being no provisions affecting freight railroads, Jones said. But when union lawyers saw the measure, they found a section they believe could have reduced severance protection for freight line workers.

"In our opinion, it's the freight railroads that are the culprits here," Jones said.

Not so, said Carol Steckbeck of the Association of American Railroads: "Our basic position is we support the legislation that is kind of on hold. . . . We're just hopeful they can come to a resolution."

A Senate bill to reauthorize Amtrak has cleared committee, but floor action has not been scheduled.