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AMTRAK CALLS HIGHWAY TRUST FUND KEY TO ITS FUTURE

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The president of Amtrak says the ticket to a successful future for his railroad is in the highway trust fund.

The national passenger rail service could operate without a taxpayer operating subsidy if it had help raising capital, Thomas M. Downs said Tuesday.And the solution, as he sees it, is the half-cent from the federal gasoline tax that the trust fund currently reserves for mass transit.

"We think we can meet the target of being subsidy-free in 2001 or 2002," Downs said.

He said the railroad is close to finishing this fiscal year in the black, thanks to major cuts in costs and personnel and $365 million in federal operating subsidies.

Those subsidies could be phased out, Downs said, but Amtrak will continue to need assistance with capital funds.