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Amtrak to increase fares nationwide

/ Source: The Associated Press

Amtrak on Tuesday announced that ticket prices nationwide would increase an average of $3 to $4 starting next Tuesday.

Acela Express and long distance coach trains will see a 7 percent fare increase, while regional and long distance sleeper trains will rise by 5 percent.

The fare increases were described by Amtrak as an important component of its fiscal 2006 budget to cover its increases in current and anticipated expenses, including the cost of fuel which has risen 40 percent in the past year.

Starting Oct. 16, the approximately 18,000 Northeast Corridor commuters who have monthly passes will see a 10 percent increase. The currently monthly fares — which vary depending on destinations — are currently discounted at 70 percent. The discount will be adjusted to 60 percent, Amtrak said. In February 2006, that discount will be adjusted to 50 percent.

For the approximately 2,000 Smart Pass 10-trip ticket holders whose fares are discounted 50 to 60 percent, the discount will be dropped to 20 percent starting Oct. 16.

Starting Oct. 4, Amtrak said it will begin to “revenue manage” some Northeast Corridor trains to better match fares to demand periods to allow passengers traveling at off-peak times to take advantage of lower fares.

The fare hikes come at a time when President Bush has proposed eliminating the railroad’s subsidies. Amtrak initially announced the fare increases on Sept. 9, but postponed its plans a week later to gather more input from public officials and other groups. Amtrak backed off its initial plan to raise monthly pass fares for Northeast Corridor commuters by as much as 50 percent.

In July, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill that would cut Amtrak’s operating subsidy by 40 percent, leaving the railroad $3.3 billion in subsidies over six years. The cuts would be absorbed through cost cutting, restructuring and reform.

Amtrak would receive $4.9 billion over six years for capital improvements, and the proposal would create a grant program giving states $1.4 billion for intercity passenger rail service.

Amtrak received a $1.2 billion subsidy for the current year. Another Senate measure would give Amtrak a $1.4 billion subsidy next year.

Earlier this month, all of Amtrak’s high-speed Acela Express trains returned to service. The trains were pulled out of operation in April after cracks in many of the trains’ brake discs were discovered. The trains returned to limited service in July with a new brake design.