WASHINGTON — AMTRAK is down to bare bones.
Amtrak President Thomas Downs announced a second phase of service reductions last week that will reduce train miles by 24 percent in an effort to save $198 million annually. The cuts, aimed at balancing Amtrak's operating budget for the next two years, are scheduled to take effect June 11 and Sept. 10.
''We had to recognize that we were stretched too thin,'' Mr. Downs says. Without these reductions, Amtrak would have faced a $240 million cash shortfall. ''We could have been in bankruptcy by this summer,'' he adds.
Amtrak will achieve most of the cuts by running trains less frequently rather than shutting down service entirely and by retiring outdated equipment. These cuts come on the heels of major reductions Amtrak announced last December.
Amtrak, like other national rail-passenger systems around the world, operates at a deficit and is government-subsidized. But it has recently become a juicy target for budget cutters in Congress, and some have proposed trimming Amtrak's $1 billion annual subsidy or phasing it out.
Amtrak has reached this stage because ''we decided to starve Amtrak to death on capital in the '80s,'' Downs says. Also, ''Amtrak didn't respond enough to changes in the marketplace,'' he says, such as low air fares offered by carriers Southwest and Valujet.
Amtrak is now down to a ''defensible foundation,'' he says, explaining Amtrak expects growth in the service that it will retain.