Intercity Passenger Rail:

Potential Financial Issues in the Event That Amtrak Undergoes Liquidation

GAO-02-871: Published: Sep 20, 2002. Publicly Released: Oct 1, 2002.

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The National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak), the nation's intercity passenger rail operator, was created by Congress in 1970 after the nation's railroads found passenger service to be unprofitable. It is a private corporation. Its financial situation has never been strong, and it has been on the edge of bankruptcy several times. Early this year, Amtrak stated that federal financial assistance would have to more than double for the corporation to survive. Given Amtrak's worsening financial condition and the potential for intercity passenger rail to play a larger role in the nation's transportation system, there is growing agreement that the mission, funding, and structure of the current approach to providing intercity passenger rail merits reexamination. If Amtrak had been liquidated on December 31, 2001, secured creditors and unsecured creditors--including the federal government and Amtrak employees--and stockholders would have had $44 billion in potential claims against and ownership interests in Amtrak's estate. It is unlikely that secured and unsecured creditors' claims would have been fully satisfied, because Amtrak's assets available to satisfy these claims and interests are old, have little value, or appear unlikely to have a value equal to the claims against them. An Amtrak liquidation would have adversely affected participants in the railroad retirement and unemployment systems. If all the Amtrak employees had lost their jobs on December 31, 2001, and were not reemployed in the railroad industry, the railroad retirement system would have lost over $400 million in annual contributions from Amtrak payroll taxes. The Railroad Retirement Board estimated that the railroad retirement account would being to decline in 2006 and would be in a deficit by 2024 if no actions were taken to increase payroll taxes or reduce benefits. The financial impact on the railroad unemployment system would have been immediate, but short term. According to the Board, the unemployment account would have been exhausted in 2002, the unemployment account would have had to borrow $338 million from the railroad retirement account, and unemployment taxes would have had to increase from 4 percent to 12.5 percent between 2002 and 2004 for the system to maintain its financial health.

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