NEW ORLEANS -- Sherry Laredo just returned by train from north Mississippi.
"I don't drive and I hate flying, and so it goes right up there where my elderly mother lives, and I get off and see her," Laredo said. "I take it probably about every two months."
More than 200,000 passengers took the three Amtrak trains that serve New Orleans last year, doubling the ridership since Katrina.
"There is an absolute necessity today to ensure that we have mobility for our people in this nation,' said Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman. "Rail brings that."
Nationwide, 31 million train passengers paid $2 billion for tickets. But Amtrak is asking Washington for $1.6 billion, a 16 percent budget increase.
"We serve 40 percent of the rural population of the United States, Amtrak does," Boardman said.
"For Amtrak to think that they're going to get a 16 percent raise when the federal government is borrowing about 35 cents on every dollar from countries like China," countered Rep. Steve Scalise, R-New Orleans.
"I think they know that they need to listen to those in their local communities that need and want this service for the future," responded Boardman.
"They're incredibly mismanaged. They're always over budget," Scalise said.
"I love the train," Laredo said, who added she "wouldnight like it at all" if the budget for Amtrak was cut.
Before Hurricane Katrina, Amtrak's Sunset Limited went from New Orleans to Florida. But that stopped after the hurricane.
Now Amtrak's CEO said he would love to resume the route to Florida.
"Congress told me to do a study and I did it, and they said they'd give us the money to fix it. Where is it?" asked Boardman.
"I think they've got to realize that our country has got a spending problem," said Scalise.