(Dec. 15) Federal funding for Amtrak to pay for cars that haul fresh fruits and vegetables and other perishables has been withdrawn by the congressman who asked for the money in the first place, after impropriety was suggested, according to a story in The New York Times.

ExpressTrak, Norfolk, Va., an independent company that depends on Amtrak to pull its refrigerated cars, was set to receive $8.3 million in the federal transportation bill passed by Congress and signed by President Bush this fall.

In 1999, Amtrak signed a long-term agreement with ExpressTrak to form a partnership to provide up to 350 rail cars capable of operating at passenger train speeds for the movement of fresh produce. The company went bankrupt in 2004, but a federal bankruptcy judge has ordered Amtrak to keep the ExpressTrak cars rolling.

The $8.3 million would pay to haul about 5,500 loads of perishables over the next three years, according to the story. Only about 1,200 loads were hauled in the 12-month period ending in April, far below the quantity anticipated when Amtrak and ExpressTrak hooked up in 1999.

After Rep. Joe Knollenberg, R-Mich., wrote the $8.3 million for ExpressTrak into the transportation budget, the Times obtained documents that raised questions about lobbying of Knollenberg by ExpressTrak and its lawyers. Then, on Dec. 9, Knollenberg released a statement saying he would repeal the provision funding ExpressTrak.

Since 1997, Knollenberg has received about $46,000 from the owner of ExpressTrak, Anthony Soave, members of his family and employees of his Soave Enterprises, according to the Times story.

Calls to ExpressTrak were not returned.