June 24, 2002 | WebMemo on Federal Budget
Press reports indicate that Amtrak's new president, Dave Gunn, has threatened to not only close down the intercity rail system, but also close down commuter rail operations in the Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington areas. This is unnecessary and punitive.
What all of this indicates is a railroad that is way off-track. After five years of mismanagement and deception, Amtrak's new and highly touted management has unwisely raised the stakes beyond credibility. Mr. Gunn's strategy would hold hostage not only customers of Amtrak's own profitable services, but also thousands of commuters who are the customers of local transit agencies. Indeed, in the Northeast Corridor, Mr. Gunn's strategy could precipitate a regional crisis. This is not even thinly veiled blackmail, a tactic that has no place in civilized society. That a government-owned, taxpayer-subsidized corporation is prosecuting it makes it all the more offensive.
The Bush Administration should meet this challenge head on and implement a strategy to keep Amtrak's profitable service lines in operation. The administration should seek whatever legal or administrative strategy available to bring Amtrak under control. Either bankruptcy or a form of federal administration, under which a trustee would continue to operate trains and undertake the financial reforms that have so long been avoided by Amtrak's management and board of directors. Whether they know it or not, Dave Gunn, the Congress and the Bush Administration are embroiled in a game of brinkmanship and Mr. Gunn has raised the stakes well beyond what he or Amtrak can sustain. Neither Congress nor the President should blink.
Wendell Cox is a member of the Amtrak Reform Council and Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
No Bailout for Amtrak; Board Members Should Resign by Wendell Cox
Proposed Amtrak Bailout
Would Bust the Budget by Ronald D. Utt, Ph.D. (October
Opportunities to Improve Passenger Rail Service Testimony by Ronald D. Utt, Ph.D. (March 7, 2002)
Amtrak Under the Gunn (Wall Street Journal)
Amtrak, Shamtrak: The national rail system needs an overhaul (Dallas Morning News)
The Great Pork Express (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)