Amtrak Chairman Michael Dukakis
At RailPAC's Feb. 1, 2002 Meeting
Reported by Russ Jackson, Editor, Western Rail Passenger REVIEW
Photos from the meeting:
Set #1 /
Michael Dukakis appeared the day after Amtrak President George Warrington
announced its $285 million in cuts, federal appropriations request of
billion, and threat to eliminate the long distance trains October 1 if
did not get the money, giving RailPAC members the first chance to question
the Amtrak (Acting) Chairman following the announcement. He began by
"We are at an opportunity point; putting it in perspective, after the
attack Amtrak carried' the country for weeks. We are providing good service.
Give us the capital and we will do a first class job." He commended
California for its support for the corridor trains in this state, and
operating times on the Surfliners need improving. He arrived on the train
from San Luis Obispo (riding in the cab part way), which ran on time but
to wait for time at many stations.
Warrington's press conference statements "were not a ploy. We cannot
run and build a first class system on the $331 million (after deducting
required retirement payments) we now receive. We need 5% of what the
is putting into highways and airports. Investment in rail infrastructure
will put people to work." He revived the idea of a rail trust fund, "so
don't have to keep coming back every year." The announced cuts "should
to efficiency. If we're going to be creditable we (must show that) we
running an efficient system."
As for the recommendations of the Amtrak Reform Council, Gov. Dukakis
believes that "they want a first class system, but it's the wackiest'
recommendations. They fail to address how much capital is needed to run
To separate the (operating) system from the Northeast Corridor
infrastructure...how can we do that?...3 agencies?...a bureaucratic mess!
Ideologically they want privatization of the system. That cannot be done."
Is the Congress ready to act? Will Congress do the right thing?
need a 5-year reauthorization, but $500-600 million (a year) will not
enough. $1.2 billion is basic per year to build the system. Senator Hollings
(D-SC) told me he is tired of every year will be the year for Amtrak,'
this has got to be the year for the reauthorization. Hollings will introduce
his new plan soon, then we will have a system to be proud of." As for
long distance trains, "they do lose money, but are an essential service
(because of) the interdependency with the corridors. It should be the
in the (Northeast Corridor) that rail has 70% of the market. Acela is
running 9 trips daily and we are attracting business travelers that used
fly." When asked about the Bush Administration, Dukakis replied, "We
getting good cooperation. I don't know what Bush thinks, but (DOT Secretary)
Mineta and his associates are pushing for the reauthorization."
When the meeting was opened for questions, the members asked about
aspects of Amtrak. As for Mail and Express, Chairman Dukakis answered
doing ok, "potentially is a good profit center. Original projections
overly ambitious." As for the rumor that Amtrak's President and Board
be replaced soon, he chastised those who "spread these wacky rumors,"
that in all of corporate America there is not a board of directors that
more enamored with its CEO than the Amtrak board is with George Warrington.
"The term of office for the current Board does not expire until 2003,
expect to be working until then." He blamed the "failure of the glidepath"
(to profitability often mentioned by Mr. Warrington) on the recession.
This writer asked the final questions of the day, the first being
light of the Enron/Arthur Andersen debacle, do you have faith in what
getting from Amtrak Accounting?" He replied that all auditing firms
(Amtrak's is KPMG) are under the gun, and are going back and rechecking
everything to see if they missed anything. I then inquired about the
"I have a big value Amtrak ticket for long distance travel this Spring.
want to do the same again next year can you assure me the trains will
running?" He answered, "No. I will be working hard, but cannot assure
that they will."