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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 / Set #2

Michael Dukakis appeared the day after Amtrak President George Warrington announced its $285 million in cuts, federal appropriations request of $1.2 billion, and threat to eliminate the long distance trains October 1 if it did not get the money, giving RailPAC members the first chance to question the Amtrak (Acting) Chairman following the announcement. He began by saying, "We are at an opportunity point; putting it in perspective, after the 9/11 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 said 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 had 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 country 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 we don't have to keep coming back every year." The announced cuts "should lead to efficiency. If we're going to be creditable we (must show that) we are 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' set of recommendations. They fail to address how much capital is needed to run it. 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? "We need a 5-year reauthorization, but $500-600 million (a year) will not be 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,' so 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 the long distance trains, "they do lose money, but are an essential service (because of) the interdependency with the corridors. It should be the goal in the (Northeast Corridor) that rail has 70% of the market. Acela is now running 9 trips daily and we are attracting business travelers that used to fly." When asked about the Bush Administration, Dukakis replied, "We are 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 all aspects of Amtrak. As for Mail and Express, Chairman Dukakis answered it is doing ok, "potentially is a good profit center. Original projections were overly ambitious." As for the rumor that Amtrak's President and Board will be replaced soon, he chastised those who "spread these wacky rumors," saying that in all of corporate America there is not a board of directors that is 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, and I 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 "In light of the Enron/Arthur Andersen debacle, do you have faith in what you are 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 future. "I have a big value Amtrak ticket for long distance travel this Spring. If I want to do the same again next year can you assure me the trains will be running?" He answered, "No. I will be working hard, but cannot assure you that they will."

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