Friday, December 02, 2005

Amtrak: Others Are Weighing In

It always amazes me what insights come out, if I can stay patient and interested enough in a situation to keep looking. Now that Gunn has been gone for a few weeks, others are coming forward. As an example, here are some very interesting comments from Paul Weyrich concerning the Amtrak story that came out yesterday.

Mr. Weyrich actually worked on the creation of Amtrak some thirty-five years ago, and has served six one-year terms on the Amtrak Board under three separate Secretaries of Transportation. He was also appointed to the newly created Amtrak Reform Council by the Senate Majority Leader. The man's word and opinion count for alot.

If you go to the above link, you will find many interesting observations from Mr. Weyrich, like the fact that the Bush Administration has shown little interest in Amtrak.

Like the fact that Gunn reduced the Amtrak work force from 24,000 to 19,000, that he reduced Amtrak's debt, that he increased ridership AND productivity.

Like the fact that Gunn had difficulties dealing with Transit Boards in Washington, DC and Toronto due to their unwieldy nature and subservient nature regarding local interests.

Like the fact that Gunn turned around the Philadelphis Transit System, and that it reverted back to its former self following his departure.

Like the fact that Gunn almost singlehandedly saved the New York City Transit System, with an amazing record of accomplishments.

Like the fact that President Bush demonstrated sound judgement when he asked certain cabinet secretaries to serve a second term, but that "The selection of Mineta did not reflect that. Bush had promised to choose a Democrat for his cabinet. Considering the hatred of many Democrats for Bush Mineta may have been his only choice." And, "Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta knows little and cares less about Amtrak."

Weyrich has a few ideas that can help Amtrak, noting that right now the future does indeed look bleak. Here's the list, with my comments in italics:

-Select a Secretary of Transportation "who could work hand in glove with the Amtrak Board and its President to make things happen. That is unlikely considering Mineta and his disinterest in Amtrak." Yeah, man, but I think we are stuck with Mineta until the next administration hits town. Maybe another reason to not vote for any Democrat nominee for President is that there might be a chance Norman would stay on for another four years!

-"We need a system of high speed corridors, such as those recommended years ago by the Department of Transportation. We need those corridors to be interconnected so longer trips could be taken within the system." Smart, very smart. Think of the airlines' Hub-and-Spoke mode. And for everyones' sake, think west Harrisburg and south of Richmond!

-"Let's see if we have any forward thinking candidates (in the next Presidential Election) who could make Amtrak an issue. Short of that Amtrak is a dead letter. And the one guy who knew how to run Amtrak returned to Nova Scotia." Enough said.

Where are the others weighing in? Go to Railroad News by Railserve. There, you will find links to several stories and opinions, including the predicable stuff from Vranich and Haswell that appeared in the Baltimore Sun.

I think anyone with some sense of cause and effect logic can see that Amtrak needs reform. And today, President Bush signed legislation which appropriates more money to Amtrak, a move that is not only inconsistent with the messages we have recently heard as Gunn was fired, but also delays meaningful Amtrak Reform (more on this in a later post). Another year from now, the same continuing situation means that those who like what they hear from Mineta will be able to say that they told us so.

Consequently, I believe now more than ever that the current Administration wants Amtrak to disappear. The enablers who applaud the firing of Gunn fail to realize that leadership is needed to reform the beast. Gunn would have provided that leadership.

A year or two of this Amtrak situation is bad luck. A decade or two is bad management. Both Congress and whichever Administration is currently at the helm need to look in the mirror, decide what they really want, and get politics as well as themselves out of the way. Until then, we will have either a bad Amtrak or no Amtrak.


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