Amtrak Reform Council recommends dismantling of Amtrak

The Amtrak Reform Council "pulled the trigger" on Amtrak in a report to Congress on February 7, saying Amtrak is irreversibly flawed and should be broken up to give the free market an opportunity to improve America's passenger rail system.

The U.S. House Transportation Committee has scheduled a hearing on February 14 to review the proposal. Amtrak has requested $1.2 billion in federal assistance, and said it will cease many long-distance routes by October if it does not receive the necessary funding (see related article, page 6).

Rail Labor was critical of the proposal and dismissed it - as well as the ARC itself - as "biased."

"The ARC has never been a legitimate panel," said Sonny Hall, President of the AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department (TTD). "It was stacked with people who walked in the door on a mission to breakup Amtrak and allow private interests to cherry-pick its most desirable parts."

The Rail Labor Division of the TTD filed a lawsuit on January 22 to stop the ARC's efforts to destroy Amtrak. However, it failed to persuade a federal judge to block release of the council's report (see related article, page 6).

Many of the ARC's recommendations for dismantling and privatizing Amtrak have been tried before in Great Britain - but the results have been disastrous for the country's traveling public. The British rail system is marred by poor infrastructure and equipment maintenance, major accidents, constant delays, and nationwide labor strikes. It has gotten so bad that British citizens have scheduled a national boycott of the railways in March.

"The Amtrak Reform Council has wasted far too many taxpayer dollars advancing already-rejected ideas," TTD President Hall said.

The ARC's report says that Amtrak should be relieved of policy-making duties and land ownership. After a transition period, private operators would be allowed to compete for contracts to run specific routes. Under the ARC's plan, a new subsidiary of Amtrak would conduct train operations, ultimately franchising out some or all routes through competitive bidding.

Another subsidiary would own, operate and maintain the tracks, property and stations now under Amtrak's control. This was tried in Great Britain and failed miserably, Rail Labor noted.

"Every step of the way, the ARC ignored the facts and told the fables it wanted to tell," said TTD President Hall, who is also President of the Transport Workers Union. "In over four years as a 'fact-finding' body you think they would have seen what an abysmal failure privatized rail has been in places like England, with its rampant delays and shoddy maintenance. But the ARC saw what it wanted to see, heard what it wanted to hear, and today did what it always wanted to do - with taxpayers picking up the tab."

According to TTD President Hall, organized labor will not turn to Capitol Hill to fight for the survival of Amtrak in its current form.

"Transportation labor will now mobilize to ensure Amtrak as a national system obtains the federal resources it needs in FY 2003," he said.

 

2002 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers