Dukais, BLE 'baffled' at ARC action to liquidate Amtrak
BLE President Don M. Hahs (right) and Amtrak President George Warrington discuss the future of Amtrak after the decision of the Amtrak Reform Council and the events of September 11.
In an exclusive telephone interview from his office in Massachusetts, Amtrak Board Chairman Michael Dukakis told the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers that he was dismayed at the Amtrak Reform Council's recommendation for liquidation of the national passenger railroad.
The Amtrak Reform Council found on Nov. 9 that Amtrak would not meet its congressional mandate of operating without federal subsidies by the end of next year. Council members voted 6-5 to either restructure the 30-year-old railroad or liquidate it.
The former Massachusetts Governor and 1988 Presidential candidate was "absolutely baffled" by the council's 6-5 decision.
"This is wrong decision at the wrong time," said Dukakis. "The country is at war. The airline industry is in a massive meltdown. Our passengers are up, our revenues are up. Why anyone would suggest at this point that we seriously consider liquidating or otherwise disposing of Amtrak is beyond me.
"This is the time that we should be investing in Amtrak, building Amtrak, investing in high speed corridors around the country," he continued. "Making Amtrak a national rail passenger system that we can be proud of. This is what the board intends to do."
Dukakis also discussed the continuing needs of Amtrak.
"We need to talk about investing in the system," Dukakis said. "It needs to be similar to the way that we invest in the highways and airports. It will not take a huge investment. Citizens need to persuade Congress of the need for greater investment."
Dukakis believes that the system needs to be expanded. He said that in the past year this need has been justified.
"Amtrak moved 45 percent more people this year than last," said Dukakis. "This shows that if you give people modern, first class, high speed rail, they will use it by the thousands."
The railroad must draw up plans for its own liquidation. Congress will review Amtrak's liquidation plan and a proposal to be drawn up by the Council for a restructured national passenger rail system, which are both due within 90 days. Congress will make a final decision about the future of Amtrak and rail service. Until then, the service will keep running.
Congress already is considering Amtrak's future and what role, if any, the railway will play in developing high-speed trains around the country. The Bush administration also is working on a plan for passenger rail.
Nevertheless, Dukakis said Amtrak has proved its mettle in recent months.
"Our folks at Amtrak have been carrying the country on their backs since the 11th of September," said Dukakis. "They have performed magnificently."
On November 19, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators pledged to block any attempt to liquidate Amtrak, calling on the White House to assure the passenger rail service's creditors that dissolution was not an option.
Twenty-one lawmakers, mainly from the Northeast where Amtrak has its most successful route, wrote to President Bush that the railroad's credit has been badly damaged since the ARC's November 9 report.
While liquidation has been played down as an option, the Bush administration has yet to throw its support behind Amtrak, saying it will unveil a high-speed rail plan in its budget proposal early next year.
The Senators reminded the White House, however, that liquidation would not happen without their support and they were not about to give it.
© 2001 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers