Amtrak Board of Directors criticized by Congress for firing David Gunn

The Amtrak Board fired President David Gunn on November 9. The decision was intensely criticized by many.

During a hearing of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Subcommittee on Railroads on November 15, Republicans and Democrats denounced the board for firing Gunn. Days after the board fired Gunn, Representative Steven LaTourette, the chairman of the subcommittee, said that the board might have acted illegally because it lacked a quorum.

LaTourette said the board had apparently not had a quorum in the last few years. He said that under the board's bylaws, a quorum would be five of seven directors. The board has only four directors, and two of those will lose their seats when Congress recesses for the year in a few weeks.

The Department of Transportation's chief counsel, Jeffrey A. Rosen, who also serves on the Amtrak board as the representative of the transportation secretary, disputed Representative LaTourette on that point and others. But others at the hearing, some seeking to reinstate Gunn, seized on the procedural questions surrounding the board.

Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's delegate to the House and a member of the transportation committee, described the board's uncertain legal status as "a lawsuit waiting to happen."

Exactly why Gunn was fired after three and a half years on the job was not completely clear. Gunn said it was because he had opposed the board's preliminary moves to strip Amtrak of the tracks in the Northeast Corridor, from Washington through New York to Boston.

Board Chairman Laney denied that that was the board's intention. He said Gunn had lost enthusiasm for contracting out food service and train maintenance, adding that those steps would cut losses and were part of a strategic plan approved by the board in April. Gunn said he had worked hard to help write that plan and was deeply involved in carrying out parts of it that the railroad could accomplish on its own.

During the hearing, Laney did admit to the subcommittee that he has had closed-door discussions with private parties interested in purchasing 500 miles of track and other assets along the Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston.

Speaking to a meeting of the Association for a Better New York, Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, who is also on Amtrak's board, said critics were wrong to think the board was trying to shut the system down. According to Mineta, the board of Amtrak is looking for a new president to turn the troubled railroad around, not dismantle it.

"Let me suggest that the best indicator of the board's true intentions will be their selection of Amtrak's next chief executive," Mineta told the group of business, civic and political leaders. "Board President David Laney made clear that they are looking for a turnaround CEO and not a liquidator. And I agree."

Senator Charles Schumer, an Amtrak supporter, disputed the idea that the board wants to turn the railroad around.

"The administration is trying to save Amtrak like the wolf is trying to save Little Red Riding Hood," he said in a statement. "Don't be fooled, the Bush administration wants to kill Amtrak, not save it."


© 2005 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen