Amtrak in deep trouble
By By Marianne Todd/The Meridian Star
Nov. 10, 2001
A federal oversight panel in Washington declared Friday that Amtrak will not meet a congressional deadline for achieving financial self-sufficiency, a finding that forces Amtrak to draw up a plan for its own liquidation.
Gil Carmichael of Meridian, chairman of the Amtrak Reform Council, said he voted at the request of the Bush administration to postpone the council's decision until January, but was on the losing side of a 6-5 vote. He said the panel is united in support of passenger rail despite its disagreement on whether Amtrak should continue to provide it.
The reform council's decision does not mean Amtrak trains will stop running. Congress will review Amtrak's liquidation plan also due in 90 days and the proposal to be drawn up by the council for a restructured national passenger rail system. Congress then will make a final decision about the future of Amtrak and rail service.
Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith, a member of Amtrak's board of directors, called the reform council's decision "the wrong finding and the wrong time." He said he also supported a delay in the decision.
Amtrak was under a congressional mandate to achieve financial self-sufficiency by Dec. 2, 2002. Both Smith and Amtrak corporate vice president William Schulz as late as last Monday were highly critical of published reports that the passenger rail operation would miss the deadline. Schulz was not available for comment Friday after the reform council's vote.
The vote left little doubt Amtrak would not meet the deadline and, in fact, the action could lead to a complete restructuring of passenger rail service in the U.S.
Carmichael said organizational and financial debates have already begun in restructuring a new national passenger rail system. Preliminary reports could be released as early as December, he said.
Marianne Todd is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3236, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the Net:
Amtrak Reform Council: http://www.amtrakreformcouncil.gov