Smith named Amtrak board chairman
By By Fredie Carmichael/staff writer
Feb. 23, 2002
Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith was elected Friday as chairman of the Amtrak Board of Directors in Washington the governing body of the nation's passenger rail service.
Smith succeeds former chairman Tommy G. Thompson, who is now the U.S. Health and Human Services secretary. The seven-member Amtrak board unanimously chose Smith for the post.
Amtrak operates a 22,000-mile passenger rail system, serving more than 500 communities in 46 states. Meridian is served by the Crescent which travels daily between New Orleans and New York.
Smith, mayor since 1993, has been on the Amtrak board since June 1998.
Smith also is founder and co-chairman of the Crescent Corridor Coalition, a group of mayors dedicated to developing high-speed passenger rail service in the Southeastern United States.
Smith takes over leadership of the board at a particularly difficult time for Amtrak. The rail service is cutting 1,000 jobs and has threatened to eliminate long-distance trains including the Crescent this fall if Congress does not dramatically increase funding.
Amtrak spokesman Bill Schulz said layoffs are hitting about 200 employees at 85 stations around the country. Another 800 maintenance, yard workers, office workers and support personnel also will lose their jobs.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, who served as acting chairman since Thompson resigned, nominated Smith for the position because "he has been a superb board member and an eloquent champion of a modern, national, high-speed rail system."
U.S. Senator Trent Lott, R-Miss., said he is proud to have a fellow Mississippian elected to such an important post. Lott said that Smith "has the strength and commitment to lead Amtrak through the challenges before it."
U.S. Rep Chip Pickering, the Republican 3rd District congressman, agreed.