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Senators To Hear Amtrak Chief on Thursday

June 18, 2002

New Amtrak President David Gunn has been summoned before a Senate subcommittee this week to testify about the passenger railroad systems finances.

Gunn announced 10 days ago that if Amtrak does not secure at least $200 in loans by July, the entire network will be shut down. This year, a congressional mandate that Amtrak become self-supporting expired with Amtrak several million dollars in debt. Amtraks survival depends on whether Congress and the Bush administration decide it is worth saving. Gunn, recognizing critics are troubled by more than the railroad systems financial condition, also released plans to reform Amtraks management structure and increase the transparency of its operations.

At stake is not only the future of the only passenger railroad system in the country, but the jobs of Amtrak workers, including 1,435 IBEW members, who service and maintain the trains.

Gunn told the New York Times on Sunday that he is confident Amtrak will receive the loan by the end of June. He touted the expressed support of a large number of Senators and members of the House of Representatives. Even Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), a longtime Amtrak critic, voiced support for Gunns candor and said a shutdown of the Northeast Corridor, California routes and some others could be "highly disruptive."

President Bush proposed a meager $521 million for Amtrak in next years budget, which if passed would likely cost 7,000 workers their jobs. Otherwise, the administration has been silent on the subject of Amtraks recent woes. Last week, IBEW Railroad Director Ray Cobb and other members of rail labor were invited to the White House to discuss Amtrak, but Cobb said the advisors they met with made no promises.

Gunn, who formerly headed transit systems in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, has a reputation as a straight-talker. Observers fully expect him to follow through with the system-wide shutdown if the money does not come through.

Amtrak Facing Total Shutdown, Says System Chief - June 7, 2002

All Aboard: Amtraks Survival is at a Crossroads  - IBEW Journal, May 2002