The Amtrak Reform Council (ARC) voted on Friday, November 9, 2001, to trigger a vote by Congress on whether Amtrak should be liquidated or radically reorganized.

        The eleven member Council voted by a 6 to 5 margin to notify Congress that Amtrak would not be operationally self-sufficient by the end of 2002. Under the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act of 1997, such a finding triggers a 90-day process under which Amtrak must prepare a liquidation plan and ARC a reorganization plan for Congress to vote on.

        The Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act that established the ARC is the same statute that removed C-2 protection and sub-contracting prohibitions from federal law. It gave Amtrak five years to “wean itself from federal subsidy,” despite the fact that no passenger railroad in the world operates profitably. The mandate totally ignored the fact that both aviation and highways receive far greater subsidies than Amtrak ever dreamed of getting.

        The ARC is dominated by anti-Amtrak ideologues appointed by former Speaker Newt Gingrich and current Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott. The Chairman, Gilbert Carmichael, has an apparent conflict of interest with Amtrak, as he serves on the Board of Directors of a private company that seeks to compete with Amtrak for mechanical contracts. Even Mr. Carmichael, however, voted against the latest ARC decision to start the ninety-day trigger.

        Among the reasons given by the six members voting to require Amtrak to prepare a liquidation plan was Amtrak’s failure “to cut unprofitable routes” and Amtrak’s unwillingness “to contract out operations where cost savings could result”. 

        Earlier this year, ARC released a proposal to balkanize Amtrak into two or more entities, with infrastructure being totally separated from the operating functions. ARC ignored the fact that a similar scheme in Great Britain proved to be a catastrophic failure both in terms of safety and efficiency. England, in fact, recently ended its disastrous experiment. It is likely that ARC’s reorganization proposal to Congress will call for the break-up of Amtrak along these lines, as well as for massive contracting out of mechanical and service functions.

        “This reckless and idiotic decision puts at risk the future of rail passenger service and the livelihoods of thousands of dedicated Amtrak workers,” says TCU International President Robert Scardelletti. “But it also forces Congress to squarely face the fact that demanding that Amtrak become profitable was irresponsible and unrealistic in the first place. America needs rail passenger service, and Amtrak has done a good job of providing it in the face of enormous obstacles, chief among them Congress’ failure to provide a long-term funding base.”

        Also blasting the ARC action was AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, calling it “a direct attack on our nation’s rail passenger transportation system”, and Congressman James Oberstar (D-MN), who said the “Council’s action was as unnecessary as it was unwise.” Amtrak correctly noted that the ARC vote was “the wrong decision at the wrong time.” Copies of the complete statements are below.

        "TCU members cannot stand by and trust Congress to do the right thing,” says President Scardelletti. “Under this crazy law, Congress only has 90 days to act, and thanks to ARC’s ridiculous timing, Congress will be on holiday recess for much of the 90 days. Meanwhile, Amtrak will be forced to divert precious energy to preparing a liquidation plan that will scare away riders and alarm its creditors. We must mobilize to stop this farce now.”

        Every TCU member should call their Congressman and two Senators immediately. Tell Congress that Amtrak should not be forced to proceed with a liquidation plan. The only thing that should be liquidated is ARC. Emphasize that the mandate that Amtrak become operationally self-sufficient should be ended once and for all. Below are talking points and background information you can use. 

        Use our TCU HOTLINE 800-284-2919 to contact their Washington offices. Call their district offices as well. Congress is expected to return home on recess today. Set up visits to their District offices. 

        Most of you are already contacting Congress in regard to our railroad retirement reform legislation. Do both. Amtrak’s future is vital not only to Amtrak workers. Carving up Amtrak would potentially have dire consequences for everyone covered by the railroad retirement system. And non-railroaders have a direct stake in making sure that our country has a passenger rail alternative to air travel. If you have friends or neighbors who ride Amtrak, tell them about what is happening and urge them to call Congress as well.

        Over the years Amtrak has faced many crises. There is a tendency to be complacent because somehow Amtrak has always survived. But now Amtrak faces an Administration hostile to long-distance trains and union labor. Amtrak’s longtime Congressional enemies are still in place. And the legislative time bomb that required Amtrak to turn a profit by the end of 2002 is now ticking. Amtrak President George Warrington got it right earlier this year when he said Congress must decide whether it wants a truly national rail passenger service. That debate has now been joined as it never has before. We must make sure that Congress makes the right decision. And that means making our collective voice heard. Act now.

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