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Amtrak Reform Council

March 31, 2000

The Amtrak Reform Council (the Council) held its business meeting in the Driscoll Center North building on the campus of the University of Denver, Denver, Colorado on Friday, March 31, 2000.  The Meeting started at 8:30 a.m. and adjourned around 10:30 a.m.

Council Members present: Gil Carmichael, Chair; Paul Weyrich, Vice-chair; Wendell Cox; Mark Yachmetz, representing the Federal Railroad Administrator.  Participating via conference call were:  Bruce Chapman and Chris Gleason. 

Mr. Carmichael chaired the meeting and Deirdre O’Sullivan served as secretary.

[According to the rules that govern the Amtrak Reform Council, in order to have a business meeting and vote on any action items, there must be a quorum of at least six Council members either present at the meeting or participating via conference call.  During the meeting on March 31st, there was a quorum of six members for only a brief period of time when both Bruce Chapman and Chris Gleason were on the conference call.  During this time period, no items were voted on.  These minutes are therefore only a summary of the discussion of the Council members, and do not represent any position that the Council may eventually take on any issue.] 

I.  Opening Remarks by Gil Carmichael and Discussion of the Executive Committee

Mr. Carmichael called the meeting to order and announced that because the Council did not have a quorum it would be unable to vote on any items but he would open the floor in order to begin the discussion on several items that the Council staff had been working on for the Council.  Mr. Carmichael then opened the floor to the Council members for discussion.

Mr. Gleason started the discussion by asking Mr. Carmichael about the Executive Committee.  Mr. Carmichael explained that he had created the Executive Committee as a means of insuring that his judgment is informed by other points of view before the Council staff is instructed to work on various issues.  Mr. Carmichael stated that to make sure that he had a balanced viewpoint, he asked Mr. Weyrich, who was appointed by a Republican to serve on the Executive Committee along with Mr. Kling who was appointed by a Democrat.  He also explained that he asked Tom Till, the Council’s Executive Director, to join the Committee in an ex officio capacity. 

Mr. Gleason expressed his concern that the creation of such a Committee would tend to fragment a group such as the Council.  Mr. Weyrich then offered to give up his position on the Executive Committee in favor of Mr. Gleason.  Mr. Gleason stated that he did not want that because he trusted Mr. Weyrich’s judgement and did not want his position.  Then, Mr. Yachmetz stated the Federal Railroad Administrator also had concerns about the make-up of the Committee, and she would like to discuss those concerns when the Council votes on the matter. 

II.  Discussion of the Staff Working Paper

Mr. Carmichael then brought up for discussion an internal Council staff working paper addressing issues and options regarding Amtrak’s management and funding of the infrastructure of the Northeast Corridor, which stretches from Washington, D.C., to Boston.  Mr. Carmichael noted that the paper had been approved for release to the other Council members by the Executive Committee.  He indicated that since the document was only a staff working paper, unless and until it is approved by the full Council, it does not represent a position of the Council.  He went on to say that in preparing its first Annual Report back in December 2000, the Council had come to the conclusion that Amtrak was, in fact, two organizations:  one, a passenger operating company, and two, an infrastructure company.  He also stated that these two organizations were in conflict with each other as they fight for funding from the federal government and the attention of Amtrak’s upper management.  In addition, he stated that the working paper that the staff had written was the first attempt of the Council to address this issue.  He then turned the discussion over to Mr. Till.

Mr. Till stated that in the Council’s Annual Report released in January 2000, the Council listed several of the recommendations that it had sent to Amtrak, including providing financial statements for the Northeast Corridor infrastructure separate from the financial statements of Amtrak’s National (and Northeast Corridor) train operations.  Amtrak had not accepted this recommendation.  Amtrak subsequently released its capital needs plan that stated it would require an addition $12 billion over the next 25 years to “maintain in good repair” the South End of the Northeast Corridor, and that this amount does not include the capital needs for the North End.  Mr. Till also stated that this paper focuses on the idea that perhaps the high cost of maintaining the infrastructure of the Northeast Corridor limits the ability of Amtrak to expand its role as a provider of rail passenger, mail and express services.  Also, he pointed out that the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General has stated publicly that the fire and life safety issues in New York City’s Penn Station complex could leave Amtrak vulnerable to major tort liability. 

Mr. Weyrich, Mr. Gleason, and Mr. Cox all supported the ideas behind the working paper.  Mr. Weyrich stated that it was important to mention that this was not a staff-driven idea but an idea of the Chairman, who had discussed it with both Mr. Kling and himself, and all three then asked the staff to write the paper.  Mr. Gleason said that he served on the Blue Ribbon Panel, which came to the same conclusion that the government had built the highways, airports, locks, and dams and that the government should be financing rail infrastructure as well.  Mr. Cox stated that the Northeast Corridor infrastructure company could be created following the example of the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority), with Amtrak and the commuter agencies who operate on the Northeast Corridor paying their fair share.

Mr. Yachmetz stated that he and the Administrator had some problems with the working paper as written.  He went on to say that timing for the paper was bad because no new controversial issues would be accepted in this Congress.  He also stated that there are limited funds available for transportation, and that Amtrak and this new agency would compete for federal funds. 

Then Mr. Chapman joined the conference call for a brief time and wanted the opportunity to discuss his proposal to the Council so the Chairman gave him the floor.

III.  Introduction by Bruce Chapman on the Need for an Options Paper

Mr. Chapman stated that he believed that Council staff should start working on an options paper for Amtrak after FY2002.  This paper should explore all the options that would be available for the future structuring of rail passenger service after FY 2002, including, but not limited to:  more funding for the status quo, creating regional divisions, creating a separate infrastructure company, privatization of some corridors, privatization of all service, etc.  This would give the Council a broad view of the options available with the pros & cons for each option spelled out thoroughly and clearly. 

Mr. Cox stated that he agreed with Mr. Chapman that the Council should start looking at all the options but that it should not yet be drawing any conclusions.  Mr. Weyrich also agreed saying it is an appropriate role for the staff to start this process, but just because the Council is looking at options does not mean that a campaign should begin to discount any of the options that might be described and discussed in the paper.  Mr. Till indicated, without objection or comment from the Council members present, that the staff would begin preparation of such a paper.

IV.   Adjournment

The Council asked for public comment any or all of these issues.  The Council then adjourned at approximately 10:30 a.m.

The ARC is an independent federal commission established under the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act of 1997 (P.L. 105-134).