Amtrak Reform Council
May 19, 2000
Reform Council (the Council) held its business meeting at
the Hilton Sacramento Arden West, 2200 Harvard Street, Sacramento,
CA on Friday, May 19, 2000. The Meeting started at 8:30 a.m.
and adjourned around 10:45 a.m.
present: Gil Carmichael, Chair; Paul Weyrich, Vice-chair;
James Coston, Wendell Cox; Lee Kling, Clarence Monin, and
Jack Wells representing the Federal Railroad Administrator.
Participating via conference call was: Mayor John Norquist.
chaired the meeting and Deirdre OSullivan served as
Remarks by Gil Carmichael and Executive Directors Report
called the meeting to order and announced that the Council
would be approving the minutes from the previous meetings
by notation and, once approved, the minutes would then be
posted on the Councils website. Mr. Carmichael then
invited the Executive Director, Tom Till, to make his report.
Mr. Till stated that the Appropriations process for the Councils
budget was proceeding, but there was not a definite number
yet. Also, he stated that a candidate has been found for the
remaining authorized position of a Transportation Analyst.
He hoped that the position would be filled soon. Also, he
reported that the Council had hired Ms. Dee Gray as the new
Administrative Specialist to replace Ms. Stacy Murphy, who
left the Council in April. In addition, he stated that a law
clerk and a financial intern had been hired for the summer
months and would be starting soon. He also gave updates on
the various reports that the Council staff was currently working
on, including: (1) the Northeast Corridor Paper (NEC Paper)
that the Council had just received a revised copy of; (2)
the Options paper that Mr. Chapman had requested, on which
work was getting underway; (3) a summary of legislation affecting
Amtrak, on which work was nearing completion, and which would
be sent to Amtrak and FRA for feedback; and (4) a report on
the Councils Outreach hearings, which would be presented
to the Council in the fall.
then instructed the staff to improve the organization of the
Councils financial records and its files. Mr. Till replied
that the staff would address the problem and the Chairman
would be getting an updated report on the staffs progress
at the next meeting in July.
of the Executive Committee
asked for a vote of approval on the creation of an Executive
Committee made up of himself, Mr. Weyrich, Vice Chair, Mr.
Kling, and Mr. Till as the ex officio. Mr. Cox motioned for
approval and Mr. Weyrich seconded the motion. Mr. Coston inquired
as to the purpose of the Committee. Mr. Carmichael stated
that an example of how the Executive Committee would be helpful
was in the releasing of the staff NEC working paper, which
was cleared through Messrs. Kling and Weyrich before being
released to the Council because Mr. Carmichael did not want
the paper to be just "a Carmichael paper." Mr. Kling
noted that the Committee is not intended to usurp the Council.
Mr. Monin further noted that any Council member could attend
any meeting of the Committee and that the Committee could
not decide policy for the whole Council. Mr. Wells then proposed
to change the name of the Committee so there would not be
any confusion over its role. The name "Chairmans
Advisory Committee" was proposed and the motion, as modified
by the name change, was moved, seconded, and adopted by unanimous
Staff Working Paper on the Northeast Corridor
noted that the staff NEC working paper is still in draft form
and has not been voted on by the Council. Mr. Kling stated
that the proposal is only a recommendation that will be presented
to Amtrak for its consideration. Mr. Weyrich stated that the
paper is one of many recommendations that will be sent to
Amtrak. Mr. Wells noted that it was an interesting proposal,
but only if coupled with the funding necessary for the NEC.
Mr. Weyrich agreed that the funding issue was important. Mr.
Cox noted that there are studies that show that the outcome
of dedicated funding in the absence of a competitive market
is bad for the taxpayer. Mr. Cox stated that the best interests
of taxpayers should also be considered by the staff.
Mr. Monin stated
that the paper should also consider how the changes proposed
would affect Amtrak workers on the Northeast Corridor. Mr.
Weyrich replied that the Council has always intended to include
Labor in all of its deliberations and has repeatedly asked
Labor to make presentations at its meetings, but that Labor
has turned the Council down. Mr. Monin stated that when ARC
was created, the Labor movement (including himself) believed
that ARCs purpose was to dismantle Amtrak. Now, however,
he is convinced that the Council has adopted a bipartisan,
"pragmatic approach" and that Labors interest
will be protected even though "tough love" is part
of the process. He also stated that he hopes that his constituents
would likewise see the Council as it has evolved. Mr. Carmichael
stated that formal invitations should be sent to Labor and
to Amtrak employees inviting them to a meeting of the Council
to present their views on how to improve Amtrak operations
and funding. Mr. Weyrich so moved, Mr. Cox seconded the motion,
and the motion was approved unanimously. Mr. Monin stated
that the invitation would be responded to.
stated that he would like to focus on Amtraks Customer
Service. He suggested that the Council hire a consultant to
look into its marketing, how it can be more customer responsive,
and how to improve employee/customer interaction with improved
employee training. Mr. Carmichael stated that there is a better
culture for customer service within Amtrak West. Mr. Till
stated that Mr. Mallery, President of Amtrak West, testified
the day before that Amtrak West employees encouraged Amtraks
management to pursue a service guarantee and, by all accounts,
this program has been very successful. In addition, Mr. Till
stated that Amtrak is going to introduce this same program
throughout Amtrak in July 2000.
then returned to the discussion of the staff NEC working paper.
Mr. Weyrich moved that this staff working paper on the NEC
(as well as other working papers that may be prepared by the
staff on financing mechanisms for intercity passenger service,
on how to change Amtraks culture of customer service,
and on any other issues) be scheduled for an up or down vote
at the Councils meeting in November. Mr. Kling seconded
the motion. Mr. Weyrich also introduced a motion, which was
seconded, that the staff working paper be released outside
the Council at this time to allow public discussion. Both
motions were approved by the Council.
Mr. Kling stated
that there must be a way to get the politics out of Amtrak.
Mr. Weyrich stated that as long as there are federal subsidies,
there will be politics. Mayor Norquist requested the staff
to look into the structure of federal subsidies for airlines
and highways, including the role of the tax code in such subsidies.
Mr. Cox said that there are models that work effectively in
other countries to get politics out of the administration
of government subsidies to the transportation industry. Mr.
Carmichael stated that an attempt to fund these new high-speed
rail corridors through bonds in S. 1900 has some interesting
aspects that the staff should investigate and report on to
Mr. Wells stated
that he believed that the issues that the Federal Railroad
Administration raised regarding the paper have not been adequately
addressed in the current draft. These include:
The fact that
outside the NEC, where Amtrak operates as a tenant carrier
on the freight railroads, its on-time performance is about
20 percent less than on the NEC.
of keeping the right-of-way in a state of good repair.
As the owner, Amtrak can ensure that this is done, but,
as a tenant, it is not sure how this can be guaranteed.
Some of this problem, according to Mr. Wells, is evident
in the United Kingdom with Railtrack.
railroads place a high priority on owning their own right-of-way,
which permits them to optimize maintenance and capital
investment. Commuter agencies operate many more trains
on the NEC than Amtrak, but Amtraks higher speed
trains require a higher level of maintenance than the
commuter operators. This higher level of required maintenance
could cause problems for Amtrak, whose interests need
to be protected.
Mr. Weyrich suggested
that as soon as the staff receives any formal written comments
from Council members on the working paper, the staff should
release the comments to all Council members. Mr. Till agreed.
The next item
discussed was the set of draft answers to the questions for
the record posed to Mr. Carmichael after his testimony before
the hearing by Senator Hutchisons subcommittee on February
23, 2000. The Council discussed in detail the first of the
questions, which asked whether, if Amtrak received "the
same financial support" from the government as the aviation
and highway industries receive, would it have the same market
share. The discussion included: (1) the extent to which the
Council could address the question, since it had not taken
a position on this issue; (2) the extent to which the Chairman
could express his own opinion on the issue; (3) the difficulty
of the question, given the fact that the structure and funding
for the aviation and highway industries is completely different
from the industry and funding structure for Amtrak; (4) the
need to be as responsive as possible to questions from the
Congress; (5) the extent to which the answers to all of the
questions, not just the first, were of a policy nature; and
(6) the need to send the answers to the Committee as soon
directed that the staff redraft the answers as necessary in
accordance with the tenor of the discussion. Copies would
then be sent to all Council members for approval as early
as possible so that the completed answers could be transmitted
to the Committee.
from Council Member Monin
advised the Council that Mr. Monin had sent a letter to the
Executive Committee addressing a number of issues concerning
the role of labor on the Council, including issues of importance
to the Productivity Committee, which Mr. Monin chairs. Mr.
Carmichael asked Mr. Monin if he would like the letter to
be distributed to the Council. Mr. Monin indicated that he
would, and the Chairman instructed the Council staff to forward
the letter to all members of the Council.
VI. Motion by Mr. Weyrich
Based on the
premise that the Council needs a full year of operation of
the entire Acela Express 20-trainset fleet in order to make
a judgment about Amtraks ability to become self-sufficient,
Mr. Weyrich reintroduced his motion to extend the deadline
in the ARAA by which Amtrak is required to become self-sufficient,
and correspondingly extend the Councils life by one
year. Mr. Monin mentioned that DOT Inspector General Kenneth
Mead testified at Senator Hutchinsons February 23rd
hearing that an extension was not yet in order. Mr. Monins
view was confirmed by Mark Dayton of the Inspector Generals
office, who was present at the Councils meeting. Views
supporting Mr. Monins opinion were expressed by Messrs.
Carmichael and Coston. Mr. Cox spoke in support of the motion.
Though Mr. Weyrichs motion was defeated, he indicated
his intention to bring up the motion at future Council meetings.
Business And Public Comment
asked whether the Council had any new business and comments
from the audience on any or all of these issues. There was
no new business.
Joe McHugh of
Amtrak expressed appreciation to the Council for coming out
a day early to see some of Amtraks operations in California.
expressed appreciation for Amtraks hospitality and said
that he was impressed by the scope and intensity of Californias
state rail program.
The Council then
adjourned at approximately 10:45 a.m.
The ARC is an independent federal commission established under the Amtrak Reform
and Accountability Act of 1997 (P.L. 105-134).