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Amtrak Reform Council

September 7, 2000

The Amtrak Reform Council (the Council) held its business meeting at the Channel Inn, 650 Water Street, SW, Washington, D.C., in the Captain’s Room on Thursday, September 7, 2000.  The meeting started at 1:00 p.m. and adjourned at approximately 4:30 p.m.

Council Members present: Gil Carmichael, Chair; Bruce Chapman; Nancy Rutledge Connery; James Coston; Wendell Cox; Christopher K. Gleason; S. Lee Kling; Charles Moneypenny; Federal Railroad Administrator Jolene Molitoris and Deputy Administrator Jack Wells, following seriatim, representing the Secretary of Transportation.

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

I. Opening Remarks by Gil Carmichael

Mr. Carmichael opened the meeting by welcoming new Council member Nancy Rutledge Connery, appointed by Senator Lott to fill the position vacated by the resignation of Joe Vranich.  He then advised the Council that the Senate Commerce Committee Hearing on Amtrak that was scheduled for earlier that morning had been postponed with no word as to when it would be rescheduled.  He also stated that the Council staff had been informed by Mr. Moneypenny that the formal Labor presentation that was scheduled for that day's meeting had also been postponed due to a scheduling conflict.  Instead, the Council would have an informal discussion with the Labor representatives who were present at the meeting and reschedule the formal presentation for the November 16th ARC Meeting.

Mr. Carmichael also stated that because the minutes from the last meeting were not given to the Council members to review until the day of the meeting, the Council members would be given time to review the minutes and vote via notation.  Once the minutes are approved, the minutes would be posted on the ARC website.

II. Presentation by H. Brent Coles, President of The U.S. Conference of Mayors and Mayor of Boise, Idaho

The first speaker was H. Brent Coles, President of The U.S. Conference of Mayors (Conference) and Mayor of Boise, Idaho.  His formal presentation focused on the need for more rail service, both commuter and intercity.  He discussed the expansion in Boise of commuter rail, and that he would like an Amtrak station to connect the commuter lines with the rest of country.  He also stated that both he personally and the Conference support

S. 1900, the proposed “Lautenberg Bonds” legislation because of the need for funding improvements in rail infrastructure.  During the question and answer period that followed, Mayor Coles stated, in response to a question by Administrator Molitoris, that he was very supportive of such funding flexibility for states to use a portion of highway money for rail.  Mr. Carmichael discussed the idea of the local authority owning and operating Amtrak stations following the example of Washington’s Union Station.  Mayor Coles stated that he would personally support a resolution from the Conference for the cities to own and operate the Amtrak stations rather than having Amtrak do so.

III.  Informal Discussion with Rail Labor Organizations

Mr. Carmichael opened the discussion with the Railway Labor Organizations by stating that this discussion was to be considered an informal discussion with the formal presentation to occur at the next meeting.  Administrator Molitoris asked Mr. Moneypenny how Amtrak’s employees were reacting to the new service guarantee program.  Mr. Moneypenny stated that it was too soon to have an accurate assessment of the employees’ reaction.

Mr. Moneypenny stated that he had given the staff copies of an op-ed article that he had written in the Providence Journal that he asked to be distributed to the Council but the staff had not done so.  When Mr. Carmichael asked the staff why this was not done, Deirdre O’Sullivan of the staff stated that there were several articles and materials that were to be mailed out to the Council, and Mr. Moneypenny’s op-ed was included in that packet.  However, due to the rush of last minute preparations for the meeting, it failed to go out in time before the meeting.   Mr. Carmichael stated that articles and other items of interest to the Council should be sent out immediately.  Tom Till, Executive Director acknowledged this and stated that the staff would do so in the future.

Mr. Moneypenny then commented on the fact that at the last meeting he asked to discuss the situation in Boston regarding the MBTA commuter contract but was unable to do so because of time constraints.  Mr. Moneypenny then stated the entire situation was a problem from the start.  He continued by saying that the company, Bay State, had only two employees when it was awarded the contract, and the MBTA panel that judged the bids for the contract was biased.  In addition, he stated that the Bay State contract was very similar to the “Big Dig” contract in that the winning contractor had under-bid to get the contract.  Mr. Moneypenny then criticized Mr. Till’s testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on October 28, 1999, for including in the testimony a graph that depicted the four bids for the MBTA contract because it did not show the entire story.  Mr. Till stated that the graph, which had been published in a report provided by the MBTA, had been used only to demonstrate the point that Amtrak's high costs could be a threat to its future ability to compete effectively for contracts to perform maintenance and operating services for commuter authorities.  He further stated that a recent GAO report had concluded that Amtrak's costs were growing at a rate substantially higher than the rate of inflation.  Mr. Carmichael then stated that he has recused himself from all aspects of the MBTA contract.  Mr. Kling stated that this was an issue that had been discussed in the past and that the discussion should move on.  Mr. Cox agreed and the discussion was concluded.  No action was taken on this issue.

IV. Presentation by Nazih Haddad, Florida DOT on Plans for Expanded Rail Service in Florida

Mr. Nazih Haddad, Florida DOT, made a presentation regarding the new Florida rail passenger plan, which was a joint venture between Amtrak and Florida DOT.  He outlined the plan that included, in Phase I, additional Amtrak long-haul trains from the Northeast; and, in Phases II-IV, to have intra-state rail service between Tampa, Orlando, and an area around Miami.  He also stated Florida DOT's support for the Lautenberg Bonds as a means to help pay for this expansion.  Mr. Cox bought up the point that the new intra-state trains would not be high-speed, but would only travel at 79 miles per hour.  Mr. Cox stated that, the way the Lautenberg bill had been drafted, the bond money could be used for any infrastructure improvements, not just for high-speed service.  Mr. Haddad argued that “you have to crawl before you can walk.”  He argued that the failed FOX program was an example of planners getting too far ahead of the public, and that once intra-state rail is introduced to the public, the demand for high-speed rail would increase. 

V. Executive Director’s Report

The meeting ended with an update from Mr. Till on the status of various policy papers that the Council staff was working on.  These include:  (1) the latest version of the NEC paper, which was recently sent to the states, NEC commuter lines, and others for comment;  (2) the legal summary of laws pertaining to Amtrak, which the Council has forwarded to Amtrak and FRA for final comments; (3) the financing options paper that Mr. Carmichael requested, which was a work in progress; (4) the structural options paper that Mr. Chapman requested, which was also a work in progress; and (5) the testimony for the postponed Senate Hearing, which would be sent out to the Council for comment.

VI. Public Comment Period

Mr. Ross Capon, Executive Director of NARP had several comments regarding the staff’s working paper on the Northeast Corridor infrastructure that argued against the separation of the Northeast Corridor infrastructure from Amtrak.

VIII. Adjournment

The meeting was adjourned at approximately 4:30 p.m.

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