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Amtrak Reform Council

October 14, 1999

The Amtrak Reform Council (the Council) held its business meeting in the Wolf Point Ballroom at the Holiday Inn Mart Plaza, 350 N. Orleans Street, Chicago, on Friday, October 14, 1999.  The Meeting included a session that was closed to the public that began at 8:30 a.m. and adjourned at 9:30 a.m. and a session that was opened to the public that began at 9:45 a.m. and adjourned at 11:30 a.m.

Council Members present: Gil Carmichael, Chair; Paul Weyrich, Vice-chair; Bruce Chapman (by telephone); Wendell Cox; Chris Gleason; Lee Kling; Clarence Monin; Mark Yachmetz, representing the Federal Railroad Administrator; and Joseph Vranich. 

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

 I. Closed Session of the Meeting

 Mr. Carmichael called the meeting to order. Council staff discussed the Council’s plans to add an additional staff member, including an offer previously made that was not accepted, or to use a part of its available budget to hire outside consultants.  Mr. Kling moved to adopt a staff recommendation to allow a portion of the budget ($100,000) to be used to hire consultants with the approval of the Chairman.  After discussion, the motion was approved.  The Council further approved reporting this item at the public portion of the meeting.

Council staff discussed the text of a draft letter to Governor Thompson, Amtrak Board Chairman, proposing certain recommendations to Amtrak management.  Council staff was instructed to redraft the letter and circulate it to the Council for approval.

Mr. Carmichael summarized various discussions he had with certain private corporations regarding the prospects of Amtrak mail and express business.

 The closed session of the business meeting was adjourned.


II. Open Session of the Meeting and Approval of the Minutes

Mr. Weyrich chaired the open session of the meeting because Mr. Carmichael had to leave on a business trip to China.  Mr. Weyrich moved to approve the minutes of the previous business meeting of the Council with one modification.  The minutes were approved without objection.

Mr. Weyrich commended Mr. Chapman for his work at the Seattle Conference.  The Council concurred in Mr. Weyrich’s commendation.

III. Mr. Weyrich’s Proposal of Extending the Life of the Council

Mr. Weyrich noted that the success of the Acela program was key to Amtrak meeting its Plan objectives and the requirement of the Reform Act that Amtrak operate without federal operating grants after FY2003.  Mr. Weyrich also noted that it was essential that the Council analyze the role of Acela for at least a year before it can make a responsible judgment regarding the success of the program and that because of the delay in the Acela progam it would not be possible for the Council to have this opportunity unless the role of the Council (and the statutory deadline for Amtrak’s cutoff of operating funds) be extended an additional year.  Mr. Weyrich accordingly moved that the Council suggest to Congress that the Council and the statutory findings period be extended one year.  The motion was seconded and a discussion ensued.

Mr. Yachmetz stated that he would have to abstain because the Administration had not considered and had not taken a position on the extension proposal.  Mr. Monin proposed that the motion be tabled for now and put off to the November 8, 1999 meeting in Dallas[1] so that Mr. Monin could obtain the opinion of rail labor.  Mr. Weyrich agreed to put the matter off to the November 8 meeting.  Mr. Yachmetz stated that he would try to obtain DOT’s position on the extension by November 8.  Mr. Monin accordingly moved to table the motion and reschedule it for the next scheduled business meeting.  The motion was unanimously approved.

IV. Executive Director’s Report

Mr. Till presented the Executive Director’s report.  The report contained three items:

  1. Mr. Till reported that the Council received $750,000 in funding for FY2000, and that the Council was on a sound financial footing for FY2000.  Mr. Till also reported that as a result of the Council vote at the closed business session, $100,000 of the Council’s budget may be used for hiring outside consultants with the approval of the Chairman.
  2. Mr. Till noted that Council staff and Amtrak have negotiated a confidentiality pledge to cover confidential data provided by Amtrak to the Council.  Mr. Till requested that Council members sign the confidentiality pledge.
  3. Mr. Till reported that the Council agreed to send Mr. Monin to a conference in England in the coming month to discuss rail privatization issues, including safety aspects of privatization.  Mr. Monin would probably be accompanied by one Council staff member and any Council member who might be in London at that time.

V. Other Business

Mr. Weyrich noted that at the Seattle meeting representatives from Oregon and Washington contended that the more successful they were at attracting passengers, the greater the overhead that would be charged to them by Amtrak, and that this was a perverse disincentive.  Mr. Weyrich also noted that this same concern was expressed by state representatives yesterday at the outreach meeting.  Mr. Weyrich noted that he received a letter from Mr. Warrington, Amtrak President, responding to the Council on the overhead issue. Mr. Weyrich did not consider the Warrington letter to be fully responsive.  Mr. Mates, Council staff financial analyst, commented that the states are alleging that overhead is approximating 50% of Amtrak charges, and that the state legislatures are beginning to balk at paying this amount.  The discussion concluded with instructions that Council staff address the issue.

Mr. Cox noted that at the closed business session, the Council approved the suggestion of the Financial Analysis Committee, of which Mr. Cox is Chairman, that the Council request certain financial information from Amtrak as part of a Council letter to Amtrak making recommendations for improvements.  In this regard, Mr. Weyrich noted that the Council was in the process of drafting a letter to Amtrak making certain recommendations for improvement, which recommendations are part of the Council’s statutory responsibility.  Mr. Weyrich further noted that the letter is currently being drafted by Council staff and will be circulated to the Council for approval.

Mr. Weyrich noted that the Council will endeavor to have its first report to the Congress done by the first of the year (January 1, 2000).  Mr. Weyrich further noted that because Amtrak’s business plan has been delayed, it may be necessary for the Council to issue addenda to its report at a later time.

Mr. Till summarized the process of preparing the report and the items that the report would address.  The Council staff will prepare sections of the report and circulate them to Council members for comment.  The report will at least address the three statutory items: TRA expenses; labor productivity; and an evaluation of the Amtrak route network with any recommendations regarding closure or realignment.  The report will also monitor Amtrak’s financial progress and include any recommendations that the Council makes to Amtrak for improvements.  The report may also contain any recommendations for changes in the law that the Council thinks appropriate.

Mr. Weyrich expressed his hope that Amtrak will answer the legitimate questions and information requests that the Council has made.  Mr. Weyrich stressed that the Council needs the cooperation of Amtrak on these matters.  Mr. Cox concurred in Mr. Weyrich’s concern.

As new business, Mr. Vranich suggested that telephone discussions (consistent with the Sunshine Act requirements) are helpful in dealing with single issues as they arise and that in-person meetings are not necessary to resolve these issues.  Mr. Till noted that Federal Register notice and a forum where the public could listen to the deliberations of the Council would still be necessary for telephone meetings.  Mr. Kolson, staff legal adviser to the Council, also noted that notation voting could be employed to resolve these issues and that a full meeting of the Council in person or by telephone was not always needed to resolve specific issues.       

VI. Adjournment

The Council asked for public comment any or all of these issues.  The Council then adjourned at approximately 11:30 a.m. 

[1]  The November 8th meeting in Dallas did not have a business meeting.  It was only an Outreach meeting.  Mr. Weyrich’s proposal was not discussed until the next business meeting on January 24, 2000. 


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