The Saga Continues: A Looming Strike, No Leader, Mounting Loses for Amtrak

WASHINGTON — Amtrak’s Board of Directors in early November voted to fire David Gunn, the railroad’s president.

The action drew the criticism from the chairman of the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Railroads.

“One of the board’s responsibilities is to hire Amtrak’s officers, including the President and CEO,” said Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio. “I happen to believe that Mr. Gunn was doing a reasonable job with the hand he was dealt. As matter of law, Mr. Gunn or any CEO ‘serves at the pleasure of the board.’ But there are deeper issues here, whether one is a supporter or opponent of Mr. Gunn.”

In a statement, Amtrak Chairman David M. Laney said Amtrak requires a “different type of leader.”

“David Gunn has helped Amtrak make important operational improvements over the past three years,” Laney said. “Amtrak’s future now requires a different type of leader who will aggressively tackle the company’s financial, management and operational challenges.

“The need to bring fundamental change to Amtrak is greater and more urgent than ever before,” Laney added. “The Board approved a strategic plan in April that provides a blueprint for a stronger and more sustainable Amtrak. Now we need a leader with vision and experience to get the job done.”

Gunn came out of retirement in May 2002 to lead Amtrak after a career that included running transit systems in New York and Washington. David Hughes, Chief Engineer, has been named Acting President and CEO.

A report released last week by the Government Accountability Office offered a scathing insight into problems at the railroad.

In mid-November, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads held a hearing to discuss whether Amtrak’s board was “legally functional” and if it could fire Gunn.

“The best word I can think of for this situation is pathetic,” LaTourette said.

Meanwhile, the all-to-familiar threat of a strike loomed over Amtrak. On Nov. 21, commuters traveling through Union Station were greeted by rail workers warning of a possible Amtrak shutdown in their future.

Locomotive engineers and maintenance of way workers who are represented by the Teamsters Rail Conference in November passed out leaflets to hundreds of commuters using Amtrak.

“Many of the commuters were surprised to hear that Amtrak service might stop,” said Kevin Hussey, a member of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWED). “The Amtrak board won’t negotiate with us so a service shutdown may be our only option.”

Originally published in the December 2005 edition of The Cross-Tie.