- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2002

Amtrak President George Warrington is resigning from the ailing passenger rail service, an Amtrak source said last night.
The news came after the head of the Federal Railway Administration said the Bush administration was examining a plan that would create a network of high-speed rail corridors between major cities as one of the options for rescuing Amtrak.
The source said no timetable has been established for Mr. Warrington's departure but that Amtrak's governing board already has a short list of potential successors. He will stay on until an interim successor is named.
Amtrak spokesman Bill Schulz declined to comment when asked whether Mr. Warrington was leaving. Mr. Warrington could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Warrington, 49, will become the executive director of New Jersey's bus and rail agency. A native of Bayonne, N.J., he served as deputy state transportation commissioner before joining Amtrak.
NJ Transit carries 400,000 bus and train riders each day, making it the third-largest mass-transit agency in the nation behind New York and Chicago.
He has led Amtrak through a difficult four years during which it has tried to end its three-decade reliance on operating subsidies from the federal government. His strategy was to help the railroad grow to restore its fiscal health, but costs rose with income and ridership.
The Bush administration's plan to save Amtrak is prompted by the financial collapse Mr. Warrington predicts for later this year.
Amtrak is operating under a $521 million annual subsidy. It is not expected to reach self-sufficiency by the December deadline set by Congress, and Mr. Warrington said last month the railroad will have to shut down much of its system unless it receives at least a $1.2 billion subsidy for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. President Bush has proposed $521 million for fiscal 2003.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee asked Federal Railway Administration Administrator Allan Rutter to prepare at least a rough draft of the Bush administration's proposal by April 11, when another hearing on Amtrak's future is scheduled.
"I think the appealing thing we're moving to next is the idea of regional rail systems," Mr. Rutter said.
State governments already are laying the groundwork for the regional high-speed rail networks, he said.
Virginia is planning a high-speed train between Washington and Richmond. Nine Midwestern states are planning a similar system that would connect a hub at Chicago to St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Cincinnati.
The Amtrak Reform Council, a congressionally appointed board overseeing Amtrak's finances, suggested in January four options for revamping the national passenger railroad system. The Bush administration is using those choices to guide its decision.
The options vary in the degree to which they would allow government control over rail service or allow private companies to operate the routes as franchises.
Under all options, the federal government would retain regulatory control. Although federal officials hope to reduce subsidies by restructuring Amtrak, they expect the need for federal funding to continue.
"The problems of the high cost of the system won't improve," Mr. Rutter said.
The choices are:
Give states control over rail service, which would include developing the high-speed rail corridors.
Franchise the long-haul routes but give states control over regional service.
Open all routes to bids by private transportation companies.
Let state and local governments decide whether to franchise routes or operate them under state agencies.
If the Amtrak routes are franchised to private companies, the operators would depend heavily on high-speed rail corridors between major cities to operate profitably. Slower routes, particularly between smaller cities, tend to have few riders, little revenue from fares and high operating costs. They also have difficulty competing with airlines.
Mr. Rutter said the four reform council recommendations "are all part of the medicine for getting to where we want to be."
Bush administration officials say they are uncertain which option they are most likely to choose or exactly how it will be managed.
"We know that Amtrak in its current form is not working and will not work," agency spokesman Rob Gould said. "What we're doing now is looking at what best will suit the needs of rail transportation in the future."
No one on the 34-member House committee defended Amtrak's current organizational structure.
"Amtrak isn't broken; it's bankrupt," said Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican.
To cut costs, Amtrak is laying off 1,000 of its 24,600 employees and doing only needed repairs rather than preventive maintenance.
"I believe there are structural problems with Amtrak," said Rep. Rob Simmons, Connecticut Republican.
Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat, introduced a bill on Tuesday that would authorize $4.6 billion a year for the passenger service over five years.
"A strong federal role was required to establish the interstate highway system and the federal aviation network," Mr. Hollings said in a statement. "And now, federal investment in passenger rail infrastructure is critical."
Mr. Hollings' bill for spending more on Amtrak runs counter to Republican proposals for spending less.
Congress must approve any proposals for restructuring Amtrak, and the president must sign the bill.
Mr. Warrington said it was unrealistic to believe a national passenger rail system could operate without substantial government support.
"In the end, it will always be unprofitable," he told Congress yesterday.
Mr. Warrington said the federal government must decide how extensively it wants the national passenger rail system to operate, then provide adequate funding.
"The federal government needs to accept responsibility for defining that system," he said.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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