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Rail News: Amtrak

Amtrak Reform Council narrows reorganization plan

Amtrak Reform Council Jan. 11 approved basic elements of a restructuring plan it must submit to Congress by Feb. 7. In it, ARC recommends Amtrak put all train operations into one subsidiary company, and its infrastructure and real estate holdings into another.

The corporation would be reconfigured into a small program-management agency to control passenger rail franchise rights, define funding requirements for train operations and infrastructure needs, secure funding from Congress, and oversee the system’s performance.

Should Congress approve ARC’s plan, train operations and infrastructure would be separated immediately, which would "free [train operations] from the burden of expensive infrastructure of tracks, stations and other real property," according to an ARC-prepared statement.

Such a separation also would reveal exactly what maintaining that infrastructure costs Amtrak — information ARC has tried to obtain from Amtrak since the council’s creation in the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act of 1997.

If and when the reorganization is complete, the program-management agency could introduce competition by contracting out the operations of a route or routes to other train operating companies. The agency also could exercise franchise authority in operating passenger trains at the request of states or interstate compacts.

By submitting its plan to Congress, ARC will have met its statutory obligation. Congress, however, could decide to ignore the recommendation and reauthorize Amtrak as is, liquidate the national passenger rail system, or choose a plan of its own.

Congress Dec. 10 decided to forbid Amtrak from using federal funds to plan its own liquidation so that officials might instead concentrate on operation performance — despite a mandate to do so, which also was included in the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 1/14/2002