Dukakis, Gunn Share Concerns About Amtrak Board

The composition of the Amtrak board of directors is drawing concern from a former Amtrak president and board member that the board is becoming too political and is lacking in transportation experience.

The Trump administration has nominated two former Republican congressmen who voted in favor of amendments to revoke Amtrak funding.

Michael Dukakis, a former Amtrak board member, told Trains magazine that during his time on the board it was bipartisan by agreement.

“I don’t think any of us bought into the idea that Amtrak would pay for itself,” Dukakis said. “We have to serve all parts of the country, and in any event, we have an infrastructure deficit, and that means public funding (to fix it). The board I served on was quite unified around that notion.”

Dukakis, who is a now a professor of political science at Northeastern University and UCLA, said that during his time on the board the members were well-versed in transportation and “committed to the simple but powerful notion that the entire country needs a first-class rail passenger system.”

Gunn, who served as Amtrak president between 2002 and 2005, said the board members he worked with were an intelligent group with backgrounds in transportation.

“I was lucky when I went to Amtrak because I had Mike Dukakis, John Robert Smith [now Chairman of Transportation for America], Gov. Linwood Holton [Republican from Virginia] and a very smart guy, Michael Jackson, who was the Department of Transportation representative, on the Board,” Gunn told Trains.

The Trump administration last year nominated Joseph Gruters, Rick Dearborn, and Leon Westmoreland to the Amtrak board but have yet to be confirmed because of a hold placed on their nominations by Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas).

All three men have been nominated again this year along with former Indiana Congressman Todd Rokita.

Rokita voted in favor of amendments offered in 2011, 2015 and 2017 to cut Amtrak funding.

Westmoreland is a former Georgia congressman who twice voted in favor of amendments cutting Amtrak funding. None of those amendments were approved.

Gunn said that DOT board member Jackson “wasn’t a pro-Amtrak guy but he believed in honesty, telling the truth and getting things done. He would give you a heads up if you were getting on thin ice [with the George W. Bush Administration] and when you weren’t — he was good at that. Jackson wouldn’t fit in today,”

Gunn said politically appointed boards are worthless and dangerous if they bring nothing to the party.

He expressed concern that management buyouts in the past two years has robbed Amtrak of employees and managers who know, understand, and appreciate railroad practices—what works and what doesn’t.

“It’s very sad what’s going on now at Amtrak — the institutional knowledge is almost destroyed. And the people being nominated (to the board) to oversee them are, at best, lazy politicians.”

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