WASHINGTON – The government has increased its scrutiny of Amtrak's operations, trying to make sure that the passenger railroad's financial problems don't compromise safety.
Federal Railroad Administration spokesman Robert Gould said Monday that the agency began increasing inspections and monitoring in February, after Amtrak officials announced they would eliminate 1,000 jobs, cut advertising and delay work on equipment, tracks and stations to save $285 million.
"Our actions should in no way be viewed as Amtrak is unsafe," Gould said. "All we're trying to do is ensure that a safe railroad remains safe."
Amtrak spokesman Bill Schulz said the railroad is increasing its own inspections as well, and said none of the cuts would undermine safety.
"The actions Amtrak has taken are not in safety-critical areas," Schulz said. "We don't see any cause and effect between the business actions we've done to cut our spending in non-safety areas and incidents that may occur out there."
Earlier this month, Amtrak's Auto Train derailed in northern Florida, killing four people. The engineer has said he braked after spotting misaligned rails ahead. The investigation is continuing.
The number of operating errors, including failing to stop at a signal, declined during the first six months of the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, as compared with the same period a year earlier, Schulz said. There were 62 infractions from Oct. 1, 2001, through March 31, 2002, as compared with 81 during the same six-month period in 2000-01, he said. None of the errors took place on tracks, but were relegated to terminals and stations, he said.
Schulz said there have been at least 20 errors in April, and Amtrak was reminding employees that safety should be their top priority.
Gould said there haven't been any problems so far, but the government wanted to guard against any future difficulties.
"We would be failing the American public if we did not continue to watch the situation," he said.
On Friday, Amtrak named veteran transit executive David Gunn as its new president. Gunn is credited for turning around the New York City subway system, and also ran transit systems in Washington and Toronto.