WASHINGTON – Amtrak's chairman on Thursday said the railroad will scrutinize all of its long-distance routes this year for efficiency and could scrap, reconfigure or add lines as it tries to prove to Congress and the Bush administration that the rail system is reforming itself.
"There's nothing, as far as I'm concerned, that's off the table," David Laney told reporters following an abbreviated Senate hearing on Amtrak's funding request for the 2007 budget year.
Amtrak operates 15 long-distance trains over 18,500 route miles in 39 states and Washington, D.C. These trains provide the only rail passenger service to 23 states, according to Amtrak statistics.
Laney said Amtrak will study every route and decide on how efficient they are.
"What we're trying to do is make it succeed, not take it apart," he said.
Laney also told reporters that Amtrak's board of directors is about two months away from hiring a new president. Amtrak has been without a president since the board fired David Gunn in November.
Laney mentioned the long-distance train study in his remarks to the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on transportation. Amtrak's fiscal year 2007 budget request is $1.59 billion. Bush has proposed giving the railroad $900 million.
Bush had proposed no money for Amtrak last year, but Congress agreed to grant the railroad $1.3 billion in subsidies.
In its 34-year history, Amtrak has never turned a profit. It has debt of more than $3.5 billion and its operating loss for 2005 topped $550 million.
Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta also testified at the hearing, reiterating that the administration is not trying to dismantle Amtrak, but make it more efficient. The hearing was cut short so senators could go to the Senate floor for votes.