Railroaded

November 11, 2005

The nation's beleaguered passenger rail system lost one of its most valuable assets when Amtrak's board fired David L. Gunn on Wednesday. During his three years as Amtrak's president, Mr. Gunn had worked wonders with a perpetually dysfunctional organization. Even Amtrak Chairman David M. Laney described Mr. Gunn's performance as "splendid" a matter of weeks ago. Apparently, that wasn't good enough.

Mr. Laney has suggested that Mr. Gunn wasn't moving fast enough on reforms. And a recent Government Accountability Office report was critical of the organization. But Mr. Gunn understandably suspects the true motive behind the firing had little to do with either. Rather, it appears the Bush administration's primary objective is the dismantling of Amtrak. Mr. Gunn stood in the way.

The timing is peculiar since Congress is poised to increase Amtrak's funding to $1.45 billion (the White House had initially proposed zero). It's also telling that the administration has legitimately filled only two seats on what's supposed to a bipartisan seven-member Amtrak board. (The terms of two interim appointees are set to expire in a matter of weeks.) It's time Congress cried foul.

Mr. Gunn, who has run transit systems in New York and Washington, was widely respected and will be missed. As president, he did exactly what Amtrak needed, streamlining the organization, insisting on accountability and devoting resources to neglected infrastructure. One can only imagine what crony will take his place. Former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael "Heckuva job" Brown might want to check his pager.

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