New Amtrak head bypassed predecessor


WASHINGTON -- Amtrak's chairman told Congress yesterday that he has talked with individuals who are interested in buying some of the railroad's assets in the Northeast Corridor.

David M. Laney, the chairman, did not provide details and said he could not remember with whom he had talked.

Laney is President Bush's choice to head the Amtrak board after leading efforts last week to oust President David L. Gunn. In his testimony yesterday, Laney acknowledged that he had bypassed Gunn in talks about Amtrak's future.

Laney said he had passed along business proposals from private interests directly to the railroad's planners and signed confidentiality agreements with at least one outside company without informing Gunn.

FOR THE RECORD - A headline yesterday erroneously identified David L. Gunn as David M. Laney's predecessor as chief executive of Amtrak. Laney is the chairman of Amtrak's board, a position to which he was appointed by President Bush. Gunn, who was hired by Amtrak's board in 2002 as president and chief executive officer, was fired by the board last week. The article also implied that Laney was a pending choice to head the board. He was appointed in 2002.

Laney did not provide details.

Gunn told Congress yesterday that he found out about takeover inquiries for parts of Amtrak's Chicago and California service only when told by a subordinate: "That was not a normal way of doing business."

Laney and Gunn, who was fired by the board despite widely acknowledged improvements in railroad operations, were called before the House Subcommittee on Railroads to answer questions about top-level upheaval at Amtrak.

Gunn told legislators he believed he was fired because he was an obstacle to plans to dismantle Amtrak. Laney denied such plans and said Gunn had become an "unwilling bystander" as the board tried to introduce needed reforms.

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