Amtrak sending message that trains are still running

WASHINGTON: Amtrak is reminding its stakeholders that the company is still on the rails financially, even as the government has indicated it will help out the beleaguered train service.

WASHINGTON: Amtrak is reminding its stakeholders that the company is still on the rails financially, even as the government has indicated it will help out the beleaguered train service.

"(US transportation secretary Norman) Mineta pledged to avert a shutdown, said Sarah Swain, Amtrak's government and public affairs officer. "But there has been no reconciliation of the fact that we are running out of cash, and nothing about a loan guarantee and loan appropriation to continue service until the end of our fiscal year, she said. Amtrak's fiscal year begins in October. "This delays a shut-down, but it does not prevent it."

For his part, Mineta has said that Amtrak must continue to cut expenses, and that the burden for salvaging Amtrak cannot fall on the federal government alone.

Amtrak president David Gunn has said that the company needs $200 million to keep going until September 30. He said last week that Amtrak would begin to shut down if financial assistance was not forthcoming.

Mineta has also proposed opening the national rail service up to competition, and putting an end to federal subsidies.

Richard Mintz, chair of Burson-Marsteller's public affairs practice, says that Amtrak has two principal challenges now. First is to try and limit the number of potential passengers who could either cancel reservations or arrange to travel by other means out of fear Amtrak will go out of business. "Otherwise, Amtrak will begin seeing an immediate revenue impact, he said.

Swain confirmed that reassuring potential passengers is a top priority.

"We don't want people to panic and cancel their vacations, she said.

"All our existing policies continue to be in effect, and basically, it's business as usual. Summer travel promotions are still on offer.

The other priority for Amtrak is to address the company's reputation with the policy-making community, which is polarized on whether or not the government should intervene and keep it on track. "Amtrak needs to solidify, build, and explain to the political audience that to get the deal done, they need to keep running, Mintz said.

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