Amtrak's board has dismissed David L. Gunn, the railroad's president since 2002, saying it needs a different leadership to accelerate management changes. In announcing that the Amtrak board had "released" Gunn on Nov. 11, Chairman David M. Laney said "Amtrak's future now requires a different type of leader who will aggressively tackle the company's financial, management and operational challenges."

David L. Gunn
(Photo courtesy of Amtrak)

The Bush administration has been pushing for a restructuring of Amtrak, whose formal name is the National Railroad Passenger Corp. The plan would have the states and federal government split the cost of infrastructure improvements and leave Amtrak as an operating company, which would compete with other entities to run rail service. It also would set up a multi-state "compact" which would lease the Northeast Corridor and manage rail operations there. Laney was nominated to the railroad's board by President Bush.

Congress has rejected the White House proposal to slash Amtrak's 2006 funding 70%, to $360 million. The House and Senate each have recommended more than $1.1 billion.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said he respects Gunn's work at stabilizing Amtrak. But he said, "I am confident in the board's judgment and its belief that different leadership is needed to address the serious challenges facing the company."

A recent Government Accountability Office report criticized Amtrak, saying it "still lacks effective operating practices characteristic of well-run organizations" and that "major improvements are needed in the corporation's strategic management and cost controls." Mineta said after the GAO study was released that it was "devastating in its judgment of Amtrak's performance." He called on the board to "take a fresh look at how to proceed in the face of this non-partisan, objective report of systemic failure."

The Amtrak board's action was criticized by Gunn's defenders in Congress. A group of House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Democrats wrote Laney expressing "outrage" at Gunn's dismissal. Gunn "has done a tremendous job in leading Amtrak in the right direction," they said.

Before joining Amtrak in 2002, Gunn had run transit systems in New York City, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Toronto.