Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Railroad's Chief Faces Biggest Challenge Yet; There's the Annual Fight for Funding and the Delicate Balancing Act Company Needs to Maintain with Nation's Big Freights, Including CSX

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Railroad's Chief Faces Biggest Challenge Yet; There's the Annual Fight for Funding and the Delicate Balancing Act Company Needs to Maintain with Nation's Big Freights, Including CSX

Article excerpt

Byline: GREGORY RICHARDS, The Times-Union

David Gunn has spent his 40-year career turning around troubled transit systems throughout North America, including those in New York, Toronto and Washington, D.C. But his present role of president and chief executive officer of Amtrak, the nation's sole passenger railroad, may be his biggest challenge yet.

When Gunn came aboard Amtrak in May 2002, the company was on the brink of insolvency and its trains were hobbling along. Today, the leaner and more efficient railroad is back in the black with record ridership levels and badly needed maintenance projects under way. Every day, on average, 65,000 passengers ride on Amtrak's 265 daily trains -- with names like Empire Builder and City of New Orleans -- to 500 communities in 46 states.

But many challenges remain for Amtrak, formally called the National Railroad Passenger Corp. There's the annual fight, currently under way, with Congress for enough funding just to place all its cars in service. And there's the delicate balancing act that Amtrak needs to maintain with the nation's big freight railroads, including Jacksonville's CSX Transportation, which provide the track that Amtrak runs its trains on throughout much of the country.

On Monday, 67-year-old Gunn came to Jacksonville, headquarters of Amtrak's Southern Division, to give service and achievement awards to company employees. Decked out in a tie decorated with images of locomotives, box cars and crossing signals, the plainspoken executive sat down with the Florida Times-Union to discuss passenger railroading in America.

And yes, he took the train to Jacksonville.

Q: What do you say to a resident of Northeast Florida who drives everywhere and wouldn't even think of taking a train?

The fact that people like cheap oil and have built their whole lifestyle around it -- I'm not arguing with that. But all I'm saying is you'd better start thinking about what you'd do if that lifestyle is put in jeopardy, and I think it is. And one solution -- and not the only solution -- is to make use of the railroad rights of way that exist and to make use of the capacity that you can build into that relatively cheaply, cheaper than you can build more interstates. …

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