(July 1)WASHINGTON, D.C. — Everybody at ExpressTrak is breathing a sigh of relief right now.

Kevin McKinney, vice president of marketing and administration for the Detroit-based company, said last week’s news that Amtrak had reached a tentative agreement with the Bush administration to prevent the rail company from shutting down was good news that he had a hunch was going to happen.

“We kind of felt all along that some agreement would be reached,” he said. “It bodes well for the future.”

Under the terms of the agreement, a loan guarantee will bring Amtrak about $100 million, enough to keep the railroad operational through August. Using that extra time, Amtrak and the U.S. Department of Transportation will take the issue before Congress, which has the power to either order a second loan guarantee or to appropriate funds.

Amtrak came close to shutting down last week after it announced it would need $200 million to keep its operations running. It would have been the first systemwide shutdown in the company’s 31-year history.

Department of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said a loan guarantee program was the most likely solution to Amtrak’s current dilemma and that while he didn’t expect the White House to impose bailout conditions on the loan, Amtrak should be looking for cutbacks and new sources of revenue.

One possible revenue source would be the sale of real estate owned by Amtrak. President David Gunn said the administration has asked Amtrak to mortgage Chicago’s Union Station to raise money, an idea Gunn rejected as impractical. Last year, the company did raise $300,000 through the mortgage of Pennsylvania Station in New York City.

McKinney said he believes the railroad will take a new approach to saving money and making itself profitable. Cutbacks on routes, he said, are not necessarily the answer.

“You’re better off keeping the whole system,” he said. “If the long distance trains go away, then the short distance trains will lose money because they will have to shoulder the whole overhead.”

Those routes are especially important to ExpressTrak, which has a 15-year contract to haul perishable goods in refrigerated cars behind Amtrak passenger trains.

Whatever happens, McKinney said, everybody needs to start taking a different approach when it comes to dealing with Amtrak in the future.

“People should look at Amtrak as a solution instead of a problem.”

And now that a crisis has been averted, if only for the time being, McKinney said things can start getting back to normal at ExpressTrak.

“Now we can focus on getting back to business as usual, as opposed to having a cloud hanging over our head,” he said.