(March 11) WASHINGTON, D.C. — In spite of predictions of doom from the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Kevin McKinney remains optimistic about the future of Amtrak and, by extension, ExpressTrak.

Inspector general Kenneth Mead recently told The Washington Post that Amtrak’s threat to end all long distance service by October unless it gets double the amount of money currently budgeted for it by the Bush administration wouldn’t be enough to save the struggling rail system.

Mead called the money, about $521 million, chump change, saying it wouldn’t be feasible to run Amtrak on that kind of funding.

“It’s not possible to do it,” he said before the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on transportation. “The system cannot continue to operate.”

NEEDS IGNORED

“I respect his judgement,” said McKinney, vice president of marketing and administration for Detroit-based ExpressTrak LLC, which has a 15-year contract with Amtrak to ship perishable goods in refrigerated cars attached to passenger trains. “What he’s saying is that Amtrak’s needs have been ignored for far too long, and now the chickens are coming home to roost.”

McKinney is hopeful that Mead’s statements will get Amtrak the attention it needs from Capitol Hill.

“I still think it will get resolved somehow favorably for Amtrak,” he said. “It’s a good wake-up call, and I hope it’s heeded by Congress.”

To date, Amtrak has stopped all but required maintenance, put off $175 million in planned expenditures, and begun layoffs of station personnel nationwide. These moves have left many stations without service for the handicapped or baggage checking services.

SHORT-TERM FIX

McKinney said the money Amtrak is demanding would be enough to keep it going for the short term but that it’s going to need a lot more attention in the long run.

Mead said the money would barely be enough to keep the system running as Congress tries to find a solution to the dilemma.

As for the possibility of Amtrak being shut down and totally restructured, McKinney doesn’t think it will happen.

“Personally, I think you’re better off trying to work within the framework of what’s there right now,” he said. “Fine tuning that is a better way to go than just throwing it out and starting all over again. Amtrak has a lot of expertise within the company.”

ExpressTrak isn’t worried about making plans for a future without Amtrak, McKinney said because he is certain that Amtrak is sticking around.

“It’s premature for us to even think about that right now,” he said. “The odds are so much more in favor of Amtrak continuing.”