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WASHINGTON (AFP) - The board of US rail operator Amtrak fired its president, David Gunn, after a stinging official report urged sweeping reforms of its troubled operations.
"Amtrak's future now requires a different type of leader who will aggressively tackle the company's financial, management and operational challenges," Amtrak chairman David Laney said in a statement.
He noted that the board approved in April a plan to change strategically how the state passenger rail company conducts its operations.
"Now we need a leader with vision and experience to get the job done," Laney said.
Gunn came out of retirement in May 2002 to lead Amtrak after a career that included running transit systems in New York and Washington.
His dismissal comes after the auditing arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office, last week found widespread managerial problems within Amtrak.
The GAO report said Amtrak management had taken some steps to improve "discipline and control over operations".
"However, fundamental improvements beyond these efforts are needed to better measure and monitor performance, develop and maintain financial controls, control costs ... and be held accountable for results," it said.
Amtrak has never made a profit in its 34-year history and is saddled with debts of more than 3.5 billion dollars.
Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, who had said the GAO report underlined the need for Amtrak "to clean up its act", said he respected the board's decision to sack Gunn.
"I am confident in the board's judgment and its belief that different leadership is needed to address the serious challenges facing the company," he said.
But Senator John Kerry, President George W. Bush's challenger in last year's election, and other leading Democrats rounded on the Amtrak board and on the Republican administration.
"David Gunn was fired because he opposed President Bush's plan to break Amtrak apart, sell it to the lowest bidder, and dump a huge financial burden on the states," Kerry said.
The White House wants to end government subsidies to the rail group and split up its operations so that its Northeast Corridor, which accounts for most of its passenger numbers, would become separate.
Gunn was said to have clashed with the rest of the Amtrak board over the Northeast Corridor plan, but his objections to it were overruled.
Laney said the board would also press ahead with its strategic plan to enhance outside competition in passenger services and stabilise its multi-year federal funding.
AFP Business News
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