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Chief aims to boost Amtrak's image


WASHINGTON -- Amtrak's new president wants to upgrade the passenger railroad's image and the tracks it shares with the nation's increasingly busy freight rail carriers, and he expects the federal government to help.

Four months into the job, Alex Kummant said he found the much-maligned railroad in better shape than he expected. But he said it could still do a better job taking advantage of a growing appetite for rail travel fueled by high gas prices and highway congestion.

"There is a lot of good news to talk about," Kummant said in an interview . "You have to build the Amtrak brand for people."

Amtrak needs to work with states to expand service over medium distances and improve the long-distance trains that account for most of its losses, Kummant said. Government incentives to stimulate capital investment in the nation's nearly maxed-out rail infrastructure are also key, he said.

The government-owned corporation reported record ticket revenue of $1.37 billion in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, an 11 percent increase over fiscal 2005, with ridership ticking up 1 percent to 24.3 million passengers.

Kummant said expectations that Amtrak could be self-sufficient are misguided. He noted passenger rail is subsidized throughout the world. There could be room to partner with the private sector, he said, but added: "You need to walk before you can run."