WASHINGTON -- Amtrak supporters in Congress yesterday questioned whether the railroad's board had the authority to fire David Gunn as president last week and said he should be reinstated.
''I hope the board will reinstate Mr. Gunn until all the legal issues are resolved," said Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, who testified before the House railroad subcommittee. ''There is no legal consensus that the board had the power to fire Mr. Gunn."
Amtrak chairman David Laney defended both Gunn's firing and the board's right to do so, saying Gunn had refused to ''go in several new directions" with the railroad.
Gunn said his firing came as a surprise but that he had known the board was unhappy with him, mostly because of his opposition to splitting off the Northeast Corridor from Amtrak. He said he was fired because he was ''merely an obstacle to destroying Amtrak."
In September, the board voted to break off the Northeast Corridor and allow a private consortium to run it. Gunn said he opposed the plan because it would separate operations and maintenance functions, a move he called ''bad railroading."
Laney said there were many reasons why Gunn was fired, including his resistance to revamping Amtrak's food and beverage service and revenue producing measures.
The nearly five-hour hearing was contentious at times, with only Representative John Mica, a Republican from Florida, voicing support for the decision to fire Gunn.
Gunn said he learned he would be fired when he found a private public relations firm handling matters in Amtrak's public affairs office: ''That indicated to me that something was afoot."
Several lawmakers questioned whether the board had a quorum when it fired Gunn. The seven-member board has three vacancies. Lawmakers said they believed the board had to have five members to have a quorum.
Transportation Department general counsel Jeffrey Rosen said Amtrak's board did have a quorum.
But Schumer still questioned the action. ''There are serious, legal and procedural questions concerning the composition of the current board," Schumer said.