For Jim Traficant, the eccentric, controversial Ohio congressman, April 11 was the beginning of the end of an 18-year career in Washington. A Cleveland jury found him guilty on 10 counts of racketeering and corruption, including charges that he had taken bribes from businessmen and extorted kickbacks from his own staff.
The maverick Democrat insisted he was the innocent victim of a government vendetta, but neither the jury nor his House colleagues bought that argument. Three months after the verdict, the House voted 420-1 to expel Mr. Traficant from the chamber, with disgraced Rep. Gary Condit of California casting the only dissenting vote. The Traficant case marked only the second time since the Civil War that a sitting House member was stripped of his office.
An Amtrak train carrying 440 passengers jumped the tracks north of Orlando, Fla., April 18, killing four and injuring more than 150. Pictures of crumpled silver rail cars strewn across the ground were a jolt for the traveling public, many still uneasy about flying after Sept. 11.
Amtrak had hoped to cash in on flyers' fears, but the Florida derailment was just the first of many setbacks for the financially troubled national rail service. An Amtrak train collided with a Maryland commuter train in June, and another Washington-area derailment in July sent nearly 100 passengers to local hospitals. Then, in August, the biggest blow of all: Amtrak was forced to shut down its entire high-speed Acela service in the Northeast after cracks were found in several nearly new locomotives. Acela had been one of the few profitable ventures anywhere in the Amtrak network.
Only a $100 million emergency loan from the federal government prevented a total shutdown over the summer. But with a Republican in the White House and budget hawks in control of Congress, few expect a smooth ride for Amtrak in 2003.