This is some of the most encouraging news I have seen from Amtrak’s CEO Joseph Boardman to date!

From Trains Newswire (written by Don Phillips)

Published: Wednesday, February 18, 2009

WASHINGTON – New Amtrak President Joseph Boardman says many Amtrak managers do not know whether to believe that Amtrak actually has a future, and that anyone who cannot make the transition from a survival mode to a growth mode will have to find another job.

Boardman said in an interview that shortly after leaving the top spot at the Federal Railroad Administration last Thanksgiving to take over Amtrak, he discovered that the passenger rail system is in worse shape than he thought, and that some people in Amtrak headquarters in Washington are, in effect, burnout cases. He would not be specific about numbers, saying he has still made no final decisions about how many people will have to leave because they cannot make the transition from survival to growth.

“There are a whole host of people here who don’t know whether to believe,” he said. “People are going to have to get on the train. We will make some judgments very soon.”

Among other things, Boardman found that despite growing passenger traffic, up about 12 percent in 2008, Amtrak’s five-year plan in October contained no plans to order new passenger cars other than seven new high-speed trainsets, cars to lengthen current Acela trainsets, 15 new single-level sleeping cars, and some new baggage-dormitory cars. All other cars would have to be paid for by states that needed them for new corridor service, and perhaps ordered them through Amtrak. That secret plan, which had already become a joke around Amtrak, was thrown out quickly after Boardman arrived, and Amtrak is now making more ambitious plans.

Boardman said Amtrak’s most urgent need is for new electric locomotives, and he put in an immediate request for $1 billion in long-term low-interest government loans. Electric motive power is in such poor shape that Washington-New York-Boston trains are sometimes canceled for lack of power.

Since no firm plans have been made to order cars, up to three years will be necessary to actually obtain new cars. Meanwhile, as many wrecked cars as possible will be refurbished, he said. This leaves Amtrak in horrible shape even as politicians preach about a grand future of “high-speed rail.”

Meanwhile, Amtrak at least initially lost out in President Obama’s multi-billion-dollar stimulus plan, receiving $1.3 billion while commuter rail got $8.4 billion and “high speed rail” got $8 billion. (Amtrak is eligible to compete for the high speed rail funds.) Nonetheless, Boardman has instilled such confidence among members of Congress and congressional staff members that some effort may be made to make up the shortfall in future legislation. It is too early for any specific plans, especially since Boardman himself is still developing plans.

Interviews with various Capitol Hill staff members found a lot of confidence in Amtrak’s future under Boardman, perhaps too much confidence for Boardman’s own good.

Boardman has been surprisingly successful in blunting threats by unions to get rid of him. Shortly after he was appointed, 12 labor unions made a statement opposing him as an effort by the Amtrak board to block Obama from naming his own Amtrak president. However, Amtrak’s own unions came to Boardman’s defense and blunted the attacks. Much of Boardman’s union support began on a long Thanksgiving day at the crew room at Washington Union Station, as he and his wife bantered with engineers and conductors. Within hours, he had become almost a hero to Amtrak union employees as word spread around the country. Higher union leadership backed off.

Now comes the question: Can he produce? One major union official said he does not believe Boardman has the guts to do what is necessary. In the field, other union officials are waiting for a sign that Boardman means business, and they will not be patient forever.

What about Obama? Well-placed sources said he pushed for the $8 billion last-minute increase in high-speed rail funds, partly because he realized he had short-changed rail in his proposed stimulus legislation after bragging on the campaign trail about his dedication to passenger rail. Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, confirmed the reports, telling the internet newsletter Portico that Obama realized he had not asked for enough for high-speed rail and wanted $10 billion added as a commitment to the future.

One of the chief staff members responsible for a last-minute $8 billion increase in high speed rail funds laid almost all the blame for Amtrak’s current condition on President Bush and his administration. This Democratic staff member, who did not want to be quoted by name, said that Amtrak will now be able to grow without enemies looking over its shoulder. He expressed confidence in Boardman, and noted that more funds for regular Amtrak trains could be made available in future legislation if Boardman gets Amtrak’s house in order. The staff member said that meaningless restrictions enacted under Republicans, including harassment such as limits on the number of dining car staff numbers, were wiped off the books and he is sure that such restrictions will soon be eased by Amtrak.

Meanwhile, Democrats on Amtrak’s board gently but firmly took control. Republican Donna McLean was eased out as chairman, but given the vice chairmanship. Democrat Thomas Carper took over as chairman. Hunter Biden not only remains on the board, but has joined Carper as a force to be reckoned with.

Carper, mayor of Macomb, Ill., and a longtime Obama friend and political supporter, and Biden, son of the new vice president, have at least one tough job ahead. That is to convince Obama and Congress that plain old regular rail is slowly approaching a breakdown unless lots of new locomotives and cars are ordered soon, and unless aging basket-case terminals such as Chicago are fixed soon. That includes replacement of often-useless switch heaters. As Boardman points out, it is no secret that Chicago gets cold and is pelted by heavy snow in the winter. So why does Amtrak seem to be surprised when winter comes?

18 Replies to “CEO Boardman: “Changes are coming to Amtrak””

  1. Wow, shake-up time coming! The Obama administration is coming through with it’s promise to be the most “train friendly administration” ever.

  2. I do hope that they do not make too many cuts outside of the corridors, that is another area that has atrophied over the years. The part about Electric Motive Power in the NEC at a crisis point, who let that happen, the NEC gets the rep that they get everything.(I am sorry, I help spread that story myself). Although whoever is running that section, if they even have a post there called Road Foreman of Engines, they should be lobbying the board and the CEO when asked why the trains are cancelled. It is a simple answer, if it’s not electric, it’s not running in Penn Station. I believe it is a law dating back to the steam era, for obvious reasons. There are a few Diesel Operated trains that ply the Empire Corridor, including corridor trains to Albany and Buffalo, LD service to Chicago with the Lake Shore Limited, and International service with the Maple Leaf(Toronto) and Adriondack(MOntreal). Those trains use a dual-mode system that contacts a Third Rail until they clear the tunnel. Now those are probably tempermental, and would need to be kept in tip-top condition, as there are not that many of them, can’t just sub a regular Genesis on a train that a Dual-Mode Genesis is the only thing that can pull it.

    1. The law has actually been repealed, but it’s just not safe (or pleasant) to run diesels in such confined spaces. During the blackout, Metro North was running diesel service to GCT, and they had to run something like one train every 2 hours, to keep the fumes from building up too much. I haven’t heard anything about the P32AC-DM’s being particularly temperamental or unrelibale (either on Amtrak or MNR), unlike the LIRR’s dual-modes, but sometimes they either don’t have one available at Albany or don’t want to take the time to change the engine there, and I’ve seen electrics get coupled to the train right outside Penn Station to pull it through the tunnels.

      And the situation with electric motive power has actually gotten better over the last few years. Used to be they didn’t have enough electrics to run the Philadelphia-Harrisburg line, but now that it’s been upgraded and the speed increased, they have to use electrics. Which I guess is why they have a shortage sometimes. But the good news is that the prospects for getting new electrics are good: they can just add an option to New Jersey Transit’s order of ALP-46As.

      1. The Dual-Mode Genesis pool is a small one, so if a few are out of service for any reason, it could be a problem. Most of Metro-North’s Genesis Locomotives are Dual-Modes, and the moment they hit the Park Ave Viaduct, the Third Rail is dis-engaged and Diesel goes on. It’s interesting that Metro-North does use Diesels in Grand Central Terminal, but for switching, and they are Brookville CoGen Gensets. I like some of Brookville’s products, such as the new Branch-Line Locos for Metro-North/ConnDot’s branch lines. Squeezing in HEP Generators on what look like freight locomotives is probably not easy, but it has been done, such as on the ARR’s SD70MACs. Would like to see a streamlined version of the Evolution of the SD70M2/SD70ACe be developed, to pull longer trains if Amtrak ever got the extra rolling stock for them to pull.

        Also, I notice NARP and others are fighting the new Trans Hudson Tunnel but I can see why. It was a bait and switch. It was sold as a way to upgrade capacity, but it will not be going into Penn Station, but to a new annex. The tunnel is supposed to help add capacity for both, and the trains should be able to get to all of Penn Station. Although maybe what is being pushed now, is the best they can do, as there are already many tunnels under Manhattan, and their are two big ones under construction right now, extending the The Tunnel to Nowhere to Grand Central Terminal for the LIRR, and the 2nd Ave Subway for the NYCTA. Both are projects delayed for many reasons. The ESA is one of my favorites, dating back to the PRR/New York Central rivalry, and it continues to this day under the MTA authority as well.(They still have the Third Rail incompatibility to get around).

  3. A few quotes that I think represent the United Rail Passengers Association:

    Realistic people who believe in the business of passenger rail (as opposed to the welfare state concept of passenger rail as a public right) know it’s business as usual.

    For some reason no rational person can figure out, the qualifications for the Amtrak Board of Directors has been modified to essentially include anyone who has recently been breathing.The gutting of the list of qualifications for board members means Amtrak will go back to being subject to the stewardship of a collection of political hacks whose only qualification for serving on the board was support of the people in power in Washington.

    “Carper, mayor of Macomb, Ill., and a longtime Obama friend and political supporter, and Biden, son of the new vice president,”… Prophetic?

    “Boardman said in an interview that shortly after leaving the top spot at the Federal Railroad Administration last Thanksgiving to take over Amtrak, he discovered that the passenger rail system is in worse shape than he thought,”… What rock did he crawl out from under?

    1. Odd that he was in charge of shaping policy. Although a recent get tough approach from the Surface Transporation Board is interesting. Amtrak and others asked them years ago to look into the chronic delays by freight railroads, and got no answers or siding with the freight railroads. Now the STB is headed towards an activist position. It does not hurt that the law changing helps.

      The Sunset Limited is a train that should be restored, Amtrak’s story continues to change, but I like the theory that it was Senator Lott wanted to relocate that CSX line as part of casino development that delays it. The tracks have been repaired, but it is probably rolling stock shortages and the bad timekeeping on the route that is delaying it. TriWeekly service did not help much. During the earlier years of the Sunset Limited’s extension, there was a 4 day a week service on the segment between New Orleans and Mobile, but it ended because one of the states along the route would not fund it. It would have come in handy post-Katrina, as the railroads were fast at work restoring their damaged infrastructure before the DOTs were. Saw photos of Norfolk Southern fishing the rails that were washed off their causeway into Lake Ponchartrain. A restored Gulf Coast Limited combined with the Sunset would have been essential service.

      Ridership discouragement had been the order of the day in the later days of privately operated trains, and the Sunset Limited again was an example. They dropped the sleepers(Southern Pacific) but restored them when the ICC backed them into a corner on the schedule reduction. When it was a coach only train in the late 1960s, they even charged the coach passengers extra for the pillows!

    2. Thanks, Bernie, for bringing everyone’s attention to URPA and their occasional email news letter. All advocates of improved inter-city rail service will profit from Bruce Richardson’s always pithy (and sometimes somewhat libertarian) analyses of Amtrak’s history and current problems. Even back issues are worth a read. Until Amtrak is transformed into a customer service oriented business, it’ll remain a political animal with all the travails that entails.

      1. I wonder if anybody has seen this article I found in the archives of the Arizona Rail Passenger Association archives. It is a plan written around 1982 for a way to grow Amtrak into profitability, the problem then, was it was the very survival mentality that the current CEO is upset about. Only then, it was a hostile administration, combined with draconian reductions in not just frequencies, but on board services.

    3. I’m guessing the “United Rail Passengers Association” is a rightwing astroturf group.

      The actual association for rail passengers is the American Association of Rail Passengers, AARP, which is also affiliated with state and local associations like our own WashARP.

      Looking at the link provided to URPA it becomes obvious that URPA is actually rightwing astroturf. For example, they think that under Bush managers were chosen because of their experience and expertise, while under Obama mangers will be chosen because of politics. And, did you know?, McCain isn’t against trains, he’s just against Amtrak.

      Thanks for the link Bernie, it doesn’t tell me much about Obama or Boardman, but it tells me a lot about you.

      1. I think I accidentally got him steered towards them. I don’t entirely go along with what they say, but I like their brainstorms on potential route extensions, like the idea of extending the City of New Orleans to Detroit(personally I think it should go on to Toronto), and reviving the Panama Limited but running it on a different schedule and bringing it to Minneapolis/St. Paul. NARP has some good ideas on where to go with Amtrak as far as expanding the Network, and it is impressive too. I remember when they first posted it(it was part of their 40th Anniversary celebration), someone on a railfan board pointed out they had Key West served on the map, but they immediately removed it. There was once an extension of the Florida East Coast Railway to the Florida Keys, and when it was abandoned, the Overseas Highway took over many of the bridges built for it.

        One of the potential lines on their map is one I think is worth trying. Reviving, as best as possible, the Rock Island’s Twin Star Rocket which ran from Dallas/Ft. Worth to Minneapolis without running through Chicago. Unfortunately what is left of that Rock Island Route is either abandoned or not in good shape, so it would take a different routing, and their idea is to have part of it go into South Dakota.

      2. Yep, it’s all your fault. I don’t agree with all of their conclusions either but they do, as far as I can tell present the facts. I certainly can’t find anything that would suggest that “URPA is actually rightwing astroturf”. I had to look up what a right wing astroturf even was. Being a non-member organization actually gives them a bit more credibility in my book.

      3. Plus, NARP was a reactionary organization started when the ICC told a lawyer who asked for an investigation into the Intercity Passenger rail problems to get lost. Their is an irony with their founder. He filed as a private citizen, even though he was a lawyer with Illinois Central, and while the IC was seeking to discontinue many of their passenger services, they were still upgrading their trains even at that late date. BOrrowing Dome Cars from Northern Pacific during NP’s off-season(even repainting them) for use on their Chicago-New Orleans trains, a pretty hefty option on the Dining Car Menu called on the Panama Limited, (called the King’s Dinner and it cost $10(late ’60s)), and often the Panama was still running with 2 sections on schedules, especially during Mardi Gras. The guy in charge of passenger ops at the time for IC, went on to be Amtrak’s second CEO. THe last CEO Amtrak had with any passenger train operating experience in the private sector was W. Graham Claytor, former head of Southern Railway. Now as for Reistrup at IC, he was pretty crafty in finding ways to reduce costs. One was the unthinkable, and he did it, strip the Panama of it’s All-Pullman status. What he did, was announce a new all-coach streamliner, called the Magnolia Star, but it was combined with the Panama Limited. It was a ruse, that was maintained for awhile.

        Now if extra Chicago-Carbondale-Memphis-Jackson-New Orleans frequencies are ever added, the old names should be added. Amtrak had some ideas pushed around 2000 for expansion but nothing ever happened except for two branch trains expected to be feeders for Mail and Express traffic, the Lake Country Limited and Kentucky Cardinal. Proposed extensions included a branch of the Crescent to Dallas/Fort Worth called the Crescent Star, bringing back service over the Florida East Coast(definately get ridership in February and whenever there is a space launch), and an extra train NYC-CHI via Philadelphia.

        Amtrak could have been much different today if their had been a 5th holdout. The Atchinson, Topeka, and Santa Fe was very close to not joining Amtrak, the decision was, they would have to operate what they still were running at the time for another 5 years. What they wanted was a compromise, operate what Amtrak was going to operate, themselves. On the Eve of Amtrak, they had two Chicago-Los Angeles trains(Super Chief/El Capitan and the Grand Canyon), 1 Los Angeles-Oakland train(San Francisco Chief), several San Diegans, a connection for the Super Chief from Denver to La Junta, Colorado, and the Texas Chief. Amtrak was only going to keep the San Diegans, the Super Chief/El Capitan, and Texas Chief.

      4. Well, I’ve heard a duck fart underwater before. Take the statement “Realistic people who believe in the business of passenger rail (as opposed to the welfare state concept of passenger rail as a public right)…” But there is no opposition! All around the world we can see that the realistic business of passenger rail is hand-in-hand with the concept of passenger rail as social welfare. And Amtrak was formed to honor the social rights of the passengers that the railroads had voluntarily assumed with their charters as common carriers.

        When Amtrak was formed, all the railroads had a choice- continue to honor their public contracts, or turn over their passenger business to Amtrak. Amtrak assumed the labor contracts, the pension obligations, and the regulatory mandates to provide service of the roads that turned over their passenger business and equipment.

        Nobody showed worse judgment in handling the passenger business than the railroads themselves. They treated their passengers badly and an entire parallel industry of interurbans sprang up, taking half their passengers and providing better service. After WW I the railroads invested heavily in new passenger facilities while America turned to the automobile. After WW II the railroads again invested heavily in passenger trains while America turned to airliners. Boeing, Ford, and GM made fortunes using good judgment while the railroads lost fortunes using bad judgment. There is no reason to think that rail executives would be particularly good at managing the public interest in Amtrak.

        But wait! What am I saying? Sometimes you don’t need to analyze for rightwing bias, or wonder why they don’t want to have anything to do with AARP or WashARP- sometimes you can just look at their website, where they say URPA is “a non-membership organization, which is solely supported by internal funding”. That’s right, there are no passengers in the association at all, which is funded by deep-pocket rightwingers! Pure astroturf, all the way.

        Sometimes you can’t even make this stuff up, it just writes itself.

      5. The Dome Car was originally thought up by a GM executive(at the time GM owned Electro-Motive Diesel) who was hitching a ride in a Diesel Locomotive the Rio Grande was using, and going through the canyons on the route, got the idea that people would pay good money to get the view in the Fireman’s seat from the cab. The Dome Car came to be, on a GM concept called “The Train of Tommorrow”, but the Burlington scooped them on that, had their coach shop convert two coaches that were in for repairs into the first Dome Cars. The Train of Tommorrow, after it’s demo tour, ended up in the mundane service of the Pool Service between Seattle and Portland(where the UP, GN, and NP jointly ran passenger trains. The Train of Tommorrow was used by the UP, and painted in UP colors).

        It might be time for the Brotherhoods to give some ground, at least allow some of the practices of the Auto Train to be adopted on the rest of the long-haul fleet. Locomotives and Conductors still do their traditional roles, but sleeper, diner, and coach attendents are cross-trained and can do different duties. It works good, but it is a seperate seniority pool(a legacy from Amtrak’s takeover of the service in the early 1980s), but maybe it is time to try it elsewhere. Although I did here there was one story a year or two ago that the EMpire Builder had a waiter get sick, and in addition to their regular duties, a coach and sleeper attendent both took over for the sick waiter, waiting tables in the diner.

        Now where the Bush Administration tried to get craft consolidation, was in the maintenance department, and that is dangerous. You do not have a plumber change oil in a car(unless it is a plumber doing the change oil in his own car, himself), so why should you have engine mechanics working on fixing toilets in the coaches? That was where it was headed during the 8 years it took to negotiate a new contract. Even the Presidential Emergency Board appointed under the Railway Labor Act auspices saw that, and did not recomend those consolidations.

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