Moorman Upbeat About Future of Rail Passenger Service

Amtrak President Charles “Wick” Moorman gave an upbeat assessment of passenger rail even as he acknowledged that the passenger carrier faces challenges fixing decaying infrastructure in the Northeast Corridor.

Speaking to the National Press Club in Washington, Moorman said Amtrak’s need for federal funding was no excuse for not operating “like a great company.”

Moorman

Nonetheless, Moorman said that getting pressure from government officials and tight budgetary resources have taken their toll.

He said that in the 1990s and 2000s Amtrak lost sight of its customers as a result. As an example he cited carpet cleaning.

Amtrak saved $1 million by not shampooing the carpets in its passenger cars as often, but passengers noticed the dirty carpets.

“That’s not the experience we want to create for our customers,” he said.
Providing a better customer experience has been one of four focuses that Moorman has brought to Amtrak after becoming its president last year.

“The customer experience is ticketing, the station, our employee interactions, and our equipment,” he said.

The equipment used by Amtrak is, in Moorman’s words, starting to look “stale,” but the carrier has taken steps to improve it.

“It’s old, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be good,” he said.
Moorman said rail passenger transportation in general is a particularly good business model.

The creators of Amtrak chartered it as a for-profit corporation even though they knew it was not a good business model.

However, Moorman said, they sold at the time to President Richard Nixon and the Congress at the time as a concept of “Create this and [it] will become profitable.”

In essence, Moorman said Amtrak is a government contractor that unlike other contractors can’t always present to government officials a bill that factors in the costs of doing business plus a profit to benefit shareholders.

“We rely on what are in effect user fees – passenger fares,” he said. “And because the marketplace doesn’t sustain the passenger fares we need to make that profit, we ask the government to make up the difference.”

Among Amtrak’s many challenges Moorman said the one that worries him the most is the aging Northeast Corridor infrastructure.

He said the NEC has eight major bridges and only is younger than 100 years old. The B&P Tunnel in Baltimore is 127 years old and well past its “sell-by date.”

Moorman express confidence that the idea of having a national rail passenger network is taking hold and predicted the development of more corridors offering rail passenger service between urban areas.

He also circled back to the need to provide good customer service.

“For 46 years, a lot of people [at Amtrak] were there trying to keep the flame alive, understanding that someday the world would come to the point where people started to say, ‘We really need to have passenger rail as an option.’ I think that day has come,” Moorman said.

“The better we run Amtrak, the better we deliver on projects, the more people understand how good our company is, the easier every funding conversation is,” he said.

In a related note, Moorman said disruptions at New York’s Penn Station may extend in the fall.

He told the New York Post that Amtrak has the ability to finish the remaining work at Penn Station with subsequent weekend outages extending beyond the planned July to early September work curfew.

“We’ve done an exceptional and extraordinary amount of planning on the material side and we know it all fits, and we have a lot of skilled people,” he says.

After those repairs are concluded, Moorman said Amtrak will need to to schedule signal and power system repairs at a later date.

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