Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak board of directors’

Amtrak Board Nomination Moves on to Full Senate

November 16, 2019

A nomination of a former Indiana congressman to the Amtrak board of directors has been sent to the full Senate for consideration.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved the nomination of former U.S. Rep Todd Rokita on a voice vote.

Rokita, who was nominated to the Amtrak board last May for a five-year term, was attacked by some rail passenger advocates for his having twice voted to end Amtrak’s federal funding.

During a July hearing before the committee, Rokita said he voted against Amtrak funding to “send a message” to the carrier.

Rokita said that as a congressman he was sometimes limited to voting yes, no or present.

“I believe in fiscal responsibility for all of us,” Rokita said. “I believe my votes against these funding provisions sent a message to Amtrak.”

He also said during his testimony that he voted for the 2015 FAST Act, which helped create grant funding for Amtrak.

Three other nominations to the Amtrak board remain on hold due to the objection of Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas).

They include Rick Dearborn, a former deputy chief of staff for President Donald Trump; Joseph R. Gruters, a former Florida state representative who was co-chair of Trump’s 2016 Florida campaign, and former U.S. Rep. Leon A. Westmoreland of Georgia

Westmoreland also voted twice against Amtrak funding while in Congress.

Amtrak Board Nominee Says Right Things in Hearing

July 26, 2019

A former Indiana Congressman who has been nominated by the Trump administration to serve on Amtrak’s board of directors has his day before a Senate committee this week and as expected he said all of the right things.

Todd Rokita spoke of riding Amtrak trains many times and said he favored a robust passenger train system.

He also was grilled about the times that he voted while a member of Congress in favor of amendments to cut Amtrak funding.

Rokita sought to explain those votes away by saying, “I believe in fiscal responsibility and my vote sent a message.”

The remarks came during a hearing by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

In response to a question from Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) about whether he would be a fierce backer of Amtrak, Rokita replied that funding of the rail service was up to Congress and his job would be to make sure it was spent wisely. He said his priority would be to improve on-time performance and track safety.

“We don’t need to beat the airlines but to improve “frequency and consistency,” he said.

The committee did not vote on Rokita’s nomination, which is opposed by the Rail Passengers Association.

Nominated in May, Rokita was introduced to the committee Senator Todd Young (R-Indiana), who also serves on the commerce committee and served with Rokita in the House.

Young described Rokita as having “a personal passion for transportation.”

Rokita said he has ridden several times on Amtrak’s Cardinal and Hoosier State.

“I’ve been an Amtrak passenger my whole life, riding the Cardinal from Wabash College (in Crawfordsville) home to Munster,” he said. “And I’ve have ridden the Northeast Corridor routes often while in Congress.”

Committee Chairman Roger Wicker ( R-Mississippi), asked Rokita if he favored eliminating any Amtrak routes.

In response Rokita said keeping a national system was a priority and he had “no preconceived notions to eliminate anything.”

Rokita served in the House from 2011-2019 and is now general counsel for Apex Benefits, a consulting firm in Indianapolis.

Dukakis, Gunn Share Concerns About Amtrak Board

July 26, 2019

The composition of the Amtrak board of directors is drawing concern from a former Amtrak president and board member that the board is becoming too political and is lacking in transportation experience.

The Trump administration has nominated two former Republican congressmen who voted in favor of amendments to revoke Amtrak funding.

Michael Dukakis, a former Amtrak board member, told Trains magazine that during his time on the board it was bipartisan by agreement.

“I don’t think any of us bought into the idea that Amtrak would pay for itself,” Dukakis said. “We have to serve all parts of the country, and in any event, we have an infrastructure deficit, and that means public funding (to fix it). The board I served on was quite unified around that notion.”

Dukakis, who is a now a professor of political science at Northeastern University and UCLA, said that during his time on the board the members were well-versed in transportation and “committed to the simple but powerful notion that the entire country needs a first-class rail passenger system.”

Gunn, who served as Amtrak president between 2002 and 2005, said the board members he worked with were an intelligent group with backgrounds in transportation.

“I was lucky when I went to Amtrak because I had Mike Dukakis, John Robert Smith [now Chairman of Transportation for America], Gov. Linwood Holton [Republican from Virginia] and a very smart guy, Michael Jackson, who was the Department of Transportation representative, on the Board,” Gunn told Trains.

The Trump administration last year nominated Joseph Gruters, Rick Dearborn, and Leon Westmoreland to the Amtrak board but have yet to be confirmed because of a hold placed on their nominations by Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas).

All three men have been nominated again this year along with former Indiana Congressman Todd Rokita.

Rokita voted in favor of amendments offered in 2011, 2015 and 2017 to cut Amtrak funding.

Westmoreland is a former Georgia congressman who twice voted in favor of amendments cutting Amtrak funding. None of those amendments were approved.

Gunn said that DOT board member Jackson “wasn’t a pro-Amtrak guy but he believed in honesty, telling the truth and getting things done. He would give you a heads up if you were getting on thin ice [with the George W. Bush Administration] and when you weren’t — he was good at that. Jackson wouldn’t fit in today,”

Gunn said politically appointed boards are worthless and dangerous if they bring nothing to the party.

He expressed concern that management buyouts in the past two years has robbed Amtrak of employees and managers who know, understand, and appreciate railroad practices—what works and what doesn’t.

“It’s very sad what’s going on now at Amtrak — the institutional knowledge is almost destroyed. And the people being nominated (to the board) to oversee them are, at best, lazy politicians.”

Senate Committee To Consider Amtrak Board Pick

July 21, 2019

A July 24 hearing has been set by the Senate Committee on Commerce to consider a nominee for a position on the Amtrak board of directors.

The Trump administration has nominated former Indiana Congress Todd Rokita to the board, a move that drew opposition from some rail passenger advocates due to his support of amendments would have ended funding for some Amtrak service had those amendments been adopted.

Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews said his group opposes the Rokita nomination although he said the former congressman is likely to say the right things during his hearing.

The nomination of Rokita was announced last May.

Ex-Indiana Congressman Nominated for Amtrak Board

May 9, 2019

The Trump administration has nominated a former Indiana congressman to Amtrak’s board of directors.

The nomination of Todd Rokita drew fire from the Rail Passengers Association, which described the former Republican congressman as anti-Amtrak.

RPA said that during his time in Congress, Rokita voted against Amtrak on eight of 13 Amtrak-specific amendments, including failed amendments seeking to end funding for the carrier’s national network, ending Amtrak’s federal grant and cutting capital funding for Amtrak.

The rail passenger advocacy organization said it would lead an effort to hold up Rokita’s nomination.

In a related development, Kansas Senator Jerry Moran has placed a legislative block on three appointees to the Amtrak board until the carrier commits to keeping the Southwest Chief operating as it does now between Chicago and Los Angeles.

5 Transportation Nominees Resubmitted to Senate

January 18, 2019

The Trump administration has resubmitted to Congress the names of five people who had been nominated for rail transportation federal leadership posts but whose appointments were not approved by the Senate before the 115th Congress permanently adjourned.

The nominees include three seats on the Amtrak board of directors, one seat on the Surface Transportation Board and an appointee to head the Federal Transit Administration.

Senate rules require nominations not acted upon during a two-year, congressional session to be returned to the White House for re-submission during the next session of Congress.

Those who have been nominated a second time include:

Rick A. Dearborn to the Amtrak board for a five-year term, succeeding former BNSF attorney Jeffrey R. Moreland, whose term expired, but who is in holdover status.

Joseph Ryan Gruters to the Amtrak board for a five-year term, succeeding Albert DiClemente, whose term expired, but who is in holdover status.

Leon A. Westmoreland to the Amtrak board for a five-year term to fill a vacant seat.

Michelle A. Schultz to be a member of the Surface Transportation Board for a five-year term to fill a still-vacant new seat created in 2015.

Thelma Drake to be Federal Transit Administrator, succeeding Peter M. Rogoff, who resigned in 2015.

All five nominations have already been considered by the applicable Senate oversight committees and all have been recommended for confirmation.

The decision to bring the nominations to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote is at the discretion of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The list of five nominees does not include a Democratic nominee for an STB seat vacated Dec. 31 by Deb Miller, who has been awaiting renomination to a second term for more than a year.

By law Miller must leave the agency following the expiration of her allowable holdover year. Miller is expected to be named by the White House to be re-appointed to the STB.

Boardman is Again Critical of Amtrak

August 29, 2018

Former Amtrak head Joseph Boardman has again criticized the passenger carrier’s stance on operating on routes lacking positive train control.

Boardman

Boardman told Trains magazine that the Amtrak board of directors has not seriously considered the consequences of an earlier statement that the carrier will not use routes lacking PTC by a Dec. 31 deadline for implementation set by federal law.

In particular, the carrier has indicated that is considering sending Southwest Chief passengers by bus between Albuquerque and Dodge City, Kansas, or La Junta, Colorado.

A sticking point is how Amtrak will treat route segments that are exempt from the PTC requirement.

“If Amtrak requires PTC on any exempted portion the full cost of the PTC installation and maintenance becomes Amtrak’s. So they could load up costs for these routes or pass them on to states (sponsoring service),” Boardman said.

“It’s just ridiculous and it is not necessary in the sparse operating environment of the FRA-exempted track areas. It is also not financially sensible to burden this cost on Congress or a state given the operating situation.”

Boardman said passenger trains can operate safely on track lacking PTC.

He said Amtrak should stop ignoring the judgments of the Federal Railroad Administration and continue to operate safe railroading without PTC on the FRA-judged low risk sections of track that received PTC exemptions in order to fulfill the “public service” mission it was created for.

“If the board made this decision then it has been poorly advised,” Boardman said. “Risk management and behavioral safety training is not new with the SMS [Safety Management System] adopted from the FAA and recently promoted within Amtrak.

Boardman described SMS as a “formal, top-down, organization-wide approach to managing safety risk and assuring the effectiveness of safety risk controls.”

Amtrak created a risk management department following an Inspector General recommendation several years ago, but it was ended in 2017.

As he has argued in the past, Boardman believes recent Amtrak management decisions and actions have resulted in “serious missteps with Amtrak stakeholders, customers, and members of Congress.”

Calling this unacceptable nonsense, Boardman said it is time to move on and provide customer and stakeholder service and commitment.

“It’s creating an unprofessional situation for Amtrak that is reprehensible and unsustainable in the eyes of Congress and Dodge and Garden City, Kansas; La Junta and Trinidad Colorado; Raton, and Las Vegas, New Mexico; BNSF Railroad employees, private car owners, and even the United States Marine Corp. And those disgusted stakeholders are only the tip of the problems.”

Senate Committee Hears from Amtrak Board Nominee

July 30, 2018

A nominee for a seat on the Amtrak board of directors was described as a lifelong “train freak” during a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee.

The label was placed on Rick A. Dearborn by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, who chaired most of the two-hour hearing.

During the hearing, Dearborn said Amtrak needs to make its long-distance trains more attractive but did not say that he supports government funding of them.

“Amtrak trains should be on time, clean, competitive, and a good option for travelers,” Dearborn said. “Long distance service is a critical part of the national passenger rail system. I am committed to it.”

“I get the impression that Amtrak is being reduced, not built, because it’s requiring taxpayer dollars,” U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, told Dearborn. “Do you think taxpayer dollars are necessary to keep Amtrak going?”

“I can’t predict whether or not Amtrak could operate without financial assistance,” Dearborn said. “I would hope that if we focus on creating a good product, then revenues will rise and the dependency on federal dollars would be less.”

“If you had a choice between lowering operating losses and shutting down a long-distance line, what would you choose?” asked U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada.

“I hope I’m never faced with that decision,” Dearborn replied.

Dearborn also zeroed in on safety, saying it must be the passenger carrier’s highest priority.

Dearborn expressed optimism that Amtrak will meet the Dec. 31 deadline set by federal law to install positive train control.

In his opening statement Dearborn said he has a collection of O Scale models that includes 75 locomotives and 300 pieces of rolling stock.

He has worked for six senators since the mid-1970s, including 12 years as chief of staff for former Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama

Dearborn was executive director of President Donald Trump’s transition team and White House deputy chief of staff until he resigned in March.

Also speaking to the committee was Martin J. Oberman, former chairman of Chicago’s Metra rail system, who has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

He said he was studying such issues facing the STB as the long-standing struggle between carriers and shippers over “captive switching,” and the board’s work on streamlining rate disputes.

“My four years at Metra required my total immersion and continuous education in the railroad industry,” Oberman said. “I quickly learned that all aspects of our national rail system are fundamentally interconnected and the rail system is central to the national economy.”

Oberman pledged to take a “fresh look” at those and other issues. “Honoring precedent and not changing systems that aren’t broken are important values,” he said. “It also critical to be willing to question practices if they appear to be archaic and ineffective in meeting the changing needs of consumers and businesses, or keeping pace with technological changes in the global economy.”

Oberman said he favors negotiation over litigation as a means to resolve issues within the railroad industry.

“As a trial lawyer for 49 years, I know litigation is the worst way to settle a dispute,” Oberman said.

Dearborn Expected to be Named to Amtrak Board

June 23, 2018

A former member of President Donald Trump’s staff is expected to be nominated to serve as a member of Amtrak’s board of directors.

Rick A. Dearborn served as deputy chief of staff for Trump between January 2017 and March 2018.

He was executive director of the presidential transition team and has connections with conservative groups having served as the director of congressional relations for the Senate at The Heritage Foundation.

If approved, Dearborn would serve a five-year term.

 

Senators Support Amtrak Long-Distance Trains

May 17, 2018

Some senators went to bat this week for Amtrak’s long-distance trains during a hearing on the nomination of Joe Gruters to the carrier’s board of directors.

During the hearing before the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi ) invited Gruters to join him on a trip aboard the City of New Orleans between McComb, Mississippi, and Memphis, Tennessee, so he could see the number of people who depend on the train.”

Gruters said he would “welcome the opportunity to ride a train with you for a couple hours.”

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) used the hearings to express their concerns that Amtrak will seek to discontinue the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

They criticized Amtrak’s decision to withhold a $3 million match from a recently-approved $16 million TIGER grant won by Colfax County, New Mexico, that is to be used to repair the tracks used by the Chief in Northern New Mexico.

“In my view, Amtrak has reneged on what it committed to do … and I believe federal agencies have an obligation to behave with integrity; I don’t see that at the moment,” Moran said.

He read excerpts from an email written by former Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman that charged that Amtrak is seeking to end the train and submitted the entire email for the record.

“This suggests to me that there may be a change of attitude and approach at the Amtrak board and its senior leadership that would be contrary to the congressional mandate about national rail passenger service,” Moran said.

Gardner asked Gruther if, as an Amtrak board member, he would make sure Amtrak followed through on its commitments while accusing Amtrak of not doing so.

He based those accusations on a letter of support for the TIGER grant that Amtrak submitted in October 2017.

Gardner also submitted a Rail Passengers Association statement pointing out that the Southwest Chief’s ridership is up 14 percent from eight years ago.

Wicker also joined ranking minority committee member Bill Nelson (D-Florida) in expressing their desire to see Amtrak return to the Gulf Coast.

Gruters, who owns a public accounting firm in Sarasota, Florida, acknowledged having heard from officials and residents of many Florida communities in support of such service.

[Amtrak board members] “have a fiduciary responsibility to the company but we have our mission set forth by Congress, so I will look forward to working with your team to make sure agreements are upheld and we do the right thing at the end of the day.” Gruters said.

Moran also was critical of Amtrak’s decision to close its ticket office in Topeka, Kansas.

“You cannot reduce service and expect customers to arrive at your doors, and Amtrak is demonstrating that in my view in both instances,” he said.

Some senators, including Maria Cantwell, (D-Washington), used the hearing to trumpet support for positive train control.

Gruters said PTC “is the baseline standard we need to work up to.”

All but one member of the current Amtrak board lacks railroad experience. Member Jeffrey Moreland led the public affairs and legal departments at BNSF.

Like most Amtrak board members, Gruters is a political appointee who helped lead the presidential election campaign for Donald Trump in 2016.