Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak presidents’

Generational Change Underway at Amtrak

January 25, 2021

Several weeks ago I conducted an online search to determine the age of Amtrak president Stephen J. Gardner.

Some believe you can find anything on the Internet. Well, almost anything.

Maybe I didn’t look hard enough but I never did find Gardner’s birth date.

But extrapolating from the years that he attended Hampshire College as an undergraduate, which are listed in the resume posted on his Linked In page, I concluded Gardner probably was born in 1976. That makes him fortyish.

He wasn’t around when the original California Zephyr made its last trips in March 1970, when South Dakota lost its last passenger train in September 1969 or when the Twentieth Century Limited succumbed in December 1967.

If his parents took him on a trip by train during his childhood, it likely would have been aboard Amtrak.

By the time Gardner was old enough to begin remember much about the world around him Amtrak was well into the transition from streamliner era equipment to Amfleet and Superliners.

He is not old enough to remember a time when the intercity rail passenger service network was far broader than it is today.

As far as Gardner is concerned there always have been between 15 plus long-distance trains in America, not dozens of them.

Likewise, Gardner’s conception of intercity rail passenger service is that it has always been funded with public money, most of it coming from the federal government.

In many ways, Gardner’s career arc seems ideally suited for working at Amtrak because much of his career has been in the public policy making arena.

He worked for a short time in his early adult years for two railroads, but much of his time has been spent working on Capitol Hill as a congressional staffer.

That gives him insights into the politics of Amtrak funding that many rail passenger advocates don’t understand or don’t want to understand.

Gardner’s vision of the future of intercity rail passenger service is something more akin to Brightline, the privately-owned Florida service that developed in a public-private partnership in a densely populated urban corridor.

Until it suspended operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, Brightlight offered frequent, fast service between Miami and West Palm Beach with modernistic equipment that looks like it has been transplanted from Europe.

In his public comments, Gardner has paid lip service to long-distance passenger trains, saying they will always be a key part of Amtrak’s business.

But he also describes a world of corridor services focused on short-distance travel.

In Gardner’s mind the market for long-distance trains is shrinking and those trains create a mismatch among population density, transportation demand and Amtrak’s existing network.

“We are trading route miles for passenger trips by serving a lot of route miles but not a lot of people,” he said in one presentation.

This doesn’t sound like someone who expects today’s long-distance trains to be around in perpetuity as many baby boomer rail passenger advocates would like.

Top executives at Amtrak come and go. Gardner is the fourth person to sit in the Amtrak president’s chair in the past five years.

How long he will continue at the helm of the intercity passenger carrier remains to be seen.

However, Gardner is part of a wave of younger managers overseeing the passenger carrier who do not have the memories of past generations who lived through the last years of the streamliner era.

When Gardner says long-distance trains will continue to be a key part of Amtrak’s business he is making a political statement.

He knows senators and congressmen from largely rural states look out for those trains and so long as that is the case they will continue to operate at some level.

But that doesn’t mean those running Amtrak are fully vested in those trains or believe they should bear a resemblance of the great streamliners of the past other than their names.

One common theme I see in the writings of some rail passenger advocates is a disenchantment with Amtrak behaving as a sort of generic transportation provider rather than acting like a railroad.

This type of change seems inevitable as those who oversaw Amtrak in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s leave.

What we have seen in the past couple years in regards to Amtrak’s national network is reflective of this transformation.

Whether you like him or not, agree with him or not, the life experiences and vision of rail transportation of people such as Stephen Gardner are the future of Amtrak.

Gardner to Become Amtrak President Dec. 1

December 1, 2020

Amtrak said on Monday that one of its vice presidents will become its president on Dec. 1.

Stephen Gardner

Stephen Gardner, currently Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief operating and commercial officer, will replace William Flynn.

Flynn, who became Amtrak’s president and CEO in April, will remain with the passenger carrier as CEO and a member of its board of directors.

The promotion of Gardner to president had been widely expected by many rail industry observers.

Railway Age reported that Gardner has been making most of the major decisions and setting policy during his time as an Amtrak senior vice president.

His elevation to the president’s chair coincides with the election of Joseph Biden as president. Gardner, like Biden, is a Democrat.

Earlier in his career, Gardner served in staff positions for Congressional Democrats on Capitol Hill, including Delaware Senator Tom Carper.

He joined Amtrak in 2009 after having helped develop railroad and transportation policy for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Before coming to Washington, Gardner worked for Guilford Rail System (now Pan Am Railways) and the Buckingham Branch Railroad.

Railway Age said Gardner is widely recognized as one of the principal authors of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.

The magazine said Gardner was unlikely to become Amtrak’s president so long as Republicans controlled the White House and the Department of Transportation.

In a prepared statement, Amtrak said the change in leadership was “part of a broader set of actions taken . . . to ensure that Amtrak is well positioned for success in fiscal year 2021 and beyond.”

The statement said Gardner will lead day-to-day operations and oversee marketing, operations, planning, government affairs, and corporate communication.

Historically, Amtrak’s president has been its top executive, but during the tenure of the late Joseph Boardman the company added the CEO title to his duties.

Amtrak’s statement said the carrier faces “two urgent challenges in 2021” including weathering the COVID-19 pandemic and bolstering Amtrak’s future.

Amtrak’s presidency has been a revolving door in recent years with no one person holding the position for more than a few years.

Charles “Wick” Moorman, a former CEO of Norfolk Southern, came out of retirement in 2016 to serve as Amtrak president and CEO in what at the time was described as a transitional appointment.

Moorman became co-CEO of Amtrak with Richard Anderson in June 2017, an arrangement that continued through the end of 2017.

Anderson, a former CEO of Delta Air Lines, served as Amtrak’s top executive until being replaced in April 2020 by William Flynn, a former CEO of Atlas Air.

Horn Blast Paid Tribute to Boardman

March 22, 2019

A former Amtrak locomotive horn was sounded at 11:01 a.m. last Friday in tribute to the late Joseph Boardman, who was Amtrak’s president for nine years.

Boardman

The tribute took place as Boardman’s funeral was being held in Rome, New York.

A horn from a retired Amtrak F40PH locomotive was set up outside St. Paul’s Church and given a long blast in tribute to the man who served as Amtrak second longest tenured president.

More than a hundred current Amtrak employees, political leaders and friends attended the service.

Musing Aboard Boardman’s Legacy

March 18, 2019

In my world Joseph Boardman was just another name and visage I knew only from a printed page or megapixels on a computer screen.

Our paths never crossed and even if they had our relationship would have been brief and superficial.

Following his death on March 7 several transportation industry leaders issued warm statements about the life and career of Amtrak’s ninth president who died at age 70 after suffering a stroke while vacationing with his family in Florida.

The tributes were the predictable things that people say when a high-profile person passes away.

There’s nothing wrong with that. They are paying homage and not writing a biography with detail, context and nuance.

Some tributes described Boardman as a friend of long-distance passenger trains.

He gladdened the hearts of passenger train advocates by attacking the efforts of the current Amtrak administration to replace the middle of the route of the Southwest Chief with a bus bridge.

Boardman was a persistent critic of current Amtrak management, which was enough to make him a hero in the eyes of some.

Of the many tributes paid to Boardman, two have particularly stood out to me because they hint at a cautionary tale for those wanting to see Amtrak expand its network.

A friend of mine in announcing Boardman’s death during a local railroad club meeting said he didn’t agree with all of Boardman’s policy decisions as president of Amtrak, but understood the pressures and realities he had to deal with and how those shaped his behavior.

Jim Wrinn, the editor of Trains, sounded a similar theme in his tribute posted on the magazine’s website.

Acknowledging he didn’t know Boardman well, Wrinn recalled a comment Boardman made at a 2010 conference in Chicago.

In responding to the many questions posed of him about when this or that was going happen at Amtrak, Boardman often replied, “Not in a time frame that you and I would find acceptable.”

In an interview with a Trains reporter last September, Boardman said he had been unable to persuade the Amtrak board of directors to find and spend more money on the carrier’s national network.

So such things as daily operation of the Cardinal and Sunset Limited were not accomplished on Boardman’s watch.

There are two ways to look at that.

One view suggests Boardman lacked the communications skills necessary to persuade those board members to adopt his point of view.

Could a more skilled communicator have succeeded where Boardman failed?

Maybe not and that raises the second way to look at Boardman’s comment about being unable to persuade the board.

There are powerful institutional forces surrounding Amtrak that for the most part made Boardman little more than a keeper of the status quo.

These forces stymie the type of expansion that passenger advocates crave and ultimately will hamstring the vision of the current Amtrak management to restructure the passenger carrier into a series of corridor services and a few experiential long-distance trains.

Boardman’s defense of the Southwest Chief could have been motivated by a desire to preserve what he viewed as one of his crowning achievements. Maybe he did believe in the long-distance passenger train.

Yet that network remained frozen in place between 2008 and 2016 when he served as CEO.

We await a comprehensive review of Boardman’s time at Amtrak that will provide an in-depth examination of the successes and shortcomings of his distinguished career.

That includes a review of his interaction with the carrier’s board of directors, Congress, the U.S. Department of Transportation and transportation policy makers at the federal, state and local levels.

That review might find that Boardman was not quite the friend of the long-distance train that some have made him out to be or it might find that no one person no matter how personally dedicated he or she is to long-distant trains would have been able to move the mountain standing in front of having more trains not to mention enhanced services aboard those that exist.

Boardman Funeral Mass is Friday

March 14, 2019

A funeral mass for former Amtrak president Joseph H. Boardman will be held on Friday in Rome, New York, at 11 a.m. at St. Paul’s Catholic Church.

Visitation will be today between 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. at the Barry Funeral Home in Rome.

Mr. Boardman, who served as Amtrak’s ninth president, died March 7 at age 70 after suffering a stroke while vacationing in Florida at a home he owned in Pasco County.

He headed Amtrak between 2008 and 2016. Previously, Mr. Boardman served as head of the Federal Railroad Administration between 2005 and 2008.

The Boardman family has suggested that memorials be made to Unity Acres in Orwell, New York; Health Friends of Utica, New York; or the Epilepsy Foundation.

Mr. Boardman is survived by his wife, Joanne; two sons, a daughter and four grandchildren.

Ex-Amtrak President Joseph Boardman Dies

March 9, 2019

Former Amtrak President Joseph H. Boardman, 70, died this week after suffering a stroke.

Mr. Boardman

Mr. Boardman, whose career also included serving as New York State Transportation Commissioner and Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, was Amtrak’s second-longest-serving president.

He died on March 7 after being stricken two days earlier while vacationing in Florida with his family.

As head of the FRA, Mr. Boardman served on the Amtrak board of directors as the representative of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

He was named Amtrak’s ninth president in November 2008 after Alexander Kummant stepped down.

At the time, the Amtrak board appointed Mr. Boardman to a one-year term.

In January 2010 the board announced it had extended Mr. Boardman’s term indefinitely.

Mr. Boardman retired as Amtrak president in September 2016 and was succeeded by former Norfolk Southern CEO Charles “Wick” Moorman.

His eight years as Amtrak president trails only the late W. Graham Claytor in tenure as head of Amtrak. Mr. Claytor served as Amtrak president between 1982 and 1993.

During Mr. Boardman’s tenure, Amtrak purchased 28 Alstom Avelia Liberty trainsets for use in the Northeast Corridor on Acela Express service and during his watch the passenger carrier initiated the acquisition of 200 Viewliners cars from CAF-USA.

The latter were plagued with production and delivery delays and the full order has yet to be completed.

Mr. Boardman was described by those who worked with him and knew him at Amtrak as a very hands-on manager.

He often rode Amtrak trains in a business car to see the network for himself.

A retired Amtrak car attendant told Trains magazine that Mr. Boardman would encourage on-board employees to come to his car Beech Grove during those inspection trips and say what was on their mind.

In the past year Mr. Boardman had become sharply critical of current Amtrak management, particularly after it indicated that it wanted to replace the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief between Dodge City, Kansas, and Albuquerque with bus service.

Mr. Boardman was particularly passionate about the Chief because he had overseen as president of Amtrak an effort to win federal, state and local grant money to be used to rehabilitate the tracks that the Chief uses on a lightly-used BNSF line over Raton Pass.

In a statement released by Amtrak, board Chairman Anthony Coscia and President Richard Anderson said, “we are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Joe Boardman.”

The statement said that during his tenure as FRA administrator and Amtrak president Mr. Boardman had been a tireless advocate for passenger rail and the nation’s mobility.”

“During his eight years at the helm, Joe helped the company make significant progress in reducing our debt, improving our infrastructure and raising our cost recovery performance,” the statement said.

Mr. Boardman was a lifelong resident of New York state and was raised on a dairy farm in Oneida County.

In 1966 he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and served in Vietnam between 1968 and 1969.

After his discharge from the Air Force, he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Agriculture Economics from Cornell University and a Master of Science Degree in Management Science from Binghamton University.

He was appointed by President George W. Bush as FRA administrator, a position he held between 2005 and 2008.

Other positions that he held included serving as chairman of the Executive Committee of the Transportation Research Board, and serving as chairman of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ Standing Committee on Rail Transportation.

He was a commissioner of the New York State Department of Transportation for eight years.

Reminders of George Warrington

March 7, 2019

Seeing this string of former Amtrak RoadRailers on a westbound Norfolk Southern passing through Berea, Ohio, in April 2012 brought back memories of George Warrington.

Warrington served as Amtrak’s president between 1998 and 2002. During his watch Amtrak rolled out in December 1999 its Network Growth Strategy in an effort to boost its financial position by adding additional trains and going all out to increase its carriage of mail and express shipments.

As part of the strategy, Amtrak acquired a fleet of RoadRailers that were tacked onto the end of select trains.

In implementing the Network Growth Strategy, Amtrak’s board of directors estimated that it would net $66 million in financial benefits through fiscal year 2002.

Although some of that would occur through the launch of new trains, much of it was expected to be garnered through head-end business even if much of that actually rode on the rear of trains.

A few of the planned new trains did launch, most notably the Chicago-Louisville Kentucky Cardinal and the Chicago-Janesville, Wisconsin Lake Country Limited.

But the Chicago-New York Skyline Connection and a proposed transcontinental luxury train never made it out of the station.

Aside from turning Amtrak trains into something resembling a mixed train, what I most remember about the Warrington era was his use of the term “glide path to profitability” to describe the goal of the Network Growth Strategy.

It didn’t seem likely to be the end result of the Network Growth Strategy and it wasn’t.

Warrington didn’t come across as dynamic. He was no W. Graham Claytor or even a Paul Reistrup or David Gunn.

But he also had, arguably, the misfortune of following Thomas W. Downs who is best known for seeking and in some cases successfully achieving, the elimination of some Amtrak routes, including the Desert Wind and Pioneer.

Amtrak presidents are products of their times and such was the case with Warrington, who had the impossible task of trying to satisfy Congressional critics unhappy with Amtrak’s financial performance.

Warrington’s successor, David Gunn, went to work right away in dismantling the Network Growth Strategy and focused instead on returning Amtrak to a “state of good repair.”

As I write this, Amtrak seems on the verge of launching yet another Network Growth Strategy although it won’t be called that. It is expected to seek more daylight corridor services between major cities and de-emphasize long-distance trains.

It hasn’t been announced yet and already it’s triggered protests and controversies.

What insights would George have as to what lies ahead for Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson as he tries to implement his vision of Amtrak’s “next big thing.”

We will never know. Warrington died in December 2007 of pancreatic cancer, but his legacy lives on in the memories of those who were around to experience it.

Some of the rolling stock Amtrak acquired to haul mail and express found new owners, including the RoadRailers shown above.

Some Amtrak RoadRailers were picked up by Norfolk Southern and used in its Triple Crown service.

As seen above, they continued for a time to continue wearing their Amtrak colors with one of the trailers above still having Amtrak markings.

But RoadRailers largely have fallen out of favor with North America’s freight railroads. NS has cut its Triple Crown service back to one lane.

The RoadRailer concept is one still seeking to prove itself.