Posts Tagged ‘George Warrington’

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.

Express Cars Remind Me of George Warrington

October 29, 2016

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Whenever I see a photo of an express car attached to an Amtrak train I think of George Warrington.

I will always remember the former Amtrak president for saying that Amtrak was on a glide path to profitability. Mail and express revenue was the centerpiece of the “flight plan.”

On paper the idea that Amtrak could use head-end revenue to wipe out its operating deficits might have made sense.

For many years the private railroads did well with head-end business. Then the post office yanked most of the railway post office cars and head-end business was diverted to freight trains.

Of course the railroads had more of an infrastructure to handle head-end business back then. They also had dedicated mail and express trains and/or carried most of their head-end business on slow locals.

So Amtrak was trying to gin up business that it had never seriously sought before. Amtrak over the years has carried some mail, but it never sought to emulate the late Railway Express Agency until the early 2000s.

Warrington was probably telling Congress what some of its members wanted to hear. They didn’t want to fund Amtrak in the first place and there was political advantage to be gained by sniping about its financial losses.

Shown is an express car on the rear in the Southwest Chief, which is passing through Riverside, Illinois, on the BNSF raceway.

If you rode Amtrak back in the early 2000s, you probably remember your train pulling out of Chicago Union Station and stopping to add head-end cars.

The crew assured you the time needed to do that was built into the schedule.

Warrington’s sucessor, David Gunn, gave up on head-end business although it took awhile for it to cease altogether.

Some of those express cars that Amtrak leased or acquired are still in service and can be spotted on manifest freights from time to time. Some of them are still wearing their Amtrak silver.