Posts Tagged ‘Jim Mathews’

No Plans to End Long-Distance Trains Amtrak Executive Tell RPA During Meeting

May 30, 2018

Amtrak executives have pledged to the Rail Passengers Association that the carrier has no plans to discontinue long-distance trains.

The pledge came during a meeting last week between RPA CEO Jim Mathews and Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson and Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner.

Anderson said during the meeting that Amtrak will always have long-distance trains and it plans selective upgrades to some long-distance trains. Amtrak will also work to improve meal service aboard all trains.

Writing on the RPA blog, Mathews said that in the wake of the meeting that long-distance trains are no longer targets for elimination for now.

The meeting yielded information about Amtrak’s plans, including selectively upgrading what Anderson termed “epic, experiential” trains such as the Empire Builder and Coast Starlight

Anderson and Gardner also said Amtrak will issue soon a request for proposals to replace the carrier’s diesel locomotives.

Amtrak plans to move quickly to award a contract and begin getting locomotives built and into service.

A similar request for proposals is expected this year about the availability of single-level train sets and diesel multiple units with the aim of getting that equipment under contract and under construction.

This equipment is expected to be used on corridor type service of less than 600 miles and ideally no more than 400 miles.

Gardner described this as a “sweet spot” in which multiple daily frequencies can be offered with an optimized number of train sets so that fares and trip times can be competitive with other modes of transportation.

Although no time frame was given, Amtrak is planning to replaced its Superliner fleet, which Anderson and Gardner described as having reached the end of its reasonable service life.

They acknowledged that Amtrak will not refurbish the interiors of Superliner cars as it has been doing with Amfleet equipment and Acela Express train sets.

Anderson said the Superliners need new frames and therefore management has decided to replace the cars rather than rebuild them.

In a side note, Anderson and Gardner said the refurbishment of Amfleet I cars is nearly finished.

RPA has pressed Amtrak about its food service in the wake of an announcement in April that the carrier would on April 1 eliminate full-service dining on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited in favor of cold meals for sleeping car passengers.

The Amtrak executives said that plan was always considered an experiment and the passenger carrier expects to introduce at least one hot meal offering at some point.

They said Amtrak wants to improve its food service system-wide and is prepared to spend money to do it.

Gardner said that in time Amtrak will upgrade its menus on the Capitol and Lake Shore and offer coach passengers the opportunity to buy meals from that menu in the diner or elsewhere.

In the meantime, Amtrak is seeking to renegotiate its food contracts, upgrade the quality of the food available, and implement a program for passengers to choose their meals ahead of time.

Once chosen, passengers will able to eat their meals when and where they want to eat, whether it be in a dining car, in their room or at their seat.

Amtrak also wants to go cashless, an idea that the carrier has discussed before but never implemented. On-board personnel will be given portable devices to charge passengers for food and beverages.

In a related development, Gardner said the new CAF diners sitting at the Hialeah shops near Miami will soon be in service. He said they are awaiting parts and modification.

Anderson and Gardner elaborated on their congressional testimony about the possibility that Amtrak will not operate on rail lines that are required to have positive train control by late this year but on which the equipment has not been installed.

Gardner said this is not a strategy to discontinue trains or routes, but rather a temporary action until PTC is installed.

Anderson indicated during the meeting that he is laser-focused on implementing an airline-style safety management system by the end of the year, which he said is required of Amtrak by FRA regulation following the National Transportation Safety Board’s implementation recommendation.

He said he has found that freight railroads have a “risk-tolerant” mindset by which “they’re perfectly willing to accept that they’ll wreck a train every three years.”

SMS has been used by airlines to assess individual risks to safe operation and identify specific mitigation steps for each risk.

Anderson said SMS has been proven in the aviation world to not only improve safety but to continuously drive down incidents and risk.

Amtrak plans to identify a range of ways to reach “PTC-equivalent” levels of safety in areas that aren’t fully PTC-compliant.

This includes such steps as issuing slow orders and spiking or blocking facing-point switches for mainline movement.

Different technologies will be deployed to assure accurate train location, sending the conductor up to the head end or, failing everything else, using buses to move passengers around an affected track segment.

Mathews wrote that his take away from the meeting is that that the nature of Amtrak service will evolve and change over time, but that the carrier is pursuing a growth strategy whose objective is to serve more Americans rather than fewer.

“In any case, the long-term shape of the national network will be determined by Congress, which makes the upcoming reauthorization of the surface transportation bill even more important to RPA and its members,” Mathews wrote.

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Amtrak Committed to Long-Distance Trains For Now, But Not Necessarily Forever

May 21, 2018

Amtrak has indicated to lawmakers and the Rail Passengers Association that it is not planning additional actions that would have the effect of changing its long-distance routes in ways to favor shorter distance travel.

Writing on the RPA website, RPA President Jim Mathews said that “Amtrak is taking steps to commit publicly to a robust nationwide rail service with a national footprint.”

He said those assurances have been made by the passenger carrier in conversations with the RPA and congressional staff, and during congressional testimony.

Matthews cited the example of reports that the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder would be made into a tri-weekly train as part of a strategy to focus on short-haul corridors.

Many passenger advocates have been alarmed by some recent Amtrak changes, including removing full-serving dining service with fresh meals prepared on board from the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited effective June 1.

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said during an April 19 California Rail Summit that the future of Amtrak lies with 300- to 400- or 500-mile corridors.

RPA has also learned that Amtrak management has begun discussing the long-term future of the carrier’s long-distance routes and that some Amtrak executives are discussing the possibility of allocating more resources to short-distance state corridors. It is not clear how far those discussions have advanced.

Matthews said Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana) asked Amtrak Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner point-blank whether there were plans to reduce the Builde.

“We do not plan to institute tri-weekly service on the Empire Builder,” Gardner replied during a committee hearing on May 16. “Obviously we’re operating under the FAST Act authorization in which Congress authorized our network, any conversations about the broad future of our network is best placed in our authorization context as we approach our next authorization. Amtrak is operating all of our long distance routes, we intend to do that and we will consider any future changes collectively between the Congress, the Administration, and Amtrak as we look at the network ahead.”

Matthews noted that he visited with Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia earlier this year and received similar assurances.

Coscia said during that meeting that Amtrak has a “mission” beyond the balance sheet, and pledged that top management is “committed to the mission.”

He also said that Amtrak has a responsibility as a recipient of federal funds to make sure that its long-range plans serve the maximum number of Americans possible, especially those who need mobility and have fewer options such as the elderly, the disabled and rural residents.

However, Coscia said that demographic shifts that are leading more people to live in dense mega-regions may result in a time when the “legacy national network routes no longer meet the mission, but looking at the map today I can’t identify any that don’t.”

Coscia said Amtrak sees “corridors hanging off the legacy national network routes like a necklace.”

He cited as examples such corridors as Chicago-St. Louis and Chicago-Minneapolis as having strong growth potential.

During his April appearance in California, Anderson said “there is a place for the long-distance, ‘experiential’ train.”

Anderson said Amtrak has “a responsibility to figure out how to keep that experiential piece of the pie in place” while simultaneously “figuring out how we discharge our mission under PRIIA”—the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008—“to serve the short-haul markets.”

NARP Rebrands Itself with New Name, New Look

December 1, 2017

As part of its efforts to rebrand itself, the National Association of Railroad passengers has rolled out a new name and new looks for its website and monthly newsletter.

Now known as the Rail Passengers Association, the group has adopted a logo featuring a stylized passenger car window.

For now the new website can be reached at the old address of www.narprail.org but it can also accessed at www.railpassengers.org

The new name and look were first revealed to the group’s members at its 50th anniversary celebration event held in Chicago in early November.

In a news release, the RPA said its new look will herald “a new age for advocacy for rail passengers in North America.”

RPA also has moved to a larger headquarters office in Washington.

The RPA logo is a landscape-oriented rectangle with two slanted lines in its lower left corner.

RPA said the image “allows the organization to highlight scenes riders would see from their train seat by adding different pictures and photos inside the window.”

RPA head Jim Matthews said the design also allows the group “to show a mix of cityscapes and landscapes inside the rectangle of the logo to create a view out of the imagined window.

“We can even use animation and movement to take advantage of the social media and web-based platforms where we advocate for rail riders. And, we can highlight regional differences and issues that we care about.”

Founded in 1967 as a non-profit organization, the official name of the group remains National Association of Railroad Passengers.

NARP Wants High Court Review of Passenger Ruling

November 15, 2017

The Rail Passengers Association, the new name for the National Association of Railroad Passengers, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review an appeal court decision that reduced the authority of the Surface Transportation Board to set on-time standards for passenger trains.

In the petition, the groups content that without defined standards, freight will be systematically given preference over passenger trains, leading to chronic delays for long distance riders.

NARP is seeking to overturn the appeals court decision that applied a narrow interpretation of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act.

The case grew from a challenge to a section of that law by the Association of American Railroads that was first ruled upon by a Federal District Court for the District of Columbia.

“When the D.C. Circuit nullified Section 207 last year, it took away FRA’s power to develop on-time performance standards. Then the Eighth Circuit this summer interpreted Section 213 in a way that eviscerated the power of the Surface Transportation Board, which was the only agency left to carry out Congress’ assignment to improve on-time performance. The two courts’ moves together have left no agency remaining to fulfill Congress’ statutory mandate in PRIIA to enforce those standards,” said Jim Mathews, NARP president.

Matthews said these decisions have thwarted congressional intent in PRIIA and leaves passengers without any recourse.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an STB interpretation that Section 213 of PRIIA, which created two separate “triggers,” each of which require the STB to investigate sub-standard on-time performance.

NARP noted that the AAR had in 2015 asked the STB to create the regulation that defined on-time performance.

NARP said that after the STB sided with passenger group, the railroad industry trade association challenged STB’s authority to regulate the issue.

“This fight has gone on long enough,” Mathews said. “For decades, rail passengers have been left waiting for freight trains to clear the rails. Even acts of Congress haven’t been able to budge them out of the way. We need the courts to now recognize and allow Congress’ goal to be carried out. The law creating Amtrak in the early 1970s codified a deal these railroads made with the American taxpayer: we’ll relieve you of your common-carrier responsibility for passenger service, and in exchange you’ll ensure those passenger trains get where they need to go on time. It has been a battle ever since.”

 

Observers Give Their Take on Amtrak’s new CEO

June 29, 2017

So who is this former airline executive that Amtrak has chosen to take over as its CEO later this year when Charles “Wick” Moorman retires?

Richard Anderson

Richard Anderson was the head of Delta Air Lines, but he also at one time served as a prosecutor and the vice president of an insurance company, United Health.

His father, Hale, worked for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe in Texas and the family moved multiple times as the elder Anderson held office jobs at posts from Galveston to Dallas and Amarillo.

When he was in college, the younger Anderson’s parents died of cancer and he subsequently had to raise his two younger sisters as he worked to earn college tuition money.

After earning his law degree, Anderson worked in Texas for nearly a decade as a prosecutor.

His entry into the airline industry began in the legal department of Houston-based Continental Airlines.

He would later join Northwest Airlines and became its CEO three years later. As Delta Air Lines was emerging from bankruptcy in 2007, its board of directors asked Anderson to become its CEO, which meant that he succeeded Gerald Grinstein, a former CEO of the Burlington Northern Railroad.

“Richard has a hands-on, roll-up-your-sleeves, let-me-see-how-this-thing-really-works kind of approach,” John Dasburg, Northwest’s former president, told USA Today in 2008.

During his time at Delta, Anderson sometimes sought unconventional solutions to solve problems.

For example, in an effort to cut fuel costs, Delta purchased an oil refinery near Philadelphia in 2012.

Industry reaction to Anderson being named co-CEO of Amtrak – Moorman won’t be retiring until late December – has been mostly positive.

He received unqualified endorsements from Linda Bauer Darr, president of the American Short Line and Regional Rail Road Association, and from Ed Hamberger, the president of the Association of American Railroads.

Jim Mathews, head of the National Association of Railroad Passengers lauded Anderson’s transportation experience.

“NARP is very pleased Amtrak is making the sensible move of bringing in an executive with strong management experience in a customer-service oriented transportation company,” Mathews said.

Former NARP executive director Ross Capon said the fact that Moorman will be Amtrak’s co-CEO through December shows the two men will likely have a good working relationship and that Anderson will be able to learn from Moorman.

Not all advocacy groups were enthusiastic about Anderson’s appointment.

Charles Leocha, chairman of Travelers United and an airline consumer advocate, said in an interview with Trains magazine that Anderson is “a real charger” who “has not been a friend of consumers, but ran an efficient airline as consolidation was completed . . .”

Richard Rudolph, the president of the Rail Users Network, said Amtrak needs someone who knows railroads, knows how to run a company and can stand up against Congress and President Donald Trump.

Also expressing skepticism was former Amtrak President and CEO David Gunn.

“If he can’t coax people at Amtrak who know how to run a railroad out of their fox holes, he’s doomed,” Gunn said in an interview with Trains. “And you have to convince them you have a plan that makes sense operationally and is not driven by politics.”

Gunn said the best hope is that Anderson has some knowledge of railroad operations.”

Jackson McQuigg, a railroad historian and passenger advocate based in Atlanta, told Trains that he sees in Anderson a man with a demeanor similar to that of W. Graham Claytor Jr. between 1982 and 1993.

“He had a stellar reputation in Atlanta and cared about the city and its history,” McQuigg told Trains.

While at Delta and Northwest, McQuigg noted, Anderson had a reputation for being a tough guy who wasn’t afraid to mix it up with the airline unions.

“Maybe that bunch in the White House will listen to him,” McQuigg said of Anderson. “It will be interesting to see if that happens or if Anderson presides over dismemberment instead. All I know is that the long-distance trains had better be preserved or the whole thing will go up in political flames.”

NARP Plans Rallies for Amtrak Long-Distance Trains

June 9, 2017

The National Association of Railroad Passengers is planning a series of rallies across the country on June 23 to drum up political support for saving funding for Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

The Trump administration has proposed ending funding of long-distance service in the fiscal year 2018 federal budget, which NARP says would end intercity rail passenger service at 220 communities in 23 states.

“If Congress enacts this budget, our national passenger rail network will largely cease to exist,” NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews says. “Communities and rail passengers need to clearly and loudly tell Congress that our communities and citizens rely on trains as important travel options.”

More information about the rallies is available at www.townswithouttrains.com.