Posts Tagged ‘Richard Anderson’

W.Va. Officials Optimistic About Saving New River Train

April 25, 2018

West Virginia officials say they had a productive meeting with Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson about continuing the annual New River Train and expressed optimism that a deal will be worked out.

In a news release, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin said the service has had a stellar record with no operational issues or citations

“I made sure that Amtrak knew the impact this would have on our economy and local non-profit,” Manchin said in the release. “Richard Anderson and I both agree that we need to find a solution and I received a commitment from him that they are committed to continuing their partnership with Collis P. Huntington and finding a solution that both sides are happy with.”

Echoing that was Rep. Even Jenkins who said the meeting has moved the New River Train one step closer to operating.

“There are still some issues that remain to be resolved, but every single person in the room wants to keep the New River Train running,” he said in a news release. “I will continue to work to ensure the New River Train runs for a 52nd year this fall and am encouraged by the results of today’s discussion.”

The New River Train has operated for 51 years, most recently between Huntington and Hinton.

It continued existence has been threatened by a new Amtrak policy that bans most special and charter movements.

Of late, Amtrak has expressed some willingness to allow a limited number of specials that use routes covered by scheduled Amtrak trains.

In the case of the New River Train, it uses CSX tracks also used by Amtrak’s Cardinal.

West Virginia interests have said the New River Train generates $5 million in tourism dollars.

Jenkins said that Anderson understands that the New River Train has a 50-year history and economic impact that distinguishes it from other charter trains.

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As Political Winds Blow, Long Distance Trains Go

April 25, 2018

As a general rule I don’t put much stock in opinions on railroad chat lists that “predict” the imminent demise of Amtrak’s fleet of long-distance trains.

Such predictions have been made for decades and yet long-distance trains have survived.

Yes, some have fallen by the wayside over the years, most notably in 1979 and 1995. But numerous efforts to kill off all long-distance trains have fallen short.

With the planned discontinuance of full-service dining cars on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited the prophets of doom are at it again.

But then I read a column by William C. Vantuono, the editor of Railway Age, in which he said he thinks the dining changes being made on the Capitol and Lake Shore are part of a plan to shut down the Amtrak national network and leave only the Northeast Corridor, Midwest corridor trains, California corridor trains and other state-supported services.

Vantuono is not one to make dire predictions, but I took notice when he wrote, “I’ve been hearing about internal plans within Amtrak to discontinue long-distance trains. The best way to do that, of course, is to make the service so unpalatable that people stop riding them. Are we looking at a veiled attempt to drive passengers away? I believe we are.”

But then I read the rest of his column and noticed that he had qualified his “prediction” by saying “maybe, maybe not.”

I later received an email from a friend who sent a link to meeting notes of a presentation in which Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson reportedly said to an audience of 150 passenger rail officials that he wanted to kill the long-distance trains and only operate corridor service of 400 miles or less with DMU equipment.

But when I read those notes I found the rail passenger advocate who took them said, “I noted that he (Anderson) did not specifically say that the long-distance trains would go, only that corridors are the future.”

Finally, I read Trains columnist Fred Frailey’s view that Anderson won’t try to scuttle the long-distance trains this year.

“If Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump couldn’t axe them, why would Richard Anderson even try?” Frailey wrote.

The fact is no one knows the future of Amtrak’s long-distance passenger trains.

Anderson may believe that corridors provide the best marketing opportunities for intercity rail service, but neither he nor Amtrak’s board of directors are free agents in overseeing a company that depends on public money to pay its operating and capital expenses.

Amtrak is, has always been and always will be a political creature subject to decisions made by Congress and, to a lesser extent, state legislatures.

Congress has acted to kill some long-distance trains over the years and has acted to save them in others.

That said there may be good reason to believe that long-distance trains might be on slippery rails.

Anderson told Congress earlier this year that Amtrak won’t operate on routes that fail to meet the federal mandate that positive train control be installed by the end of this year. He also suggested Amtrak might not use routes that aren’t required to have PTC.

Much of this probably is political posturing. At the time of his testimony Anderson was still smarting from the Cascades and Silver Star crashes, which might have been avoided had PTC been in operation.

Yet some segments of long-distance routes either might not meet the PTC deadline. Is Amtrak going to chop up those routes?

Another potential threat is that the equipment devoted to long-distance service is wearing out. Will Amtrak seek to replace it?

Amtrak has rarely shown much, if any, interest in creating additional long-distance routes or expanding service on the long-distance routes it does operate.

Various Amtrak presidents probably have viewed the long-distance network, skeletal as it might be, as insurance for widespread political support.

In his talk to the passenger train officials, Anderson repeatedly said he must follow the law, meaning Passenger Rail Reform & Investment Act of 2015, saying it requires Amtrak to operate at lower cost and more efficiently.

In particular this applies to food and beverage service and an Amtrak inspector general’s report of seven years ago found that the lion’s share of losses on that could be attributed to the long-distance trains.

Anderson and perhaps the Amtrak board of directors might see long-distance trains as a hindrance to their ability to cut costs and operate more efficiently. They also might see the long-distance trains as dinosaurs.

Amtrak will turn 50 in three years. A half century is a long time for any one company to operate with essentially the same business model.

But most companies are not as subject to political pressure as Amtrak. As the political climates goes, so goes the future of long-distance trains or, for that matter, any intercity passenger trains.

Amtrak, W.Va. Officials to Talk About New River Train

April 16, 2018

Amtrak executives will meet on Tuesday with public officials from West Virginia to discuss the future of the New River Train, which operates annually in the fall between Huntington and Hinton.

The train, which has operated for the past 51 years, was reportedly in danger of being canceled after Amtrak said last month that it would no longer operate specials and charters.

The passenger carrier has also been restricting the use of its trains by privately-owned rail cars although a formal policy in that regard has yet to be announced.

Last week some West Virginia officials indicated that Amtrak had said it would make an exception to its policy to enable the New River Train to continue operating.

There has been discussion that Amtrak might be amendable to allow select specials on routes over which it runs regularly scheduled trains.

The New River Train uses the route of the tri-weekly Chicago-Washington Cardinal.

The train, sponsored by the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society, has been touted for its economic impact, which has been put at $5 million.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin asked Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson for a meeting to discuss the future of the New River Train.

“I will continue doing everything I can to fix this problem,” Manchin said in a news release.

Amtrak Wants to Replace Amfleet, P42s

April 12, 2018

Say goodbye to Amtrak Genesis locomotives and Amfleet equipment. Well, maybe some day.

Richard Anderson

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson told Amtrak employees this week that the passenger carrier hopes to award a contract by the end of this year to replace its fleet of P42DC locomotives and its Amfleet passenger cars.

The P42DC units were built by General Electric and have been the mainstay of long distance and corridor trains since the 1990s.

The original Amfleet cars, used primarily in Eastern corridor service, were built in the 1970s by the Budd Company.

“These are two big programs for us,” Anderson told the employees during a town hall style meeting. “We want to get a [request for proposals] completed and contracts awarded this year. There is no reason why we can’t.”

Anderson indicated that Amtrak is seeking “more modern, lightweight, environmentally sensitive, [Americans with Disabilities Act]-compliant equipment that will give us a completely different product.”

In particular, he indicated that Amtrak might be looking for DMU trainsets such as those that will be used on commuter rail service expected to begin in Fort Worth, Texas, next year and in the Santa Rosa-San Rafael, California, corridor this year.

Anderson described them as models for the modern way of train travel.

“If we want to appeal to a millennial generation in high-density urban markets, we need the same kind of modern unit trains we see operating in Europe and Asia,” he said. “Making these investments now will benefit the next generation of Amtrak.”

On some corridor routes in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest, Amtrak has been operating Charger locomotives built by Siemens and purchased by the departments of transportation in the states funding those trains.

The same coalition of states has also contracted with Siemens to build new single-level passenger cars that will begin operating on those routes in the intermediate future.

Siemens also built locomotives and passenger cars being used by the privately operated Brightline intercity rail service that began operations earlier this year in Florida.

The Sky is Falling, The Sky is Falling. Well, Maybe Not

March 31, 2018

The sky is falling, the sky is falling.

Or so some railroad enthusiasts would have you believe in the wake of a report that Amtrak has decided to ban charters and special moves.

The policy change was announced by Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson in a memo to employees that was leaked to Trains magazine and also posted on railfan chat lists.

In tandem with that, owners of private passenger cars are reporting that Amtrak has been rejecting many requests to move passenger cars.

This particularly has affected car owners who store their cars in the middle of a route because Amtrak has decreed that it will not accept a private car at a station in which the scheduled dwell time is less than 30 minutes.

The implications of this policy change are, indeed, ominous.

It means that such longstanding traditions as the fall New River Train in West Virginia will end.

It means no more Amtrak fall foliage, railfan or rare mileage specials.

It means mainline steam moves are in jeopardy because they operate in cooperation with Amtrak and its liability insurance and use private passenger cars ferried by Amtrak.

It means private car owners who have sunk thousands of dollars into making and/or keeping their cars Amtrak compatible have few, if any, options to run their cars. Seeing a private passenger car or two on the back of an Amtrak train will become an even rarer sight.

Two groups representing private car owners, the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners, and the Railroad Passenger Car Alliance have urged their members to contact public officials and opinion leaders to protest the policy change.

It is unclear how much effect that lobbying will have. Owning and operating a private railroad car is a rich man’s game.

Because they tend to be affluent, private car owners might have better political connections than the typical railroad enthusiast or passenger train advocate.

But it is unlikely that public officials will view the Amtrak policy change as a pressing matter of public interest.

Some might see it as rich boys throwing a tantrum because they can’t play with their toys.

Some passenger advocates have applauded Amtrak, which has sought to frame the change as an effort to improve the on-time performance of its trains.

Anderson’s memo referenced trains being delayed due to switching cars and described special moves as a distraction.

He also suggested that specials and hauling private cars hasn’t been all that profitable, but the memo was clumsily worded on this point.

When he wrote that the moves “failed to capture fully allocated profitable margins,” I wonder if he really meant “failed to cover their fully allocated costs.”

The latter was a term railroads used a lot in the 1960s when they wanted to discontinue passenger trains. Using that standard could make a train appear to be losing far more money than the “above the rail” standard which meant that a train earned enough revenue to cover its direct costs.

Some of what Anderson said in his memo few people would dispute. Who would be opposed to Amtrak running on time, operating safely, having clean passenger cars, providing friendly service and offering “great customer-facing technology?” Anderson would have you believe that running special trains are hindering Amtrak’s efforts to do those things.

There is likely more behind this policy change even if Anderson’s memo hints at what that might be when it speaks of focusing on Amtrak’s core mission.

Amid all of the chaff that I read on railfan chat list about the policy change was a thoughtful observation by someone who has seen Anderson use this playbook before.

The poster contended that when Anderson was CEO of Northwest Airlines, it was struggling financially and he discontinued most of the charter flights.

Northwest was devoting seven aircraft to this service, which accommodated professional sports teams among others. Anderson apparently feared that the liability if one of those charters had a catastrophe might wreck the airline.

But the move didn’t turn out to be permanent. After Anderson felt he had sufficiently turned things around the charters returned.

Northwest was later acquired by Delta Air Line, which Anderson also headed. Today Delta is one of the most prominent operators of charter flights for professional sports teams.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, for example, are a regular customer as are many NBA teams.

So the Amtrak policy change might not be permanent, although you never know. One of the first moves that former Amtrak president David Gunn made after taking office was to get the passenger carrier out of the business of hauling mail and express.

Gunn used some of the same arguments that Anderson made to justify banning special moves and charters.

That was more than a decade ago and Amtrak trains still don’t carry any mail. It sold its fleet of express cars.

Anderson may have philosophical reasons for banning special move, believing that Amtrak needs to do more to focus on its core mission.

Yet it is not clear if ending special moves was even his idea. He might have heard from field-level supervisors who have always disliked having to do something that is a non-standard operation.

And Anderson must answer to a board of directors and we don’t know what “direction” they have given him.

There is some thought that Class 1 railroads will follow Amtrak’s lead and impose even more stringent standards on the movement of passenger cars and passenger trains.

We’ve seen how the Wheeling & Lake Erie has banned all excursion trains and with a few limited exceptions won’t move passenger cars in ferry moves.

But I’m reminded of something that W&LE chief Larry Parsons said when I interviewed him for an article I did several years ago for Trains magazine.

The Wheeling had just lost some iron ore traffic and in asking him about it I used the word “forever” as in the business was lost forever.

Parsons responded that “forever is a very long time.”

Management changes and so do situations. People change their minds about how they view things. Some have described the Amtrak policy change as a work in progress and we haven’t heard the last word on the new policy.

Anderson’s memo left an opening for some special moves if they meet the railroad’s strategic goals. Those can be defined broadly or defined narrowly.

We are entering an era in which special moves and mainline steam will be rarer than they are now. But not necessarily nonexistent. Forever is, after all, a very long time.

Amtrak Policy Change Has Private Car Owners Scrambling

March 30, 2018

Amtrak’s recent decision to cease running charter trains and specials as well as to curtail carriage of privately-owned passenger cars on its trains has sent a trade organization scrambling to rally its members to seek to apply political pressure on the passenger carrier to reverse the decision.

The American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners sent a memorandum to its members this week urging them to contact lawmakers and opinion leaders about the significance of private cars but acknowledged that there is little it can do to attack Amtrak’s decision in court.

AAPRCO told its members in the memo that it is “working to get the most accurate information about the full extent of Amtrak’s policy, which may not yet be firmly in place, and to mount the strongest possible effort to push back against it.”

In the meantime, Amtrak’s decision has prompted the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society to delay selling tickets for a planned trip in Chicago in September behind its 2-8-4 Nickel Plate Road No. 765.

The steam locomotive is to pull excursions between Chicago and Joliet, Illinois, on track owned by commuter railroad Metra.

However, the Fort Wayne group relies on privately-owned cars that would use Amtrak trains and facilities to reach Chicago.

Several private car owners have reported in recent weeks that Amtrak has rejected some of their requests to move their cars.

Amtrak’s new policy pertaining to the carriage of private passenger cars will prohibit attaching and detaching those cars to Amtrak trains at points where an Amtrak train is scheduled to dwell for less than 30 minutes.

However, the carrier has yet to spell out in detail how it will handle private cars going forward.

“At this time, we feel it would be imprudent to open ticket sales as previously scheduled before we have more clarity on the situation,” said a Fort Wayne Society news release. “As such, this policy will force us to revisit our contractual agreements with car owners, re-confirm both their availability and costs, and confirm Amtrak’s ability to transport them to our venue. Amtrak’s participation was critical to last year’s Joliet Rocket trips.”

It is not know yet if these development will affect a planned visit of the NKP 765 to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in late September.

For those excursions, the FtWRHS uses CVSR’s own passenger fleet and does not need to bring in private passenger cars.

As for Amtrak’s policy change pertaining to charter trains and special trains, AAPRCO President Robert Donnelley told his members that the association’s annual convention and mid-year special trains are at risk.

“Amtrak’s stated rationale for these changes is that private varnish has the potential to worsen on-time performance, which is a major concern of President and CEO Richard Anderson,” Donnelley wrote. However, he took issue with that.

Another private car owner trade group, the Railroad Passenger Car Alliance said it has contacted Amtrak to express its concerns but it also has told its members that the implications of the Amtrak policy change are ominous.

“The policy as officially released on March 28, 2018, will have drastic effects on many private car owners, excursion operators, private companies, and tourism in many communities that utilize Amtrak’s service,” RPCA President W. Roger Fuehring told Trains magazine.

“As we move forward, we hope to have an open dialogue with Amtrak in regards to discussing this policy. We look forward to returning not only the revenue stream to Amtrak that we produce with our clientele, but the goodwill that we generate on behalf of Amtrak with every trip.”

One point of contention in talks with Amtrak and the private car owners will be how much revenue the national passenger carrier receives from fees charged to handle the cars.

AAPRCO contends that the private car business adds $10 million in gross revenues to Amtrak, but a recent Wall Street Journal article said it was $4 million.

The memo written by Amtrak President Anderson and sent to employees that announced the ban on most special moves and charters suggested that Amtrak has not been recovering its fully allocated costs for those trains and that they have become a distraction.

AAPRCO’s Donnelley has instructed his group’s members to talk up the importance of private passenger cars and the number of jobs associated with the industry.

His memo said this would include employment at shops and other vendor facilities that support private passenger cars.

The railroad preservation community has launched an online petition to protest Amtrak’s decision at the website change.org. The petition has received more than 450 signatures with a goal of 500.

Amtrak Wants Right to Sue Host Railroads over On-time Performance

March 13, 2018

Tucked away in Amtrak’s budget request for fiscal year 2019 is a plea to Congress to give the passenger the legal right to sue its host railroads for delaying its trains.

Amtrak wants to be able to seek legal remedies to protect its statutory right of preference by bringing “an action for equitable or other relief in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, or in any jurisdiction where Amtrak resides or is found, to enforce preference rights granted under this subsection.”

The requests follows setbacks in the lawsuits challenging certain provisions of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.

The Association of American Railroads challenged the process whereby on-time metrics were to be developed by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Specifically the AAR objected to allowing Amtrak to play a role in establishing the standards.

AAR won that battle when the courts ruled that Congress had unlawfully granted Amtrak regulatory power over the industry in which it participates.

When Amtrak brought three cases against its host railroads, using a Surface Transportation Board metric of 80 percent on-time performance in deciding pending cases, an appeals court ruled that the 80 percent standard had been tainted by the previous rulings.

Testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee recently, Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said, “We’ve never been able to get the preference right that Amtrak has, enforced . . . and we’d like a private right of action.”

Amtrak is also seeking legislative action to overturn a law that prohibits it from hiring lobbyists. It noted that its host railroads and labor unions are able to hire lobbyists.

The passenger carrier also wants changes to streamline its compliance with at-odds reporting requirements from multiple federal agencies, an exemption from Freedom of Information Act requests, and a law that will make it a federal crime to assault an Amtrak crew member.

Amtrak Backpedals on Talk of Ending Service on Routes Lacking PTC

March 7, 2018

On second thought never mind. Amtrak has quickly backpedaled on comments made by CEO Richard Anderson that lack of progress on installation of positive train control might result in the carrier ending service to Vermont.

 “Right now we have no plans to cease any service on any route,” Amtrak’s Bill Hollister told Vermont Business Magazine.

Of course the operative words in that statement are “at this time.” Amtrak didn’t say that ending service to Vermont would not occur. Yet it has signaled that it is unlikely.

The Green Mountain State funds trains linking the state with New York City from St. Albans (Vermonter) and Rutland (Ethan Allen Express).

Anderson had suggested the service might end due to lack of progress on installing PTC during a congressional hearing.

The issue is not the tracks in Vermont, which are not required by federal law to have PTC, but on those elsewhere.

Some U.S. railroads are facing a Dec. 31 deadline to install PTC and some are not expected to be able to make that deadline.

The strong adverse reaction of Vermont public officials to Anderson’s congressional remarks caught Amtrak off guard. But Vermont officials in turn were surprised by what Anderson said.

Dan Delabruere, director of Vermont’s Agency of Transportation’s Rail and Aviation Bureau said Anderson’s suggestion that the Vermonter and Ethan Allen Express would be suspended “kind of shocked a lot of people. We did not know this announcement was coming.”

At a recent meeting of the bureau’s advisory board, Bill Hollister, Amtrak’s senior manager of government affairs for state-supported services in the Northeast, tried to mend fences.

“I want to apologize to Vermont for all the angst [the Anderson statement] caused,” he said. Hollister said Amtrak “did not expect [a reaction] that strong.”

Delabruere said Vermont officials have had several conversations with Amtrak since Anderson’s testimony and learned that the passenger carrier is undertaking an analysis of safety risks on its route network and exploring remedies less onerous than the installation of PTC in Vermont and elsewhere, to address perceived safety risks.

“We’ve got to figure something out,” Delabruere said. “We don’t know what that’s going to mean for us. I can’t even speculate.”

In the meantime, Anderson somewhat softened the stance he took earlier. In testimony to a Senate committee on March 1, Anderson said Amtrak is “reevaluating” future service in light of safety concerns.

“We have to determine whether we continue to operate in non-PTC territory, and apply the principles of our safety management system to mitigate” risks on those rail routes,” he said. “We should establish PTC as the standard for passenger rail in America, including dark territory, and including covering the areas that are today excluded by the law.”

In response to a question from Senator Maggie Hassan (D-New Hampshire), Anderson said Amtrak has a research and development project underway “to determine whether we can use technologies from Europe that don’t require as much trackside investment, but that would give us speed restriction and signal location.”

“I’m not sure if Anderson even knew the implications of what he was saying,” said Ira Silverman, who worked in Amtrak management for 20 years. “The reality is, when he announces that he’s shutting these trains down, do you believe there isn’t going to be a political reaction?”

Hollister indicated after the meeting in Vermont that a compromise between the status quo and PTC implementation on all of Vermont’s Amtrak routes seems likely.

“The game plan is to work towards mitigation of risks,” he said, adding that it is an ongoing process in which Amtrak and its state partners will draft and implement plans to improve safety on Amtrak routes.

PTC Issues Could Sideline Vermont Trains

February 27, 2018

Amtrak service to Vermont could become a casualty of the wrangling over the installation and implementation of positive train control.

The state funds the Vermonter and Ethan Allen Express, both of which link the Green Mountain State with New York City.

In testimony given on Feb. 15 to a congressional committee, Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson noted that the tracks Amtrak uses in Vermont are exempt from a federal law that requires that PTC be installed by the end of 2018.

In his testimony, Anderson said he doubted that the Vermont services would continue operating as a result, but Amtrak later clarified that the passenger carrier has yet to make a decision on that.

Anderson had said that Amtrak won’t operate over tracks that are not in compliance with federal law pertaining to PTC.

“[f]or those instances, where we will not have PTC even after the 12/31 deadline because It’s not required by statute, we have a question about whether we’re going to operate at all, and I doubt we will,” Anderson told the committee.

The next day, though, Amtrak assistant vice president for operations Chris Jagodzinski said the carrier is launching a risk analysis of its 21,000 miles of routes.

Jogodizinski spoke at a meeting in Washington with the States for Passenger Rail Coalition with some state officials listening in via a conference call.

“They’re just having their first risk analysis meeting today,” said Dan Delabruere, who heads up Vermont’s passenger rail program at the Agency of Transportation.

Delabruere said Amtrak officials said that the scope of that analysis remains to be determined.

“There certainly wasn’t a hard, fast, ‘We’re going to stop’,” he said, referring to Jagodzinski’s comments in regards to Amtrak’s Vermont service.

Vermont public officials have rallied in support of saving the state’s service.

Senator Patrick Leahy said in an email statement, that Amtrak’s managers “have not made any decisions to halt service in Vermont or elsewhere. I will keep working to secure sufficient funding support for Amtrak so it has the resources it needs to continue providing safe service for Vermonters.”

Dan McLean, press representative for Senator Bernie Sanders, wrote, “Bernie does not want to see service suspended. But he does want to see PTC on all passenger and freight trains as soon as possible” as a matter of upgrading infrastructure.

The track used by the Vermonter is owned by the New England Central Railroad while Vermont Rail System owns rails used by the Ethan Allen Express.

Lee Khan, chairman of the Vermont Rail Action Network rail passenger service advocacy group thinks that Anderson is overreacting.

“It’s ridiculous. Our railroads have been safe – we have two of the safest short lines in the country,” she said. “It’s frightening . . . to cancel service. This is an economic driver in this state. It’s hard to imagine that Amtrak would do this. We’ll fight it every step of the way.”

Heartland Flyer Route PTC Compliant

February 20, 2018

Tracks used by Amtrak’s Oklahoma City-Fort Worth, Texas, Heartland Flyer are in compliance with federal law mandating installation of a positive train control system by the end of 2018.

A spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation said the BNSF rails used by the Flyer has a PTC system.

She made the comment in wake of testimony to Congress by Amtrak President and CEO Richard Anderson that passenger train service might be suspended on tracks that are not compliant with the PTC mandate.

Amtrak said it has PTC in place on tracks it owns in the Northeast and in Michigan.