Posts Tagged ‘Richard Anderson’

Gleaning Insights Into Mr. Anderson

July 11, 2019

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson is not one for giving interviews so much of what we know about his views of the future of his railroad must be gleaned from his public behavior and statements made in Congressional hearings.

The Wall Street Journal recently published a profile of Anderson that portrayed him as being stubborn, focused and the type of person who loves a good fight.

The article mentioned a June 2018 meeting that Anderson had with a group of six U.S. senators and one congressman about the fate of the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

At the time, Amtrak was proposing operating the train between Chicago and Dodge City, Kansas; and between Los Angeles and Albuquerque.

Passengers would ride a bus for the 475-mile gap between Kansas and Albuquerque.

The sticking point was Amtrak’s refusal to pay to install positive train control on the BNSF route over Raton Pass near the Colorado-New Mexico border.

BNSF has little to no freight traffic on the route and won’t pay for it and Anderson told the lawmakers that the PTC issue was for Amtrak a “math problem.”

Anderson repeatedly insisted Amtrak would implement “alternative solutions.”

The Amtrak CEO’s intransigence angered Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico. He angrily walked out of the meeting after saying, “These are not solutions. “These are not solutions our constituents deserve!”

The newspaper suggested the meeting illustrated how Anderson’s doggedness can become arrogance.

“There was zero deference [on Anderson’s part],” the newspaper quoted one person who was in the Southwest Chief meeting as saying of Anderson.
As it turned out, the senators pushed through a clause in Amtrak’s fiscal year 2019 appropriation mandating the Chief to remain an all-rail operation until at least Sept. 30, 2019.

There are a number of takeaways from the article that provide some insight into Mr. Anderson’s thinking.

He came to the passenger carrier determined to cut costs, streamline operations and reduce Amtrak’s deficit.

In short, Anderson is laser focused on efficiency, increasing revenue and seeking to do something that has never been done at Amtrak in its 48-year history even if his predecessors often talked about it: Breaking even.

The article suggested that Anderson was brought aboard at Amtrak after an airline career that included serving as CEO at Delta and Northwest specifically to stabilize the railroad’s finances and improve its reliability.

Anderson said that by cutting costs and teasing new revenue from the carrier’s commercial partners Amtrak could reduce its operating loss from $170.6 million in 2018 to zero by 2021.
The article said Amtrak’s annual adjusted operating loss, which excludes capital expenditures and some other costs, will fall to zero over the next year.

“We took many steps to streamline the company so that we could free up investment in the core product,” Anderson in an interview with a WSJ reporter.
The carrier has been building up cash as it prepares to invest in infrastructure repairs and new equipment.

Anderson is not opposed to public funding and noted that all modes of transportation benefit from it.

He told the WSJ reporter in an interview that he knows from his experience in the airline industry about dependence on government-funded infrastructure.

“No one thinks twice about the fact that the federal government maintains the locks and dams system on the Mississippi River, right?” he said.

As Anderson sees it, what is at stake is credibility with Congress. That, in turn, will result in a greater likelihood that lawmakers will agree to requests for funding for new rail passenger cars and infrastructure projects in the Northeast Corridor.

He also argues that if Amtrak is in a better financial position it will be better able to attract private investors to help fund those projects.

Next year Congress will take up reauthorizing Amtrak and there are bound to be conflicts over its finances and the level and type of services that it provides.

In Anderson’s eyes, the Northeast Corridor is profitable and the long-distance routes are not. Hence, Anderson may believe that the latter are a barrier that needs to be surmounted to reach the break-even point if not profitability.

Critics have taken issue with Anderson and Amtrak’s assertions of how profitable the Northeast Corridor is and how much money the 15 long-distance trains lose. But that is a debate for another time.

The WSJ article listed a number of cost cutting measures that Anderson has imposed since coming to Amtrak in July 2017.

It has quit some travel industry trade groups, cut nearly 200 consultants and ended 400 management positions in a 2017 buyout.

Scores of phone and fax lines were removed and Anderson canceled a plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars building a dedicated wireless network along the Northeast Corridor to improve Wi-Fi service.

He also discarded a project to place TV screens in the seat backs of Amfleet cars.

Some cost cutting moves have raised the ire of unions representing Amtrak workers including the closing of a California call center and plans to reduce the ranks of the Amtrak police department.

Private car owners howled in protest when Amtrak increased charges to carry private rail cars and sharply decreased the number of stations at which private cars could be added or removed from a train.

As Anderson saw it, doing the latter at intermediate points was a source of delay to Amtrak trains.

And, of course, there is the on-going fight over the carrier’s long-distance trains.

Anderson acknowledged that he hasn’t won every battle.  “Everything takes longer than I want it to take,” he said.

The article portrayed Anderson as unapologetic about his efforts to force Amtrak to change and his willingness to forge his own path forward even if that makes him something of a lone wolf.

While at Delta he pulled the airline out of an industry trade association because he disagreed with its position of privatizing the air traffic control system in the United States.

Safety has been a major concern of Anderson’s but his airline centric views have raised hackles in a railroad world used to doing things in certain ways.

Anderson has pushed Amtrak’s host railroads to work harder and faster to install and implement positive train control systems.

Under his watch, Amtrak has sought to borrow some safety practices from the airline industry, notably imposing a no-fault method of reporting risks and near misses.

But implementing another proposal that Anderson favors will require talking the Federal Railroad Administration into changing its rules. That could be a tall order.

The FRA prohibits the use of cell phones, tables and screens in locomotive cabs, arguing that they could be a distraction to locomotive engineers who must remain focused on the track ahead of them.

Those rules were adopted after cell phone use and texting were implicated in a series of fatal accidents.

Anderson believes that tablets containing moving map displays would help locomotive engineers in the same manner that use of tablets in airplane flight decks provide pilots with weather alerts and other advisories.

Yet one locomotive engineer quoted by the WSJ who opposes the idea underscored the challenge facing Anderson in trying to change railroad safety culture. “A cow can’t walk in front of you at 30,000 feet,” he said.

Amtrak Makes Changes in Executive Ranks

June 7, 2019

Amtrak has made two changes in its upper executive ranks.

It has named Tracie Winbigler as executive vice president and chief financial officer, and appointed Stephen Gardner as chief operating and commercial officer.

Winbigler will join Amtrak on June 24 and be responsible for the carrier’s finance, treasury, accounting and control functions.

She most recently served as CFO at Recreational Equipment Incorporated and before that spent three years at National Geographic where she served as chief operating officer for part of her time there.

Gardner has been named to a newly created position and will report directly to Amtrak President Richard Anderson.

Gardner will be responsible for Amtrak’s day-to-day operations. Other duties will include overseeing the annual operating plan and strengthening coordination between functions across the railroad

He will oversee Amtrak’s operations, administration, marketing, strategy and planning, information technology, product development and customer experience, government affairs and corporate communications functions.

Gardner is already a senior executive vice president at Amtrak, a post he has held since December 2018.

Long-Distance Trains Likely Safe Through FY2020

May 27, 2019

Amtrak has signaled to Congress that it may not support continuation of all current long-distance trains when it sends its proposed reauthorization proposal to Capitol Hill this fall.

In a letter to Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said the carrier plans to continue operating the existing long-distance network through fiscal year 2020.

However, Anderson said the carrier intends to have a conversation with Congress and its stakeholders regarding the future of its long-distance network.

Anderson said the carrier believes there is a future for “high-quality long-distance trains,” but it also believes that the size, nature and roles need to be reviewed.

He said Amtrak will include options and recommendations in its reauthorization proposal to improve the national network, including the long-distance routes.

Anderson was responding to a letter sent to him by eleven senators posing questions about the future of the national network.

Moran told the Kansas New Service that he expects Congress to use the annual appropriations process to mandate that Amtrak continue serving its existing long-distance routes.

But Moran cautioned that it will still need a fight.

“I need to make sure that Amtrak, its board of directors, its management has a commitment to long-term passenger services in places in the country in which it’s not probably ever going to be profitable,” he said,.

Moran said he will continue to hold all nominees to Amtrak’s board of directors until he gets assurances that the Southwest Chief will continue to operate over the length of its Chicago to Los Angeles route as is.

Amtrak Touts Increased Ridership in FY2019

May 3, 2019

Amtrak said this week that ridership in fiscal year 2019 is up 1.3 percent over where it was in March 2018 and that the passenger carrier is on pace to reach the break-even mark in operating earnings by FY2021.

If the performance thus far holds up for the remainder of FY2019, Amtrak said this would make its best performing year in its 48 years of operation.

President Richard Anderson said in a statement that Amtrak is experiencing record growth and is seeking to develop new markets that now have limited or no intercity-rail service.

Anderson’s statement spoke of a changing landscape in America.

The news release also said that Amtrak is investing billions of dollars into modernizing its aging infrastructure, fleet and facilities as much of its rolling stock and locomotives near the end of their useful lives.

Some infrastructure that Amtrak uses dates to the early 1900s.

11 Senators Want National Network Commitment

April 21, 2019

Eleven U.S. Senators have asked Amtrak to affirm its support of a national rail network.

The letter was sent to Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson by the six senators from Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico.

Also signing the letter were senators from Nevada, West Virginia, Arizona, Montana and Illinois.

The letter asked Anderson to respond by April 29 and to make a “firm commitment that Amtrak will abide by its statutory purpose — maintaining a truly national network for our rail system.”

The senators said that Amtrak was created to create a “web of essential connections that bind our country together.”

Citing recent congressional testimony, fleet and service planning documents, and language in Amtrak’s 2020 budget request, the senators cited seven areas of concern.

Those include questionable cost allocation accounting; plans to either truncate long-distance routes or attempt to have states pay for them; discussions Amtrak has had with host railroads or states about adding short-distance frequencies; a  challenge to Amtrak’s claim that demand for its interstate services is declining, citing figures indicating an increase “in spite of worsening on-time performance, capacity reductions and other changes to service levels; the effect of removing ticket agents at stations, and a question why “Amtrak calculates ridership boardings on weekly totals on routes that do not run daily.”; policies that would help Amtrak improve host railroad on-time performance; and a request for a timeline to put 25 new Viewliner II sleeping cars into service, noting that sleeping cars provide approximately 40-50 percent of the revenue on many long distance trains.

Minn. Gov., Anderson Meet About Duluth Service

March 29, 2019

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz met recently with Amtrak President Richard Anderson to discuss the proposed Northern Lights Express project, but no agreement was apparently reached.

The governor said in a Facebook post that Anderson said the national passenger carrier is ready to work with the state on the project, which would reinstate intercity rail passenger service between the Twin Cities and Duluth, Minnesota.

Another Amtrak official expressed the carrier’s interest in the project during a visit to the state earlier this month.

The Northern Lights Express is projected to operate between a station near Target Field in Minneapolis and make intermediate stops in Minnesota at Coon Rapids, Cambridge and Hinckley, and in Wisconsin in Superior.

The 150-mile line would use BNSF rails. Amtrak’s North Star served that route through April 7, 1985, when Minnesota ceased funding the train.

Congress Wants More Info on Chicago Disruption

March 15, 2019

Some members of Congress aren’t satisfied with Amtrak’s explanation that human error caused a service breakdown at Chicago Union Station that delayed Amtrak and Metra trains.

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipkinski, the chairman of the House subcommittee on railroads, has asked Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson to more thoroughly explain what caused the service disruption that affected 100,000 passengers.

Anderson has been given until March 29 to answer nine questions that Lipinski’s committee has posed.

The service disruption occurred on Feb. 28 and lasted for more than 12 hours.

In a public statement issued by Anderson, Amtrak took responsibility for the computer problems that triggered the service disruptions.

The statement said that the human error occurred as the carrier was conducting a software upgrade on a computer server.

However, Amtrak’s statement did not explain why that upgrade was being conducted during rush hour. The computer problems affected the dispatch control system, which in turn lines signals and switches.

One of the questions asked by the congressional committee is why the upgrade was being conducted at the time of the day that it was.

Some computer experts have said such upgrades are typically conducted during nighttime hours or on weekends to minimize a system crash should it occur.

Subsequent news reports indicated that the “human error” was a worker falling or colliding with the circuit system.

The letter to Anderson also seeks to determine if Amtrak has considered reimbursing those who paid for alternate means of traveling home, including by ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft.

Some news reports claim that some Metra commuters paid as much as $125 as a result of “surge pricing.”

Lipinski said he met with Anderson recently in Washington and was provided some “initial details” about the service disruption.

“I appreciated the candor CEO Anderson displayed when he met with me and accepted responsibility for the failures that led to the chaos at Union Station,” Lipinski said in a statement accompanying the letter.

“However, we need more than contrition and an acknowledgment of what went wrong in order to make sure this doesn’t happen again and to compensate passengers. I’ve asked him to conduct an in-depth review of Amtrak’s policies and procedures and present a corrective action plan to help build back the public’s confidence in our rail system and give commuters the reliable service they should expect.”

Anderson has said that Amtrak would take steps to improve operations in Chicago, including the naming of a “a veteran Amtrak executive to make sure we deliver the performance our stakeholders expect of us.”

During the service disruption, Amtrak dispatchers had to manually operate signals and switches, and only allowed one train at a time to move.

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.

91 Congressmen Want Answers From Anderson

March 4, 2019

Ninety-one members of Congress have a few bones to pick with Amtrak.

The representatives recently sent a letter to Amtrak President Richard Anderson posing a series of questions about certain facets of Amtrak service, including changes made in the past year that have triggered protest.

The letter, which was created by House Transportation & Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) and House T&I Railroad Subcommittee Chair Dan Lipinski (D-Illinois) came in response to news reports that Amtrak will propose expanding corridor service in the Southeast and West at the expense of long-distance routes.

Among other things the letter also asks about such moves as removing full-service dining from the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited last June, the closing of numerous ticket offices across the country, and changes to fees and policies pertaining to the carriage of privately-owned rail passenger cars.

The 11-page letter contains three pages of observations and questions with most of it devoted to the signatures of the 91 signers, which included 88 Democrats and three Republicans.

Other matters raised in the letter include changes made at reservation call centers and expected changes to maintenance facilities.

The letter cited a statutory responsibility that Amtrak has to provide a national intercity passenger rail network “that includes state-supported and long-distance routes in addition to the (Northeast Corridor).”

The legislators asked Anderson to respond by March 8.

Human Error Blamed for Chicago Service Issues

March 3, 2019

A reported “human error” that disrupted Amtrak and Metra service at Chicago Union Station on Thursday turned out to be a worker falling onto a circuit board that in turn turned off computers used to oversee train operations.

The computers in question operate signals at the station. The service interruption occurred for much of the day.

Amtrak President Richard Anderson issued a statement on Friday blaming human error for the service disruptions, but didn’t explain what that was.

The workers who fell on the circuit board wasn’t the only cause of the 12-hour problem.

Amtrak also had decided to conduct a server upgrade to its computers during peak hours of service rather than during the middle of the night when only a handful of trains would be operating.

In his statement, Anderson acknowledged that the passenger carrier failed to provide the service that its passengers and Metra riders expect.

“We own the system. We will fix this problem. More importantly, we are taking steps to improve our operations in Chicago, which include appointing a veteran Amtrak executive to make sure we deliver the performance our stakeholders expect of us,” Anderson said.

Metra service had returned to normal by Friday morning after signal operations were disrupted starting Thursday morning.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said workers had to shift from automated to manual control of signals and switches and that caused delays.

The signal problems began on Thursday at 8:35 a.m. and trains between Union Station and Western Avenue were halted about an hour later.

Although some delays were brief, other trains were delayed for almost three hour.

Metra shifted to a “load and go” operations plan for trains on its BNSF line between Chicago and Aurora, Illinois, its busiest route in Chicago.

Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited did not depart Chicago until 2:28 a.m., nearly five hours late.