Posts Tagged ‘Richard Anderson’

Amtrak Eyeing Major Revamp of Its Route Network

February 22, 2019

The big news concerning Amtrak this week was a report in the Wall Street Journal that Amtrak plans to revamp its route network to emphasize new corridors, primarily in the South and West.

The Journal quoted an unnamed Amtrak official as saying: “We are undertaking a major rethinking of the national network and how we offer service on the national network. That study and planning isn’t done yet, and we aren’t prepared to announce any plans or recommendations yet—those will come in our reauthorization proposal.”

The newspaper report said the route restructuring is being prompted in part by a need to replace or retire the aging Superliner fleet devoted to most long-distance trains.

Another factor is that Amtrak must be reauthorized by Congress later this year.

Amtrak officials have been hinting for at least a year at a change in the carrier’s business focus.

During a speech in California, Amtrak President Richard Anderson described the long-distance trains as experiential.

Anthony Coscia, the chairman of the Amtrak board of directors, told the Rail Passengers Association in a meeting last May that in the long term the overall shape of Amtrak’s national network is likely due to population shifts, demographic trends and economic growth.

Coscia expressed Amtrak’s desire to develop corridor routes with strong potential for growth in unserved or lightly served areas.

Writing on the Trains magazine website, columnist Fred Frailey said the implication of the report by the Wall Street Journal is that Amtrak wants to operate daylight service between large city pairs.

Frailey quoted at length the remarks of Amtrak’s Stephen Gardner, a senior executive vice president, at the Rail Trends meeting in New York City last November.

“We’re looking at a different America. They do not live half in the city and half in the country,” Gardner said. “Now the vast majority live in major metropolitan areas. And those metro areas are shifting. The Northeast will be a net loser.

“Where growth is happening is in the South, Mountain West and West. And guess who lives in those metro areas? It’s Millennials, by far.”

Gardner went on to say that this has resulted in a mismatch between population density, transportation demand and Amtrak’s current network.

Frailey speculated that what ultimately may occur is that some of Amtrak’s long-distance routes will be split into segments operating during the daytime.

He cited the example of the Chicago-New Orleans route, which might be broken into Chicago-Memphis and New Orleans-Memphis segments.

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Anderson Urges Funding for NEC Infrastructure

February 10, 2019

Amtrak President Richard Anderson doesn’t like to give interviews to news reporters or make many speeches in which he illustrates his vision of Amtrak.

He gave, though a glimpse of that last week during a congressional hearing infrastructure.

Anderson told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee “there are changes we need to make in our network and the way we do business to modernize from a ‘70s railroad to a railroad that will meet the demand of Millennials today.”

Anderson said that means meeting the demand that “is clearly there for additional short corridor service throughout the U.S, [including] both additional frequencies for existing routes and establishing new routes between city pairs.”

Anderson also addressed the future of Amtrak’s Beech Grove shops near Indianapolis.

After saying the carrier had no plans to close the facility or reduce its workforce, Anderson said, “but as we go down that process we have to be very mindful of its impact on our people.”

Anderson said Amtrak maintains equipment at several facilities, some of which it is in the process of rebuilding.

This includes facilities in Seattle; Oakland, California; New York (Sunnyside Yard); and Washington (Ivy City Engine Terminal).

“Over time, we have to re-fleet the Amtrak rolling stock,” Anderson said, “ . . . and over the longer term we have to figure out where we are going to do our maintenance work.

“I think the footprint is going to change over time because we’re moving to more modern equipment.”

Much of Anderson’s testimony focused on the need to rebuild bridges and tunnels in the Northeast Corridor.

Anderson warned that the failure of this infrastructure near New York “would effectively shut down economic activity in Manhattan” and “cut off (rail travel) from Maine to North Carolina and down to Florida.”

Saying the federal government has never had “an appetite to invest in the infrastructure up and down the Northeast Corridor,” Anderson said the Baltimore tunnels were dedicated by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1873.

“That’s typical of what we see in the Corridor, the spine of the Northeast,” Anderson said.

Amtrak has plans in place for such projects as replacement of the Portal Bridge in New Jersey and the North River tunnels under the Hudson River.

“There’s an inevitability that this is going to get built,” Anderson said. “So why [do] we spend all this time gyrating around? It’s not a Republican or Democratic issue, it’s an American issue, and what we ought to do is just fund it.”

The purpose of the hearing at which Anderson spoke was described by Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio of Oregon as an opportunity to sound “the alarm bells” for why investing in the nation’s transportation infrastructure can’t wait.

Passenger rail was not the only infrastructure need discussed. Committee members also called for investment in highways, waterways, ports, and airports.

Boardman Critical of Amtrak in Trains Interview

February 5, 2019

A former Amtrak president sharply criticized the management of his former employer, aiming many of his barbs at current Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson, but also being critical of former Amtrak head Charles “Wick” Moorman.

Joe Boardman

Joseph H. Boardman, who was president of Amtrak between November 2008 and September 2016, spoke during an interview with Trains magazine on such topics as rail safety, operations, and dining car service.

The interview was published in the April 2019 issue that recently has been arriving in the mailboxes of subscribers and hitting newstands.

“Cost has become a driver in a way that it has begun to damage the system,” Boardman said in the interview. “We had an overall revenue goal. But individual management goals that influence monetary bonuses were based on cost targets, not revenue. The incentive program needs to be revamped so cutting expenses is not the sole focus.”

Trains said it sought comment from Amtrak to Boardman’s statements and received a reply from a spokeswoman that defended an incentive plans to help improve performance that had been recommended by the Government Accounting Office and encouraged by Congress.

“Congress expects Amtrak to reduce costs, increase employee productivity and maximize the use of our resources and property,” the spokeswoman said.

The Amtrak statement said the incentive plan focuses on operating loss, customer service and ridership.

“Like any business, we want to strike a balance between reducing the costs of operations and growing the ridership and revenue associated with the service we provide. This isn’t an either-or proposition — our incentive plan aims to control costs and increase ridership and revenue. The better we are at providing service efficiently, the more resources we can invest into our long-standing capital needs and the more our customers will choose Amtrak as the way to travel,” the Amtrak statement said.

Anderson Continues to Draw Fire From Advocates

January 17, 2019

Amtrak President Richard Anderson continues to collection resolutions of “no confidence.”

One of the latest has come from the Lackawanna Coalition, a New Jersey-based passenger advocacy organization that is primarily concerned with New Jersey Transit service.

Writing in Railway Age, David Peter Allen, a member of the group, cited several policies by Anderson that would lead to decreased Congressional support for Amtrak, including discouraging riders by eliminating amenities and services.

Allen, a regular contributor of opinion columns to Railway Age, also cited a list of other advocacy groups that have expressed discontent with Anderson’s administration of Amtrak.

The New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers has also adopted a resolution expressing no confidence in Anderson as has the Rail Users’ Network.

Allen noted that RUN is the only national advocacy group to express “no confidence” in Anderson.

The Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance has objected to what it termed Amtrak’s airline-oriented business practices under Anderson.

Amtrak Food Workers Protest Potential Outsourcing

December 23, 2018

Amtrak’s onboard service employees continued to protest last week changes made in food and beverage service, including the potential outsourcing of their jobs.

The employees and their supporters held a rally in front of Boston’s South Station, the latest in a series of demonstrations seeking to bring to public attention changes in meal service and job losses.

Members of Amtrak’s unions fear that the carrier might seek to outsource as many of 1,700 of their members who work in food and beverage jobs.

They called for Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson to be fired, holding up posters of Anderson wearing a top hat with a cartoon-villain mustache drawn on his face.

The union members also gave out fliers of Anderson in a chef hat under the headline, “All aboard the coldcut express!”

Philly Solari Board Might Stay in Some Form

December 13, 2018

The Solari train information board at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia might be staying after all, a Pennsylvanian congressman said.

U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pennsylvania) said he spoke with Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson in a plea to save the 1970s era relic that Amtrak has said it plans to replace with a computerized state-of-the-art system.

Boyle said Anderson was receptive to the idea of keeping the Solari board at the station in some form.

Earlier news reports indicated the board would be given to a museum.

According to Boyle, Anderson suggested that the passenger carrier could either refurbish the board or replace it with a new model integrated into Amtrak’s computer network.

Some in Philadelphia have protested the pending removal of the Solari board, having grown accustomed to its whirling and clacking as it updates train information.

In late November Amtrak had issued a news release saying it planned to replace the Solari board, which is the last of its kind still in use in Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

However, Boyle said Amtrak hasn’t yet solicited bids from suppliers for the Solari’s replacement.

Boyle suggested that a newer model Solari-like information board might be acquired by Amtrak for use at 30th Street Station.

In announcing that the Solari board would be replaced, Amtrak said the Italian manufacturer of the board no longer makes replacement parts for it.

Amtrak Workers Contend Jobs in Jeopardy.

October 11, 2018

The union representing Amtrak food service workers believes that as many as 1,700 of its members may lose their jobs if Amtrak outsources its food service to a contractor.

Some of the union workers protested that prospect during a rally outside New York’s Penn Station this week.

Transport Workers Union International President John Samuelsen said Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson is “engaged in a slash-and-burn management plan.”

The approximately 100 Amtrak workers also decried Amtrak’s replacement of full-service dining aboard the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited with boxed meals, most of them served cold.

Amtrak acknowledged in a statement that it has cut 14 chef positions, but that all those affected who wanted another position with Amtrak were able to get one.

The Amtrak statement also contended that the change in meal service aboard the Lake Shore and Capitol has been well received by passengers.

Amtrak’s Transformation at Work in the Midwest

August 13, 2018

Last week Amtrak touted improvements it has made in its Midwest corridor network, including schedule adjustments to allow for more intra-Midwest connections and implementing student discount fares.

But in Amtrak’s statements was a hint that there might be another agenda at work.

It may be that Amtrak was doing nothing more than trying to get some marketing mileage from a series of relatively small steps. Yet if you view what was announced in a larger context you might see a transformation at work.

Throughout 2018, Amtrak has taken or talked about implementing actions that passenger advocates fear are designed or will weaken the carrier’s long-distance network.

In early June Amtrak yanked the full-service dining cars from the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

Last spring it sharply restricted the carriage of privately-owned passenger cars and all but eliminated special moves and charter trains.

Amtrak has talked about creating a bus bridge for its Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Dodge City, Kansas, rather than continue to operate over a BNSF segment in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico that lacks positive train control and over much of which Amtrak is the sole user and thus responsible for the maintenance costs of the rails.

The carrier also has changed its booking practices to make it more difficult for tour operators to book large blocks of sleeping car rooms.

A Trains magazine columnist wrote last week that he’s been told of Amtrak plans to remove chefs from the dining cars of the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

The columnist said he’s heard from passengers who’ve ridden long-distance trains lately that complimentary juice in sleeping cars is gone and coffee is being limited to one half-pot per day.

Fewer towels and bottles of water are being distributed to sleeping car passengers.

An amendment sponsored by Ohio senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown to force Amtrak to reopen ticket offices closed in a cost-cutting binge last spring was quietly removed from a transportation funding bill recently approved by the Senate.

Some passenger advocate see these and other moves as part of a larger plot to make long-distance trains unattractive so ridership will fall and management can make the case that the need for these trains isn’t there anymore.

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson has reportedly told state department of transportation officials that the carrier has studied chopping up long-distance routes into a series of corridors, each of them less than 750 miles in length.

That would force the states to fund those routes under the terms of a 2008 law that requires states to fund corridor routes that Amtrak had previously underwritten.

Those plans are not expected to be implemented immediately, but perhaps Amtrak management is just biding its time.

What does this have to do with the announcement about improvements to Midwest connectivity?

If Amtrak is seeking to re-invent itself as a provider of short- and medium-distance corridors it needs to show that it is developing a network of them.

Most people probably think of the Midwest corridors as ways to link cities in their state with Chicago.

Yes, some travelers connect in Chicago to other Amtrak trains, including the long-distance trains, but how many people think about getting on in Milwaukee and going to Detroit or St. Louis?

Well they might think about it and some do it every day, but Amtrak hasn’t always made such connections convenient. Some layovers last for hours.

The schedule changes made this summer are designed to address that, at least on paper, or in Amtrak’s case on pixels given that paper timetables are a thing of the past.

Amtrak touted its “new” schedules, noting that you can travel between Milwaukee and Detroit twice daily, and Milwaukee and St. Louis three times daily. Of course that means changing trains in Chicago.

To be sure, Amtrak gave a nod to the long-distance trains, noting that in making the departure of northbound Hiawatha train No. 333 from Chicago to Milwaukee later, it enabled connections from long-distance trains from the East Coast.

As for the student discount, it is 15 percent and designed for Midwest travel. Amtrak also plans to soon allow bicycles aboard the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State.

When the new Siemens Charger locomotives went into service on Midwest corridor trains, they came with the tagline “Amtrak Midwest.”

Those locomotives were purchased by the states underwriting Amtrak’s Midwest corridor routes. Those same states are also underwriting development of new passenger cars to be assigned to the Midwest corridor routes.

It is getting to the point where Amtrak is becoming a middleman of Midwest corridor routes, offering a station and maintenance facility in Chicago; operating, service and marketing support; and a brand.

For now, the state-funded corridors combined with the long-distance trains provide intercity rail passenger service to many regions of the Midwest, including to such states as Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio that do not currently fund Amtrak service.

That might well change if Amtrak follows through on its proposals to chop up the long-distance routes into state-funded corridors. Would Ohio step up to help pay for, say, a Chicago-Toledo, Chicago-Cleveland or Chicago-Pittsburgh  route in lieu of the Capitol Limited?

Would Iowa agree to fund a Chicago-Omaha train in lieu of the California Zephyr?

Would Minnesota agree to fund a Chicago-Minneapolis/St. Paul train in lieu of the Empire Builder? What about Chicago-Fargo, North Dakota, with funding from Minnesota and North Dakota?

I’m not optimistic about that.

Amtrak Workers Demand Meeting With Anderson

July 24, 2018

Members of Amtrak’s labor unions are demanding a meeting with CEO Richard Anderson to discuss changes being made at the carrier.

The workers are members of the Amtrak Service Workers Council, a coalition of unions representing Amtrak’s on board service employees who are unhappy about onboard service changes the carrier has made, in particular the ending of full-service dining on the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited.

Some union members who are represented by Transport Workers Union of America, UNITE-HERE, and the Transportation Communications Union/International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, staged a protest rally recently at Amtrak headquarters in Washington.

The unions are planning similar protests in New York and Chicago.

Anderson briefly spoke to union officials on July 18 and what was said at that time in dispute.

The unions contend that Anderson told the workers to set up a meeting with other Amtrak executives.

But in a statement, Amtrak contends that Anderson intends to meet with the workers to discuss the railroad’s plans to “upgrade the quality of our food and create a more contemporary style of service on some of our long distance trains.”

The unions and Amtrak are also at odds as to the effect of the food service changes.

Amtrak contended in its statement that employees affected by the change have been able to find new positions within the company.

But union officials counter that in reality jobs have been lost and the Amtrak statement fails to present a full picture of how employees have been affected.

John Feltz, a vice president for the TWU, said one Amtrak chef who previously worked on the East Coast now has is working out of New Orleans and being forced to spend more time away from his family getting to and from his assignment.

“Anderson says that no one is going to lose their jobs but he’s 100 percent wrong about that,” Feltz says.

Starting on June 1, Amtrak replaced full-service dining with boxed meals in a program it billed as “contemporary and fresh dining choices” that cater to the needs of a new generation of travelers and improve efficiency and costs.

Union members are also angry about how Amtrak management gave its members little warning of the change.

Feltz says Amtrak told the union in mid-April that it was considering a change to on board service and it wanted to get the views of union members before it announced the changes.

But hours later Amtrak went ahead with its plan to replace hot meals with cold boxed-meals.

Union officials are concerned that ending traditional dining service on two East Coast long distance train is the first step in an effort to eliminate more amenities aboard Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

“They’re trying to run this railroad like an airline,” Feltz said in a reference to Anderson’s previous job as CEO of Delta Airlines.

Another Senator Describes Meeting With Anderson to Discuss the S.W. Chief as Unsatisfactory

June 30, 2018

Add U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) to the list of those who were not satisfied with the meeting they recently had with Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson pertaining to the future of the Southwest Chief.

It was during that meeting, which also included elected officials from Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado, that Amtrak unveiled its plans to operate charter buses in lieu of the train between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Garden City, Kansas.

During his presentation, Anderson cited the high cost of installing positive train control on a portion of the Chief’s route as the justification for the bus service.

Anderson also mentioned the high costs of maintaining the route.

Moran, through, said he is not supportive of this position and will push Amtrak to provide an appropriate level of passenger service.

The meeting had come about because the congressional delegations from the three states had been dismayed by an Amtrak announcement that it would not provide $3 million as a matching grant to a federal TIGER grant obtained by Colfax County, New Mexico, to be used to rebuild the tracks used by the Chief in that state.

In a letter to public officials along the route Amtrak said he wanted to see a comprehensive funding plan to rebuild the entire route in western Kansas, southeast Colorado and northern New Mexico before committing the money.

Also attending the meeting were senators Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico).

Moran described the meeting as unsatisfactory and said the senators “wanted to make it clear that from our perspective they needed to keep their commitment. Nothing came from the meeting that said they were willing to do that. The result we were looking for did not occur.

“The end result of the meeting with Mr. Anderson and a bunch of his staff was certainly no suggestion that their mind had been changed,” Moran said. “Then the conversation devolved into a slide presentation and conversation by Mr. Anderson about the financial challenges of the system and systemic issues of the current Southwest Chief route.”

Amtrak contends that the cost of installing PTC on 219 miles of BNSF track of which the Chief is the sole user in Colorado and New Mexico would cost $55 million.

The carrier said it didn’t want to be involved in the installation of PTC on another section of tracks used by the Chief in New Mexico that are owned by commuter operator Rail Runner.

Moran said the actions that he is considering taking to pressure Amtrak include placing a hold on two nominations for the Amtrak board of directors and placing language in an appropriations bill that would require consultation with affected communities before Amtrak can make any changes to its “terms of service.”

Heinrich of New Mexico criticized Amtrak for not being upfront about its plans to institute the bus bridge.

Like Moran, Heinrich described the meeting with Anderson as unsatisfactory.

“The lack of transparency by Amtrak management about its changing position on the Southwest Chief is deeply troubling, particularly for a government-sponsored enterprise entrusted with an important public transportation mission,” Heinrich said. “We have a strong, bipartisan coalition working together to protect the Southwest Chief and we are going to do everything we can to ensure its continued success.”

In the meantime, Trains magazine reported that BNSF officials have said it remains committed to honoring its financial and maintenance commitment to the Chief’s route as soon as Amtrak honors its $3 million TIGER grant match.

“We stand ready to proceed with our match and the same arrangement — maintaining the line at a Class 4 (79 mph maximum speed) for 20 years once all the bolted rail is replaced — for this TIGER 9 grant as we have promised for the TIGER 6 and 7 grants,” said Rich Wessler, BNSF Railway’s Director of Passenger Operations,

Amtrak had matched TIGER funding provided for two previous projects to rebuild the route used by the Chief.

Some local officials who have championed saving the Chief now feel betrayed by Amtrak.

“Amtrak came to us years ago and asked us for help, and this is what we get?” said Rick Klein, city manager of La Junta, Colorado. “The only way rural America becomes flyover country is if Amtrak makes it. The U.S. is not a nation of coasts or sharply defined corridors. It’s one nation.”  Klein said he received personal assurances from BNSF assistant vice president D. J. Mitchell that BNSF will provide its share of funding once Amtrak hands over its funding share.