Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Gardner’

The Tennessee Passenger Expansion Waltz: A Serious Proposal or Just a Talking Point for Public Consumption?

January 18, 2020

The news this past week that an Amtrak executive spoke to a Tennessee legislative transportation committee is being seen by some as the first tangible step that Amtrak is moving to seek to implement a vision that CEO Richard Anderson has been articulating for more than a year.

Anderson and Amtrak senior vice president Stephen Gardner have spoken in interviews and occasional appearances about transforming Amtrak’s route network to one more focused on corridor service between urban centers, particularly growing metropolitan areas.

They repeatedly have hammered home the point that many of the nation’s fastest growing cities are unserved by Amtrak or underserved by trains arriving at inconvenient hours.

Such talk has alarmed many rail passenger advocates who see is as code language that means dismantling the carrier’s long-distance routes.

Indeed Anderson and Gardner have been bad mouthing long-distance trains, saying they lose money and could be restructured into the type of corridor services they have described in principle.

Amtrak’s aborted efforts to truncate the route of the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief by creating a bus bridge between western Kansas and Albuquerque is often cited as Exhibit A of Anderson’s plan to kill long-distance passenger trains aside from one or two “experiential trains.”

Waltzing in Tennessee

The appearance of Ray Lang, Amtrak’s senior director of government affairs, at a meeting of the Tennessee House Transportation Committee was significant for a number of reasons, but two in particular stand out.

First, it was the first time Amtrak has named a specific route that fits the criteria that Anderson and Gardner have been talking up.

That route would link Atlanta and Nashville, but Lang also talked about extending a pair of Midwest corridor trains to Memphis.

Second, it offered concrete proof that Amtrak expects state and local governments to pay for its vision of the future of rail passenger travel.

It is not clear why Amtrak chose Tennessee as the opening act for what promises to be lengthy process.

Perhaps Amtrak has quietly sounded out other states on their interest in ponying up money for new rail passenger service and we just haven’t heard about it.

Or perhaps Amtrak projects the Tennessee routes as among the most likely to succeed.

The news reports out of the Volunteer State generally portrayed a favorable reception to Amtrak’s proposals with some legislators speaking well of the prospect of rail passenger service where none exists now.

Atlanta and Nashville have never been linked by Amtrak and Tennessee’s capitol has been off the Amtrak route network since the Floridian makes its final trips between Chicago and Florida in early October 1979.

Amtrak probably viewed its road show in Nashville as a first step. It might also have been seeking to gauge the interest of Tennessee lawmakers in funding the service.

An Amtrak spokesman and CSX executive said as much.

“We are also talking to current state partners regarding how additional frequencies might be implemented,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari to Trains magazine.

“This is the first we’re seeing of this,” CSX State Government and Community Affairs VP Jane Covington said during the committee hearing.

Covington said it was her understanding that Amtrak was trying “to simply gauge the state’s interest.”

Whatever the case, nothing is imminent and there is no assurance that the routes discussed will ever operate.

There are numerous hurdles the service needs to clear starting with the willingness of Tennessee legislators to spend the money to underwrite the operating losses of the trains, which have been estimated at $3 million annually.

State and local governments also will likely be asked to advance money for capital expenditures on such things as stations.

Warning Shots Fired

Other players in the process will also play a role in whether the trains operate.

Chief among them is would-be host railroad CSX.

CSX’s Covington fired a warning shot across the bow in saying, “introducing passenger trains to heavily used freight lines will be a complex, costly process.

“And I understand that you guys are hearing from your constituents about the crowded roads, and you’re obviously looking for solutions to that. But we want to make sure you do it in a way to make sure it doesn’t backfire and divert freight off the rails and onto the highways.”

That’s another way of saying that CSX will demand some very expensive infrastructure improvements as the price of agreeing to host the trains.

More than likely the price tag for those projects will be more than state lawmakers are willing to pay for a service that Amtrak said will lose money.

Another player will be the Illinois Department of Transportation, which funds the trains now operating between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois, that Amtrak has proposed extending to Memphis.

Amtrak spokesman Magliari said it would be relatively easy to have the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini serve Memphis because Amtrak already has crews based in Carbondale who operate the City of New Orleans on host railroad Canadian National between Carbondale and Memphis.

But what looks easy or even possible on paper may not be so in practice. IDOT will want assurance that its interests won’t be harmed in any rescheduling of the trains.

An unknown about the additional service to Memphis is whether the state of Kentucky would be willing to help fund trains that run through their state.

Looming in the background is the Sept. 30 expiration of the current surface transportation act that authorizes Amtrak funding among other things.

No one in Congress has yet released to the public a draft surface transportation bill and details about what those drafts will ultimately contain have been scarce.

“It’s going to take anywhere from 12 to 24 months to redo the surface transportation bill,” said Amtrak’s Lang in the legislature hearing.

He reiterated the rhetoric that Anderson and Gardner have been using in suggesting that without a restructuring of its route network Amtrak will wither away.

“We think this presents us an opportunity to really transform the company,” Lang said.

Magliari echoed that theme in his interview with Trains when he said the passenger carrier is engaging in outreach efforts to enlist future support from states now underserved by outlining what routes might be viable.

History Lessons

At the time that Amtrak began in May 1971, the only intercity passenger service between Nashville and Atlanta was the former Georgian of the Louisville & Nashville.

That train operated with single coach between St. Louis and Atlanta and had a travel time of seven hours between Nashville and Atlanta.

Amtrak’s Chicago-Florida route served Nashville but not via Atlanta.

The planners who set up Amtrak’s initial route network considered operating between Nashville and Atlanta but declined to do so due to difficult operating conditions, including a top speed of 40 miles per hour between Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Atlanta.

Another complication was that Amtrak would need to build a station in Georgia’s capitol city.

The Floridian was one of Amtrak’s most troubled trains and then Amtrak President Paul Resitrup said in 1977 that its future was hopeless unless it could be routeded via Atlanta.

In April 1978 Amtrak announced a preliminary plan to route the Floridian via Atlanta, but it fell apart when L&N refused to host the train, citing freight train congestion.

The Southern Railway demanded $20 million in track improvements as its price for hosting the Floridian to Atlanta.

The Floridian never made it to Atlanta before its 1979 discontinuance.

In October 1989 Congress directed Amtrak to study resuming service between Chicago and Florida via Atlanta.

That plan has the support of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, which hosted a conference at which then Amtrak President W. Graham Claytor Jr. said the train would only become reality with financial support from the states along the route.

That never materialized and opposition from CSX and Norfolk Southern torpedoed a demonstration route during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Claytor was involved in another effort to revive passenger service to Atlanta in the early 2000s.

That proposal was to extend the Kentucky Cardinal to Nashville from Louisville and a test train ran over the route in December 2001.

Amtrak told CSX it wanted to extend the Kentucky Cardinal over the 181-mile route once owned by L&N and used by the Floridian.

Claytor told a congressional committee he was bending over backwards and making every effort to get passenger service to Nashville.

Apparently Claytor couldn’t bend far enough or do enough because Amtrak still hasn’t returned to Nashville.

Political Strategy

All involved have been careful to emphasize that the proposed Nashville-Atlanta service is still in the idea stage.

Much needs to happen to make this train a reality and a best case scenario is it will be four to five years – or more – before the Music City Peach or whatever name it is given appears in the Amtrak timetable.

You have to wonder just how serious Amtrak is about its vision of bringing frequent daylight service to unserved or underserved corridors linking growing metropolitan areas.

Lang said this week in Nashville, “Our route map doesn’t really reflect where the nation’s population has shifted to — places like Nashville, Louisville, Columbus and Las Vegas that we don’t serve at all.”

Those make for good talking points, but Amtrak management must know based on its experience in working with host railroads how obstinate and demanding they can be.

It also must know that asking states for money is one thing but getting it is another. Remember the Hoosier State?

The Rail Passengers Association commented on its website on Friday, “CSX is required by law to host Amtrak trains, but has the ability to price state DOTs and Amtrak out of the market if it so chooses.”

RPA, Amtrak and anyone who has paid any attention at all to the behavior of Amtrak’s host railroads knows how they have wielded that power on multiple occasions.

Rail passenger advocates by nature must put on an optimistic face so RPA also said this about Tennessee service expansion proposal: “State officials will have to act accordingly, and work to bring all stakeholder groups onboard.”

That is much easier said than done particularly given that Tennessee has never funded Amtrak service and it is not know how committed state policy makers are to seeing through what Amtrak has proposed.

Has any else noticed that no one is talking about whether the Nashville-Atlanta service will need funding from Georgia, another state that has never funded Amtrak service?

This is not to say it can’t be done, but it won’t be easy and going into this process the odds are stacked against the prospect.

Amtrak’s top management probably has convinced itself that it really can have the type of network that Anderson and Gardner keep harping about.

But are they serious? Or is this just another talking point to be used to strategic advantage to provide political cover as management goes about scuttling the long-distance trains?

Amtrak could offer its plan to, say, carve up the route of the Capitol Limited into a Chicago-Pittsburgh service funded by Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

When that funding fails to materialize, Amtrak can say it tried to “save” service to those states but their elected lawmakers declined to pay for it.

Don’t blame us, go talk to the folks in Harrisburg, Columbus, Indianapolis and Springfield because they’re the ones who made the decision.

It remains to be seen if Amtrak is actually going to release a master plan that spells out what specific new services it envisions.

That plan, if is exists, will look impressive and get a lot of people excited just as the Amtrak road show in Tennessee did this week.

But I can’t help but wonder if it will be just another plan that winds up sitting in a drawer somewhere as Amtrak shrinks to a company with service in the Northeast and a few other state-supported corridors.

Railroad Trade Magazine Profiles Amtrak

December 13, 2019

A recent feature story published by trade publication Progressive Railroading about Amtrak on the eve of its 50th anniversary said little new and gave only vague hints of what the future might be for the intercity rail passenger carrier.

The story reviewed the carrier’s recent financial and ridership numbers and highlighted some of the steps it has taken to reduce operating expenses.

It also reviewed how Amtrak has been overhauling the interiors of its rolling stock devoted to corridor service and plans to buy new equipment to be used for both corridor and long-distance services.

It is information that has widely been reported before including by the railroad trade press.

The magazine interviewed Amtrak Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Operating and Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner but did not speak with CEO Richard Anderson, although some of his congressional testimony was reported.

Although providing a fairly comprehensive overview of where Amtrak stands in 2019, that view was largely from an Amtrak centric perspective.

Amtrak executives have said they are working on a restructuring of the carrier’s route network and the Progressive Railroading article said the new national network will be sent to Congress next year in time for consideration before the next surface transportation authorization legislation is worked out.

The article said the restructured network is expected to include corridor and long distance routes.

As part of that planning process, Amtrak staff members have been meeting with state department of transportation officials and other unidentified stakeholders “to learn of their preferences.”

“Suffice it to say, we see opportunities for growth across the continental United States,” Gardner said in his interview. “But there are some obvious places — particularly in the Southeast, the Mountain West and the South — where you see growth in cities and a dearth of Amtrak service.”

He said six of the eight major metropolitan areas that have grown the fastest since 1971 — Tampa, Florida, Atlanta, Denver, Phoenix, Houston and Riverside, California — are minimally served by Amtrak.

The article can be found at https://www.progressiverailroading.com/amtrak/article/Amtrak-at-nearly-50-The-railroad-faces-its-next-chapter–59244

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.

Newman Gets Promotion at Amtrak

April 23, 2019

Dennis Newman has been named by Amtrak to be its executive vice president, planning and strategy.

He joined Amtrak in December 2017 as Amtrak’s vice president of planning, strategy and research.

Before coming to Amtrak, Newman worked for Dish Network as vice president of sales. He also did stints at Northwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines for more than 17 years.

In a news release, Amtrak said that the corporate planning and strategy functions led by Newman and the commercial and marketing functions headed by Roger Harris will become separate entities within the group led by Stephen Gardner, senior executive vice president of commercial, marketing and strategy.

Previously, both of those functions reported to Chief Marketing and Commercial Officer Tim Griffin, who recently retired from Amtrak.

Will Buses Replace Corridor Trains, Too?

March 17, 2019

The Rail Passengers Association said last week that the proposed Trump administration federal budget would not just eliminate long-distance trains it would also replace some corridor trains with subsidized bus service.

In a blog posting on the RPA website, the rail passenger advocacy group did not provide any details of the bus for train proposal, noting that the full budget will not be available until March 18 and many of the details are still unclear.

However, RPA said that federal transportation officials have signaled that they do not support using federal dollars for what they see as local responsibilities.

This includes the proposed new Hudson River rail tunnels. “Transit projects are local responsibilities, and elected officials from New York and New Jersey are the ones accountable for them,” said DOT Deputy Secretary Jeffrey Rosen.

The budget proposal released last week by the administration suggested that long-distance trains be replaced by buses.

At a House committee hearing last week Amtrak Senior Executive Vice President Stephen Gardner was asked about that and responded that the carrier is itself seeking to better understand the administration’s proposal.

However, Gardner told the committee that Amtrak wants to launch a series of new corridor services, noting that some of those corridors now exist within the confines of Amtrak’s long-distance network.

“There are a core set of long-distance routes which we think make sense in the future of the [national] network and for which federal support will be necessary,” he said.

“There are a number of routes which we do think have opportunity for expanded corridor service, and of course we today have, through the Section 209 of PRIIA, a strong partnership with states to support and fund corridor services.

“Many corridors exist today on long-distance routes, so there are opportunities to have corridors that today are served by long-distance trains served instead by corridor trains.”

One example of that would be Chicago-Twin Cities, which is part of the route of the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Gardner acknowledged that creating these corridors will require a “strong partnership” among the states, the federal government and Amtrak.

Saying it would be a big transition to start adding those services, Gardner said he thought it would be “appropriate for Congress through reauthorization or your committee to look at the right partnership between the federal government and the states as part of the modernization of the network. There are clearly interests that are local, intrastate and national that would be served by such an improvement.”

Amtrak plans to seek the full $1.8 billion that it has been authorized under the FAST Act.

“But we’ll include a long list of things that we think are worthy of additional funding so we see really no shortage of things that require continued federal investment and partnership with our states,” Gardner said.

The budget proposal for fiscal year 2020 that the administration released last week proposed cutting $455.6 million from Amtrak and intercity rail programs.

It proposed allocating “$550 million in transitional grants for states to help pay for a restructuring of the Amtrak network.

The budget proposal includes $936 million in direct grants to Amtrak for the Northeast Corridor and existing State-supported lines.

Amtrak PTC Stance Endangers 8 Trains

August 28, 2018

An Amtrak official last week reiterated the carrier’s stance that it will not operate on rail lines lacking positive train control after Dec. 31.

The declaration was made by Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner during a meeting in Raton, New Mexico, to discuss the future of the Southwest Chief.

Garnder also said the Amtrak board of directors has decreed that the policy will stand even in cases where a host railroad has been granted a PTC exemption by the Federal Railroad Administration.

That stance, if not reversed, would endanger eight Amtrak routes. Trains magazine reported on its website that those trains are:

  • Southwest Chief: Between La Junta, Colorado, and Dailies, New Mexico, and through Topeka, Kansas.
  • Cardinal:  Buckingham Branch Railroad between Orange and Clifton Forge, Virginia.
  • California Zephyr: On 152 miles of Union Pacific’s Green River subdivision west of Grand Junction, Colorado.
  • Texas Eagle: On 110 miles of UP’s Desoto subdivision south of St. Louis.
  • Downeaster: North of Haverhill, Massachusetts, to Brunswick, Maine., on Pan Am Railways
  • Vermonter: On the New England Central north of Springfield, Massachusetts.
  • Ethan Allen: On Vermont Railway east of Whitehall, New York.
  • City of New Orleans: On 18 miles of Canadian National in Memphis, Tennessee, and New Orleans

All Aboard Ohio reported that the Lake Shore Limited might also be in danger because it uses eight miles of CSX track between downtown Cleveland and Collinwood Yard that do not have PTC.

Amtrak and elected officials in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico have been locked in a battle over the Southwest Chief.

The elected officials are angry because Amtrak refuses to release its share of matching funds for a federal TIGER grant won by Colfax County, New Mexico, to rebuild the route used by the Chief in New Mexico.

Earlier TIGER grants have been used to rebuild the route of Nos. 3 and 4 in Colorado and Kansas.

Steve Cottrell, the assistant city manager of Garden City, Kansas, attended the meeting and said Gardner insisted that Amtrak “had no preconceived end game in mind.”

However , Gardner’s presentation included the proposed bus bridge between either Dodge City, Kansas, or La Junta, Colorado, and Albuquerque.

A draft schedule shows Nos. 3 and 4 originating and terminating in Dodge City, with the bus service connecting there.

The bus service in turn would connect with a Los Angeles-Albuquerque train.

Amtrak envisions the Chicago-Dodge City, and Albuquerque-Los Angeles trains each having two locomotives, two coaches, one coach-baggage car and a café car.

The passenger carrier estimates it will need to spend between $4 million and more than $13 million to establish layover and turning facilities in Dodge City and Albuquerque.

“I made the statement to him that it would have been a much more pleasant meeting had Amtrak sat down with the [Southwest Chief] Coalition, and state DOT’s prior to making such statements because we want to work out how to get the TIGER 9 [grant, the latest providing funding to maintain the Chief route] off the ground and get a commitment for their share of the money,” Cottrell told Trains.

“If it’s going to take working out another three- to five-year plan for the improvements, either to the railroad or start some phased installation of PTC, so be it, but to get blindsided by this bus bridge thing and then come in and say they have no preconceived idea just kind of set a negative tone to the meeting that shouldn’t have had to be that way,” he said.

Amtrak Says Montana Ticket Office Closings are Final

June 8, 2018

Amtrak has told a Montana senator that the closing of ticket offices in Havre and Shelby is final.

In a letter to Jon Tester, Amtrak Executive Vice President Stephen J. Gardner said the Havre ticket agents have lost their jobs.

Gardner said in the letter that most Amtrak passengers purchase tickets online and over the phone nationwide and that the passenger carrier is eliminating ticket agents at stations averaging fewer than 40 passengers a day.

Tester’s press secretary, Marnée Banks, said the senator is continuing to look at what can be done to save the ticket offices.

The letter from Gardner also reiterated a comment he made to a congressional committee that Amtrak at this time has no plans of reducing the frequency of operation of the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder, which is Montana’s only Amtrak train.

“Amtrak must remain mindful of our congressional directive . . . to minimize government subsidies,” Gardner said. “We estimate that removing full-time agents from these two stations with fewer than 40 passengers will save approximately $200,000.”

Money saved from closing ticket offices will be redirected toward the national network capital investments and other improvements, Gardner said.

Gardner said 6 percent of ticket sales are made through traditional ticket agents at stations nationwide.

“Of nearly 10,000 customers boarding at (the Havre and Shelby) stations in Montana so far this fiscal year, we believe that only 30 percent and 17 percent, respectively, purchase tickets though the stations agents and of these approximately 2,300 passengers, only 14 percent and 16 percent, respectively, paid with cash,” Gardner said.

However, former Amtrak Havre ticket agent Leslie Shelton said during a meeting of the Havre City Council that she and a co-worker started in April tracking ticket sales in Havre and found that seven out of 10 passengers purchased their tickets from the ticket agents, with a large number of them being purchased with cash.

Both Havre and Shelby offered checked baggage service, which also ended with the closing of the ticket offices.

Gardner said in his letter that the onboard crew will offer any necessary baggage assistance for passengers whether they are boarding or disembarking from the train.

Amtrak has hired caretakers at both stations who will open and close the waiting room around train time and keep it clean.

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.

Amtrak Holding Firm on PTC View

April 12, 2018

Amtrak is doubling down on an assertion made earlier this year to Congress by its CEO Richard Anderson that it will not operate on routes that are required to have positive train control but which fail to make the deadline to installing it.

Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer, Stephen Gardner, told a House Appropriations Committee hearing that Amtrak still has not decided if it will use routes that are not required to have PTC.

Gardner said the passenger carrier continues to study whether it can safely operate on PTC-exempt routes, which tend to be on regional railroads.

He acknowledged during the hearing that Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief might be adversely affected by the PTC issue.

However, Gardner qualified his testimony by suggesting that Amtrak might use routes that receive an extension from the Federal Railroad Administration of the Dec. 31, 2018, PTC deadline that is mandated by federal law.

As did Anderson, Gardner said there will be segments of routes used by Amtrak over which the carrier won’t operate if a PTC waiver has not been obtained by the host railroad.

“ . . . We believe PTC is part of a modern passenger rail system and we want to see PTC levels of safety across our network. We’re going to be analyzing those areas where safety improvements can be made,” Gardner said.

When pressed by Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-California) about the Southwest Chief, Gardner said Amtrak “will provide service on the portions of the route that have PTC, but there may be parts of our network where we believe PTC is required – if that route has high operating speeds – and we want to make sure we have a single level of safety across our network.”

Gardner said Amtrak route safety assessment will conclude this summer.

The Southwest Chief route is required to have PTC between Albuquerque and Lamy, New Mexico, where Amtrak shares tracks with Rail Runner commuter trains.

However, the route between Lamy and Trinidad, Colorado, is exempted. The former Santa Fe route used by the Chief across Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico has an automatic train stop system that dates from the 1920s.

It requires a locomotive engineer to acknowledge any restrictive signal indication or suffer a penalty brake application.

Gardner also took a shot at Amtrak’s host railroads for creating an “existential crisis” by delaying its trains through freight train interference.

He called for legislation allowing Amtrak to sue host railroads over failure to give passenger trains dispatching priority.

Asked why Amtrak is giving up special trains and restricting its carriage of private passenger cars, Gardner said the carrier is restricting the number of places that it operates to its core network.

He noted that some specials and charters have used routes not covered by scheduled Amtrak trains and that any additional revenue it made from those moves caused “a minimum amount of disruption and distraction away from our core business.”

He said going off network exposed Amtrak to new operating challenges and safety risks.

Gardner said Amtrak’s goal is to offer services on its current routes “where we can use equipment that we are confident in and the requirements on our end are manageable, not a distraction, and do not divert our core staff from the job of becoming fully PTC implemented, focusing on improving on-time performance, and providing great customer service.”

Amtrak VP Thinks Status Quo Will Prevail

April 4, 2017

An Amtrak executive believes that once the dust settles in Congress the status quo will prevail at Amtrak, meaning that the long-distance trains the Trump administration wants to stop funding will continue to operate.

Amtrak Executive Vice President Stephen Gardner told the Future Railway Organisation seminar on March 29 that he had little immediate cause for concern over the future of its network.

Gardner noted that previous administrations has proposed zeroing out Amtrak, but Congress has never gone along with those plans.

The Trump “skinny budget” would continue to fund Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and state corridor trains paid for largely by states that they serve. But funding of long-distance passenger trains would end.

“The cost and logistical complexity of removing these trains would be prohibitive, we feel,” he said. “There is a reason that they have survived through recent decades.”

Gardner said the long-distance trains play an important role in serving intermediate markets and said any attempt to “go back in” in the future would cost at least $1 billion.

Noting that in 2015 Amtrak was included in the FAST surface transportation bill approved by legislation passed in Congress, that gives the national rail passenger carrier a greater degree of
institutional stability.

“The most likely outcome is that the status quo will prevail,” Gardner said.

Gardner said Amtrak is supportive of a private sector inter-city  passenger services in Florida known as Brightline and the planned Texas Central high speed project.

“Naturally , we see that as an endorsement of the rail mode, and we welcome the addition of services able to showcase the latest in rail technology,” he said.