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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / New Amtrak CEO, in ‘Town Hall’ employee event, discusses Auto Train derailment, recovery NEWSWIRE

New Amtrak CEO, in ‘Town Hall’ employee event, discusses Auto Train derailment, recovery NEWSWIRE

By Bob Johnston | April 6, 2020

Latest ridership figures down 95% from a year ago

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A northbound Amtrak Northeast Regional train passes through Princeton Junction, N.J., in August 2019. As of Monday, Northeast Corridor operations are down to 10 trains between New York and Washington.
TRAINS: David Lassen

WASHINGTON — Though his tenure as Amtrak’s next president doesn’t officially begin until April 15, William J. Flynn was introduced to employees by current CEO Richard Anderson during an hour-long “town hall” transmission last Friday obtained by Trains News Wire.

The incoming leader showed the troops he was quickly immersing himself in details of Amtrak operations by recounting quick reactions made by Auto Train personnel following the derailment of northbound train 52 on March 26.

“We want to recognize the entire Sanford (Fla.) Auto Train crew for their responsiveness and dedication to our customers last week as a result of the train 52 derailment, which had 10 auto carriers go off the rails,” Flynn said. “Thankfully, no one was injured, but 89 vehicles were damaged and 300 customers were inconvenienced.

“Starting with the onboard service crew and Sanford station (staff) … mechanical, transportation, and engineering teams worked together around the clock, providing essential support to get the auto carriers back to Sanford.”

Though the train proceeded to the Lorton, Va., terminal after leaving the derailed equipment with damaged vehicles behind, Flynn said Amtrak customer service personnel arranged to have 100 rental cars available for the displaced passengers within 2 hours of the train’s arrival. A 17-member emergency response team was dispatched to Lorton and continued to support passengers “by getting baggage and personal effects returned to them and (arranging for) vehicle replacement.”

Auto Train resumed service in both directions on April 2.

Flynn also heaped praise on front-line Amtrak car cleaning, onboard service, and station employees “who go to work every day providing great service in these difficult conditions. And thanks to call center personnel for dealing with customers who changed or cancelled reservations with patience, grace, and courtesy.”  

Earlier in the call, Anderson reviewed ridership statistics for the week, compared with the same period in 2019:

— Overall bookings are down 95%, with Northeast Corridor off 98%, state-supported service off 93%, and long-distance ridership falling 87%.

— Daily train frequencies have been cut from 309 to 156, with 77% suspended in the Northeast Corridor.

On Monday, April 6, with the temporary Palmetto cancellation [see “More cuts set for Amtrak regional service,” Trains News Wire, April 4, 2020], only 10 trains are running from Washington to New York (including three long-distance trains that do not accept local passengers northbound) and just four are scheduled from New York to Boston.   

In response to an emailed employee question, Senior Executive VP and Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner said Amtrak has no plans to screen passengers for COVID-19. “We are not qualified to undertake mass testing (and) we don’t have the ability to control who is coming on board once they purchase a ticket, but we can reinforce the good guidance that’s out there and we will work with … officials to help them implement health checks should they be required.”

He later revealed that the company has suspended communal dining in its dining cars. With fewer passengers traveling, there is no need to seat patrons at the same table.

Looking ahead, Gardner said he believes “service will come back incrementally — it’s not like a snowstorm; we need to pay attention to this and be nimble because there might be areas of strong demand that will come back quickly. Of course, we will be working with our state partners who will determine how much service we have on routes they help support.”

Flynn added, “We’re planning for several scenarios where the recovery pattern might be different in specific regions — gradual or a big jump.”

Flynn then shared a personal story.

“I was 7 during the recession of 1960-1961. Dad was a locomotive fireman on the New Haven and was furloughed for 5 or 6 months. He took a job at the post office during the Christmas rush — I do remember that time. So when I say our goal is to have no involuntary furloughs, I mean it.”


22 thoughts on “New Amtrak CEO, in ‘Town Hall’ employee event, discusses Auto Train derailment, recovery NEWSWIRE

  1. Sorry Anna Harding, I have to disagree with your sentiment…during the pandemic(well, that’s what they want to call it, not close in my books, I look at numbers based on a worldwide population of 8 Billion, so I still say let me know when 1 Billion are infected then I’ll call it a pandemic), sure, curtail your use of public transportation if you can get away with it, but not everyone can. However, once the curve as flattened(stupidest idea ever) and people return to working, those that have no option will get right back on transit…of course, this is coming from someone that is already fed up with COVID-19 news and sheltering-in-place. I no longer care about the virus, not that I did to begin with(and before you call me callous I have lots of family in high risk groups and work with people directly affected by it, including one in a medically induced coma).

  2. Mister McFarlane:

    It is a free country. Do as you like. Me, I choose to listen to the talking heads. Your mileage may vary.

    The above comments are generic in nature and do not form the basis for an attorney/client relationship. They do not constitute legal advice. I ain’t nobody’s attorney, not no more. I’s retarded.

  3. GERALD, GERALD, GERALD – Best post yet. Thank you!

    I know people who want to remain in social isolation until there’s a vaccine. Meaning we might as well go live in caves, because both the economy and the cultural fabric will be dead by then. Crashing the economy is exactly what the “Democrat” – actually Communist Party – wants so as to win the November election.

    I was around for the polio epidemic pre-Salk and pre-Sabin vaccines, and was square in the middle of the target group by age. Polio was far worse than this epidemic because it predominantly struck young people with decades left to live with the crippling effects.

    I’m supposed to stay six feet from everyone else? No thanks. I’ve been on the Boston subway where six feet in any direction was three or four other passengers. More than once.

    The whole purpose of the mandated social isolation was to flatten the curve and slow the spread. Which we have done. We need to build up our immunity, not delay the inevitable where a certain number of people will sooner or later need medical care no matter what.

    Let’s get back to work over the next few weeks and back to a culture where I can go where I want, speak to anyone I want to speak to, stand in whatever queue I want to stand in, shake hands with the people I meet, etc. etc. No other life is worth living.

    This is a rail comment site. Rail means people together in the same coach. As I’ve been doing all my life and I’m alive and well to talk about it.

    GERALD – Thanks for your unpopular post. I think it brilliant. Good health to you and yours.

    PS Our health clinic finally re-opened for non-emergency and I drove my wife for her routine scheduled appointment. I waited outside. The receptionist who knows me saw me through the window and came out to talk from fifteen feet away. We agreed that while precautions are needed at a health clinic all the rest is ridiculous.

    PPSS On the routine screening this morning, my wife reported that neither she nor I knows a single person who has needed medical care for this virus.

    PPPSSS – Ruling by decree and in suspension of the state constitution, our governor has postponed tomorrow’s election, after the legislature refused to do so. He ought to be thrown in jail for the remainder of the term. Just as his “Democrat” Party is now Communist, we are now living in the Soviet Union. Hey, I voted last week (early/ absentee) no problem. So can anyone else. Those that don’t vote, I’m quite happy if the electi0on proceeds without them. There’s no provision in the state constitution that any election is only valid if everyone votes.

  4. Charles Landey So glad that you don’t know anyone affected. But that doesn’t mean that you are the norm. And it would be the people who don’t heed the warnings that will make it worse for others.No State is free from it and some States have gotten hit worse than others. Part of Florida’s cases are due to people from up North who didn’t stay up North when they were told too. LA is a hot spot because people didn’t listen and went to Mardi Gras. Now people from LA have to be quarantined if they travel out of State. Same as people from NY, NJ, and CT.

  5. Better to put politics aside and focus on reality, to wit: the more than 20 MTA employees dead, the 60+ doctors in Italy dead, etc. etc. You may not know you have it yet, but if you go around “freely” you might have blood on your hands. Is that wise? Momento mori.
    BTW: with the exception of a couple orthodox jewish and fundamentalist christian communities, common sense prevailed.

  6. UPDATE – The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ordered the election to proceed.

    The rule of law has returned to the State of Wisconsin despite the governor being a Democrat.

    Now it’s time to bring the country back to normal over the next few weeks.

    PS – No one person is responsible for an epidemic. The Detroit newspapers reported that a bus driver contracted the virus and died after complaining about a bus patron who coughed. The driver had no way of knowing if the rider was infectious (people have coughed before this virus and will cough after it’s gone), or even if the rider was infectious that she was the source of his illness.

    If the Town Clerk who took my early/ absentee ballot last week should happen to come down with the virus there’s no way to know where she got it — or if the election were to be postponed she might get it later down the road from a voter in June.

  7. A son of a New Haven employee, a graduate of URI – joins Boston-born David Gunn and the late Joe Boardman from upstate New York as the northeasterners heading Amtrak. Hopefully he will be as good as Gunn always was and as Boardman grew to be. I have a good feeling about this guy. Let’s give him a chance and stop harping on him because he flew cargo for a living.

    A number of people on this forum seem to have it in for NEC. Hey it’s the core of the system and maybe a northeasterner like Flynn can get it together to build the Hudson River tunnels.

    FWIW we natives of the region remember 1960-1961 (see the story). The year 1961 was when the New Haven went bankrupt (and stayed bankrupt). Like Flynn (story above) the late Baba Ram Dass, born Timorthy Alpert and the son of New Haven president George Alpert, remembered the pain of that period in New England. I rode those trains, frequently. The windows of the coaches were broken but the trains ran on time, there was pelnty of freight (unlike now), and the railroad did its best to keep the trains and the stations clean.

  8. And if you Charles, unbeknownst to your self were a carrier and infected said clerk who then died. Would you feel any responsibility? Are you invincible? If you come down with it and all the hospital beds are full and the nurses are sick and you can’t get care, I think you might change your mind.

  9. ROBERT – No, I would feel no guilt. The Town of Brookfield election clerk could have gotten the virus anywhere if she gets it. I would have no reason to think she got it from me. Just as I have the right to go to Kroger for food each week (the Kroger employees being at risk) I have the right to vote in Wisconsin (the town clerk being at risk). My right to vote is as important as my right to eat.

    The question b/t/w is not whether or not Gov. Evers did the right thing, but whether or not he had the authority. He does not have that authority and he knows he does not. Why do I say that? Because a week ago he called a special session of the State Assembly and State Senate to vote on changing the election date. The legislature did not change the date, so Evers went ahead and did it anyway knowing full well he didn’t have the power to do so. My question is, why do the people of Wisconsin consent to living under rule by decree.

    Most of the polling stations in all-Democrat Milwaukee have been closed. All the polling stations in the predominant Republican area where I live are open. Yet the Democrats blame the Republicans for vote suppression! The Democrat Party in Wisconsin is beneath contempt. The insults I throw at it daily are markedly insufficient.

    U S Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her dissent says this is massive vote suppression. As on every single issue, she’s 100% wrong. The fact is Wisconsin residents have had several weeks or maybe a couple of months to secure absentee/ early ballots. I did. There’s nothing to stop anyone else. That they didn’t do so is no skin off my back. The election will go on without them. If I voted and they didn’t, too bad so sad. The votes that are cast should be counted. The votes not cast are of no consequence. If the turnout for this election is lower than normal, that won’t change the legitimacy of the outcome. I voted. Tough luck for those who didn’t.

  10. There is no way I would utilize any form of public transportation until this pandemic is brought under control, and I daresay I am not alone in having that sentiment.

    Having said that, I hope such things are taken into account when this thing has passed and people start riding the rails again.

    As far as the Auto Train derailment is concerned, this response is a far cry from some that I have seen, where you buy their service at your own risk. This kind of response is perhaps expensive in the short term but the good will and publicity it generates will pay off in the long run.

    The above comments are generic in nature and do not form the basis for an attorney/client relationship. They do not constitute legal advice. I am not your attorney. I’s retarded …

  11. As a follow up to Gerald’s earlier post, why did no one tell us, or implement a system, to practice social distancing at work? Certainly more than just the exempted occupations would still be working. I understand the nature of some jobs precludes this from happening for the same reasons subway and rail travel are not safe with other people w/i six feet.

    Trouble is doctors will always error on the least loss of life regardless of cost. A politician has to minimize both the loss of life and accumulative collateral damage to the country’s economy; and with all the arm chair quarterbacks and future historians second guessing him, it’s a loose-loose proposition If the cristism is about equal on both sides, then we’ll have to say he will have found the japphy middle ground. I am glad I do not have make these kind of decisions!

  12. I find it alarming that you people can’t discuss a railroad without brining politics into it and making a massive circus out of it.

  13. At the rate we are going, this country will suffer an economic collapse like never seen before. People will become afraid to be near others and afraid to travel. Trump is right, we have to reopen the country before it is too late.

  14. Five polling stations open today in Milwaukee, massive vote suppression by the Democrats which they will blame on the Republicans.

    Political affiliation aside, this is an example of how USA has lost the ability of basic thought. By the time Milwaukee voters are shuffled into the right precinct line, present their voter ID, receive the proper ballot for their home district, then vote, there will be more people bumping into each other for longer periods of time than if the election were held as normal.

    Politics aside, people, think, think, think. Caution is one thing. Panic is quite another. Stupidity is a third.

    This is a rail forum, folks. Our society is based on human interaction, as is our economy.

  15. It continues to be unfortunate that too many on this site veer way off-topic unto political cant. Unknowable is the number of Trains mag. subscribers who no longer bother, while the “repeat offenders” (and they know who they are) blather on. “Sad.”

  16. So true Mr. Larson said that myself on this site and in a Trains mag survey they sent me recently. “SOME PEOPLE ” just have to state a rebuttal to everyone else

  17. Amtrak had 37 million ridership last year? That’s great! But the ‘good ol days’ ended in February, 2020. It will be 10 years before Amtrak reaches that number again, and it will be a very different Amtrak by then. I had lots of plans for my Amtrak AGR points this year. I’ve already switched credit cards to a ‘cashback’ card. I enjoyed many decades of cross country train travel. Sad to see it’s all over. Yeah, okay, this is a pessimistic post, but I think it’s the reality of the future.

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