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Former Amtrak president questions motives of current management NEWSWIRE

By Bob Johnston | May 8, 2018

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Joe Boardman stands with passenger rail supporters in Raton, N.M., in 2014.
Bob Johnston
ROME, N.Y. – “I’ve seen enough. I’ve heard enough,” explains former Amtrak President Joseph Boardman.

Trains News Wire asked Boardman what prompted an email he sent early Tuesday and subsequently forwarded to elected officials throughout the country.

“This is beyond common sense,” he says of the letter Amtrak sent to elected officials explaining why it was declining to provide its match for the Southwest Chief TIGER grant recently awarded to Colfax County, N. M.

“Amtrak took 20 years to address (infrastructure deterioration) problems on the route. They think they’re fooling someone, but there wouldn’t be this kind of arrogance if (management) valued the economic impact a daily passenger train brings to the communities it serves,” Boardman tells Trains News Wire.

As for the threat to shut down routes that don’t have positive train control, Boardman says Amtrak needs to abide by the decisions made by the Federal Railroad Administration.

“Stopping the service for New Jersey Transit or Metro North if they don’t have PTC? That would be ridiculous. If commuter carriers in the Northeast can continue on (past the Dec. 31, 2018, deadline), then the Southwest Chief can continue on.

He also revealed that when he led Amtrak, he was asked by Amtrak’s board of directors what was the most important train. “I told them it was all of the long distance trains. Did that ever make it out into the rail community? No, because it wasn’t my job to (do that),” he says.

“I understand that there is a high value for development in the Northeast, but there is also a high value for a train to go through Dodge City (Kan.) or La Junta, (Colo.), or Havre (Mont.) once a day in each direction when those communities don’t have other options. I don’t understand why (current Amtrak management) doesn’t get that and doesn’t try to operate it right.”

Continuing, Boardman adds, “Why would we ever want to lose the opportunity for Front Range service from Denver down to Pueblo and Albuquerque to Los Angeles.”

The full text of the email is available below.

Based on the Communication I’ve seen being submitted to Hill Staff, I think that Amtrak has begun to do surgical communications in a way that does not provide a transparent discussion of what they are doing, instead the plan seems to be to keep the recommendations and briefings small and isolated from each other, just the opposite of transparent.

I think the CEO and the Board have drawn a line in the sand at the foot of the Raton Pass, believing that they can convince western politicians that providing service on the SWC is ineffective and too costly, making the Southwest Chief as their first major target to cut.

I believe that after the Washington State and Train 91 accidents the CEO decided to make his safety mark by demanding PTC everywhere Amtrak operates by December 31 2018. However he will use the well respected Safety Management System safety program from the FAA to assess “risk” on each route (more than a dozen) where the FRA decided to exclude PTC requirements on segments as small as “feet” and as large as over “100 miles.”

In and of itself that’s both good and responsible, but the threat to declare that there must be an end to service on the December 31 2018 timeline is not responsible or acceptable. Yes, additional mitigation for those risks which might be ATS (Automatic Train Stop) or perhaps solar powered switch position indicators could be suggested as a part of the “risk” process but it will take time and funding. It has not been made clear by Board Policy or CEO direction that service would be continued while those mitigation’s are funded and completed.

If it is not made clear within six months of the end of the year, then safety is being “Weaponized” as an attack on the National System and that’s not okay. Let it be known that I am strongly in support of both Safety and of the PTC technology but like those at FRA that set up the exclusions, both common sense and the opportunity to mitigate safety improvements over time are critically important. PTC on the NEC started 20 years ago.

For me the Southwest Chief has really become the battleground for the National System. I might be wrong, but I don’t think so. City pairs could be fine but a connected National System on the surface of the United States is and should continue to be our national policy. And if it is changed it should be informed by both hearings and explanations to Congress.

I am concerned that the Amtrak Board has begun to set their policy based on what we might call a “Hedge Hog” as opposed to a “Hedge Fund” approach. Meaning that the Board sees an opportunity to “Hog” all the Federal Assistance to complete the Gateway Plan; Procure new city-pair “Train Sets” operating off the NEC to the Southern big cities like Charlotte NC and Atlanta and others; And shortening more routes in order to transfer more cost to the States while abandoning the National purpose of Amtrak.

Worse yet its being done without a “Public Policy” process. Amtrak is not really a “private business”, it is a “State Owned Enterprise” and it needs an open and transparent process that only Congress seems to be able to give State and National rail stakeholders under this new ” Hedgehog” strategy.

For me its: The Raton Pass vs. The Gateway Tunnel you can’t have one without the other.

Joe Boardman

Amtrak President and CEO 2008 – 2016

25 thoughts on “Former Amtrak president questions motives of current management NEWSWIRE

  1. It’s wonderful that Bernadette was able to do that, but how many Bernadettes do you think failed to get to their destinations because there are so few trains following useful routes outside of the Northeast?

    It reminds me of the NIMBY arguments here in Florida (Brightline is nearby), that focus on people killed by trains, but never on people who survived that day because they rode Brightline (or the Tri-Rail, or whatever) instead of driving on I-95, one of the most dangerous roads in existence.

    Replacing trains that serve 2% with trains that serve most of the population is so obviously an improvement it’s hard to understand why people persist in defending LD.

  2. Paul: You sound like one of the NIMBYs you’re vilifying. It’s not an either or situation. Long distance and corridor trains need to coexist. Only the Northeast Corridor and long distance trains are federally funded. The rest are state-funded. There’s no reason to think that eliminating long distance trains would benefit state sponsored trains, unless the law was changed. Personally, I think Anderson is trying to wring out more money for the Northeast Corridor, but if that’s all that Amtrak becomes (not counting state trains), then support for Amtrak in the senate from places like North Dakota and Kansas (that have just as many senators as Pennsylvania and New York) will go away. There’s simply no reason to think that depriving someone from traveling from Seattle to Montana will in kind allow service to blossom elsewhere in this country, and I agree we need more corridor-type routes.

    I understand that you don’t understand long distance trains. In my post, Bernadette’s trip on the Empire Builder was of note because there was literally no other way she could have made the trip due to the type of accommodations offered and the long travel time. In corridors, time is not as much an issue, and alternative transportation would likely be available.

    Again, it doesn’t need to be either or in the UNITED States.

  3. Paul Smith, There is a difference in how the LD and NEC trains show costs. The LD trains include infrastructure costs while the NEC trains do not. In fact, some LD trains actually do make money for Amtrak. But you wouldn’t know it from the lack of advertising. In fact, if you check Amtrak’s own statistics, they won’t show what they make per passenger mile in NY while they do in Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia. In fact, Florida train income by passenger mile is only exceeded by Virginia in the SE. While the whole of the NEC is blanked out. Now why do you think that is?

  4. Paul Harrison, Have you ever thought about the fact that some people can’t fly and if you ever took a Greyhound bus you’d know why not to travel that way. I’ll give you an example of one route I am familiar with. DC to Charleston WV. The bus leaves before the Cardinal westbound while it gets to Charleston after the train, with changes of bus in the process. Now as for Florida, I am quite familiar with its services also as I have ridden the Star, the Meteor, Auto-train, and the Sunset Limited. The Sunset Limited when it ran from Miami and Orlando in fact. But Amtrak’s service in Florida has gone downhill since it was formed. You no longer can go from Miami to Tampa and return the same day. You can no longer go from Miami to Orlando and return the same day. Unless something has happened to make the trains extremely late SB. I’ll be on the AT again the end of this month and next so my money is put in those figures that Amtrak uses while failing to show what passenger income per mile is in the NEC.

  5. This might be kind of crude, but where were Joe Boardman’s gonads when he was sitting in the CEO’s chair? It’s easy for him to whip them out and drop them on the table like this during retirement or hiatus, or whatever he’s calling this departure from the industry. While I appreciate his statements, but it might be too little too late. I hope his efforts in some way circumvent the incendiary movement taking place within the bowels of Amtrak’s current leadership offices, or at least influence the ones attached to the purse-strings. It’s one thing to attack the long distance trains with statistics; it’s an entirely different thing to inflate, diminish, omit, or outright lie about them as Delta Dick and his yes men appear to be at the current time.

  6. Paul Harrison,
    what a bunch of nonsense:
    “….The LD trains are why we don’t have ubiquitous train service throughout the US…”
    That’s not the reason the U.S. doesn’t have good train service.
    The reason is because policymakers have been bought and paid for (lobbied) by the greedy roadway & aviation interests, who are so selfish, they won’t allow a dime of extra funding to go toward improving this country’s passenger rail system (which would benefit freight haulage).

    Notice how politicians never allow a highway to go to seed. They’re repaired immediately. No questions asked.
    Never a demand for them to be “self-sufficient.”

    With passenger rail, it literally takes an Act of Congress to fund needed improvements.
    Greedy & hypocritical politicians scream about “subsidies,” all the while doling-out lavish subsidies to the highways (which never make a profit) & the aviation system.

    In an average year, the feds give highways $40 BILLION DOLLARS, aviation, $16 BILLION, Amtrak & commuter rail: $1 Billion. Crumbs, compared to the TRILLIONS given to highways since the early 1900s.

  7. What a lot of people don’t understand is that a single long distance train serves multiple corridors and city pairs in addition to its end points. Let’s take The Southwest Chief,for example. It may be true that the majority of passengers don’t ride the whole way from Chicago to LA (although quite a few do),however what the LD naysayers are missing is that the train is constantly boarding and letting off passengers all along the way. With the Chief for example,the city pairs include:Chicago-Kansas City, Chicago-Albuquerque,Chicago-Flagstaff,Kansas City-Albuquerque,Kansas City-LA,Flagstaff-LA,Albuquerque-LA and so on and so on. In addition there are another 28 or so small to medium size cities that are served as well that have very limited transportation options. The Chief connects these cities with the national network and the rest of the nation. Also, it is not uncommon for people to drive quite some distance to their nearest Amtrak station,so many more area cities are served other than just the ones with station stops. Therefore considering all of the separate corridors and city pairs that one train like The Southwest Chief serves lends credence to the importance of the long distance services and how vital they are to the areas that they serve.

  8. Anderson says the trains operating over rail without PTC will be annulled. What a gimmick. Have we ever seen a train return after annulment? Secondly, as we all know, the section of the corridor from New Rochelle Jct. to New Haven is owned jointly by NYMTA and CTDOT not Amtrak. SO, if Metro North fails to complete PTC on this section by the year’s end, Anderson will discontinue the NE Corridor trains between NYC and New Haven?
    Of course not.The webs we weave!

  9. Who new that Joe Boardman would become my hero: He is right that this whole process is being done behind boardroom doors with no press releases or info to the public.
    Many think that this is the ultimate Republican strategy; have the president play crazy Trump tamer of North Korean dictators and Russian Presidents.
    If this is the true logic it is brilliant. Hand the traditional press a daily diet of goofy Tweets while the Republican minions such as Oklahoma’s own Scott Pruitt disassemble the agencies they were appointed to lead. As I say over and over have hearings on the long distance trains but also have hearings including private operators such as Air Choice One who fly Cessna Caravans between Saint Louis and Chicago with a stop in Decatur many times with a flight deck crew of two and one or two passengers subsidized by the Essential Air Services Act.
    No I do not want this service cancelled and no I do not want to see the Texas Eagle cancelled.
    This country has the money to fund both; make sure they are managed well; oversight is good until you get just a political spin by members of either party.
    Again thanks Joe hopefully someone from CNN;CBS;etc will find five minutes to cover this between the Tweet stormss; and thanks Joe: and maybe work with another Joe; Joe Biden; he is an Amtrak supporter ; he is the closest thing we have to a Harry Truman that he can reach folks who won’t give other Democrats a chance.

  10. Mr. Sommers. Not trying to pick a fight, but it seems most government types don’t understand anything except the wallets that fill their pockets!

    As I have stated B4, I do not want my tax dollars paying for the NEC only. If anyone else feels the same way, be sure to contact your legislators. They have websites. And provide news tips to your local and national news sources (of course, watching out for those with “fake news.” (Whatever that is)

    “Attention Titanic passengers! Are you aware your boat is sinking??! “

  11. Boardman underscores what government types don’t understand about an entity like Amtrak needing to provide “service” and not merely run trains and that economies of so many areas depend on the abilities of the people to travel into, out of, and around the areas. And as stated in Boardman’s comments and in comments below, not all people have access to nor can use highways (they can’t or don’t drive; bus riding is more likely to cause travel sickness than any other form of transportation) or fly (fear of flying is real for many, lack of quality air service is the norm) and that frequency of service provides better opportunities for people to travel. Thus economies grow and prosper. This may not mean the service pays its own way out of pocket, but that the local and total economies flourish in ways that only frequent and quality service provide offsetting the cost of that service.
    I know there was a lot of opposition Boardman, reports that he was not well liked by many in Amtrak. But his background in public transit in New York communities plus being head of the State’s Transportation Department and then a tenure leading the FRA, gave him a unique expertise that no other Amtrak president has had: practical experience in transit and transportation as well as extensive experience in the realm of politics; no other Amtrak president has ever had that combination nor is there anyone else in sight right now. Maybe we can’t have him back, but we can learn from him and his accomplishments.
    Government politicians can only think in terms of their political party lines and sometimes their constituent’s needs. Some like to say that government should be run more like businesses but they fail to know both business and governmental needs of serving the citizens. Current business blueprints is that if any one segment of a business doesn’t earn its own keep on the bottom line it is eliminated no matter how much it takes away from the integrity of the product or service. And the blueprint certainly ignores the value and impact of its service on the community as a whole. Passenger trains seem to have to be a product and service of government since private enterprise cannot take enough income to the bottom line. Nor should any individual business be charged with being the supporting factor to local, regional, and national economies. Thus Amtrak. And its need for good and qualified leadership.

  12. I eagerly anticipated Boardman’s demise and his replacement with someone that I thought would be better for Amtrak. Then we got Richard Anderson and he makes Boardman look mighty good in comparison!

  13. CHARLES LANDEY wrote: “It’s about time that Connecticut, which has a higher median income than where I live, pays for theirs.”

    Charles, are you aware that the State of CT owns the NEC from the border with NY to New Haven? I don’t have all the numbers so I can’t tell you that CT is truly paying its fare share of the services that it does get from Amtrak vs. say the states of NY & NJ. But CT is paying a big bill to maintain it’s portion of the NEC.

    The same is also true for Mass, which owns the NEC from South Station down to the RI border. Although in the case of Mass, they do pay Amtrak to maintain & dispatch the NEC.

  14. That’s my point, George Brown. Joe Boardman’s practical transit experiences as head of several different operations running local operations gained him a practical knowledge of operating, marketing, and dealing with customer needs while dealing with governments. At the state level he was successful in dealing with NY State politics of parties and geographies, local and statewide transit and transportation needs. He is not your typical “government type” as you suggest but has practical operation experience coupled with dealing with the many levels of government. As head of NYS DOT he clashed with Amtrak which earned him the Bush nomination to the FRA and eventual leap to Amtrak. I do understand he had some problems with dealing with certain people at times which lead to his dismissal, I’m not downplaying that. I am just saying Joe Boardman’s experiences gave him a unique perspective and ability to deal with politicians while actually knowing the business of transportation instead of being one of those “government types” or a total neophyte.

  15. Having read all of the comments so far, I can agree with some and disagree with others. I think Doug Ohlemeir has offered some good information regarding the amounts of resources expended on the various transportation modes. Rail in general, and passenger rail specifically, has been shortchanged by government support for competing modes since at least 1950 and maybe before that. Railroads have been forced to go it alone and even pay taxes on top of that. While the airlines and highway users do pay some taxes, they don’t even come close to covering all the costs of their facilities and services.

    It would be nice if there were at least two trains daily per route on 12-hour alternating schedules. This would facilitate daylight service to most cities. However, the airlines also have night time services. They have the famous “red-eye” flights that offer reduced fares for the inconvenience of flying during the wee hours. Amtrak could offer special fares to cities that are served at inconvenient hours.

    Amtrak’s biggest problem is failure to offer connecting services. Some posters have suggested some worthy ones. Here’s mine: A lot of people travel between north Texas and various locations in Colorado but must do so by automobile because there are few places to fly into. While a train wouldn’t work for some, it would for many. A train from Fort Worth to Amarillo and on to points in Colorado with termination in Denver would connect with the Texas Eagle, the Heartland Flyer, the Southwest Chief, and the California Zephyr. For the record, a trip to any west coast city via Amtrak’s current route structure from the Fort Worth/Dallas area must be via Chicago or Los Angeles. The latter is only available tri-weekly on God knows which days. The new train I suggest would facilitate more direct service to San Francisco and if Amtrak reestablished service from Salt Lake City to Portland, Oregon, one could travel direct to northwest cities, as well. Granted, such a trip would require seat changes, but at least it would be feasible. My point is, connecting services are synergistic. They could improve ridership on all routes. The next problem is to find enough bedrooms, but that’s a subject for another post.

  16. @James Else: I agree with you about Joe Boardman. I put him up there with Graham Claytor and David Gunn.

  17. Joe B. is right on target – The US desperately needs HSR and can’t start by ignoring the longer x-country routes that – as mentioned – are economic generators for the cities they serve

  18. That is a remarkable letter. You can tell it didn’t go through an intervening staffer, Joe is not a great writer – but that just reinforces the passion and authenticity. I had many bones to pick with his leadership, but he certainly nails it here IMHO. The most important point is calling out the surreptious attempt to dismantle the national system right under Congressional noses, via a series of papercuts which will ultimate become a self-fulfilling prophecy if not called out now.

  19. glad to read this, he is calling them out and rightly so. Many people including me are skeptical and wary about the new management. Why would a airline CEO be a good fit to run a railroad? Not sure what the reasoning was behind that. If he was a railfan, maybe, but does not sound like he is.

  20. So Sleepy Joe finally woke up eh? Might be too late with Ol’ Slash and Burn Anderson running around lighting fires everywhere. Let’s not forget the Obama administration presented Mr. Boardman with a chance(i.e. money) to really make a difference at Amtrak and what did we end up with? A few new baggage cars. Yippee!!

  21. Very open, honest and candid letter by Joe Boardman and in all truth Mr Boardman was not exactly one of Amtrak’s better presidents but then again who can be expected to run Amtrak and turn it around and make
    passenger train travel in America great again ? Through the years we have had an airline executive running Amtrak (does anybody remember Roger Lewis- Amtrak’s first president and a former airline executive)
    and we had railfan presidents like Graham Claytor and transit and rail gurus like David Gunn and George Warrington an most recently Wick Moorman. However none of them had any real sucess with turning Amtrak around or reviving the Golden Age of Train travel in this country. Hampered by indifferent and hostile adminstrations, budget cutting politicans (Democrats and Republicans alike- all are to blame) hostile freight railroads and always the lack of money and a struggle where to get funding such is the story of Amtrak.
    As of now we do have to question the motives and true intentions of the current Amtrak leadership and the adminstration they serve. Are they really trying to save and promote and grow Amtrak or is Mr Amderson a
    “hachet” man for the current adminstration and ulterior motive is to starve and bleed Amtrak to death and by
    inflicting these cutbacks and reduction of service on the riding public get people so disgusted with Amtrak and train travel in general that they stay away and give our current adminstration ammuntion and a good excuse to get rid odf Amtrak and passenger trains in general. As for the myth that getting rid of long distance trains will help
    the Northeast Corridor- don’t believe that lie Mr Boardman is right get rid of the long distance trains everything goes including the Northeast Corridor. In a recent study it was found out that the long distance trains is actually what helps offset and pay for Northeast Corridor operations which are quite expensive to maintain and operate
    Let the truth be known and the lies exposed

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