News & Reviews News Wire Amtrak goes outside for new chief commercial officer

Amtrak goes outside for new chief commercial officer

By Bob Johnston | September 19, 2023

Eliot Hamlisch has hospitality background with hotels, theaters

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Silver passenger train in grade crossing. Amtrak goes outside for new chief commercial officer.
The morning sun reflects off of Viewliner II sleeper Potomac River as the southbound Silver Star speeds south of Jacksonville, Fla., on February 7, 2023. Amtrak’s new hire, Eliot Hamlisch, has experience in the hospitality industry, which will help in enhancing the customer experience. Bob Johnston

Headshot of Amtrak executive. Amtrak goes outside for new chief commercial officer.
Eliot Hamlisch, Amtrak executive vice president and chief commercial officer. Amtrak

WASHINGTON — Seeking “to lead our continued transformation of the customer experience,” according to Roger Harris, Amtrak president, in an announcement Monday, Amtrak has hired Eliot Hamlisch to a position once held by current CEO Stephen Gardner.

As the company’s Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer, Hamlisch will oversee corporate marketing, sales distribution, network and consist planning, market research, and revenue management for all three service lines.

Hamlisch previously was in charge of sales, loyalty programs, and revenue optimization at Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, overseeing 9,000 hotels with 22 brands in 100 countries. He also held leadership roles at Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Deloitte Consulting, and American Express. Most recently, Hamlisch served as executive vice president and chief marketing officer of theatre chain AMC Entertainment Holdings.

“We need to delight our customers at every step of their journey with us,” says Harris, “if we are to achieve our goal of doubling our ridership by 2040.”

The new outside hire represents a departure from the steady parade of former airline executives migrating to Amtrak that began with President and CEO Richard Anderson in 2017, continued with his successor William Flynn, and now Roger Harris.

On paper, Hamlisch is in a position to move the needle on many aspects of Amtrak’s business that currently need attention.

18 thoughts on “Amtrak goes outside for new chief commercial officer

  1. Interesting how low a bar on ridership Amtrak is setting. Double from approximately 30 Million to 60 Million in about 16 years. When you look at what some other countries are doing, that just isn’t that ambitious. The US has 360 Million people. The UK has only 67 Million but its rail system handles 60 Million riders in only about 14 days. I know most of us probably won’t see that kind of ridership in the US in our lifetimes, but seems like Amtrak could at least be more aggressive in what they want to accomplish, especially with the amount of new funding that has been allocated.

  2. I had 40 yrs at AMCRASH, And I can do a better job then any these outsiders and college boys with a half JD drunk on ! unbelievable !

  3. Put routes/slots up for bid, turn Amtrak into an oversight on passenger safety and operations like the FAA.

    I guess I will keep posting this until the needle moves.

  4. Wyndham is the low end hotel provider, with a hodgepodge of brands like Days Inn, Travelodge, Super 8, Howard Johnson and Knights Inn. Enough said?

  5. Harris pretends to be interested in customer experience:
    “to lead our continued transformation of the customer experience,”
    “We need to delight our customers at every step of their journey with us,”

    At this point in time the most important thing for Amtrak to do to increase customer satisfaction is to make sure their trains leave Chicago and other terminals on time with full working consists. And that includes getting a whole bunch of stored cars back into service. Doesn’t seem likely that that this new hire has the skills or background to address those issues.

  6. So what is his budget? More specifically what is his advertising budget? Is advertising budget location specificity for NEC abd west coast without any for LS trains?

    Also, how is his employment contract worded? Does it include a bonus section for cost cutting measures? That will say it all.

  7. Rather than focusing on new routes please fix what you are currently operating. The City of New Orleans has no diner car because Amtrak removed it about a month ago. Why?

  8. Charles- I agree with you on Amtrak hiring an outsider to improve and reinvigorate te hospitality sector and ding service on the trains. What is needed is fresh and new blood and new ideas. If this new hire can do it, all the more credit and power to both him and especially Amtrak. Sometimes you have to think outside the box and try something new. I remember many years ago in New York City when the MTA hired a former Macy’s executive David Yunich to head the MTA and push forth some new ideas and strategies on increasing both ridership and even some pr and advertising tricks and ideas to promote ridership on the subways and buses. David Yunich was a wiz with Macy’s but unfortunately Mr Yunich was a flop and disaster trying to turn the MTA around. Of course the MTA is so much like Amtrak in many ways. Government ineptness and political hacks running the systems and making a mess of things. Amtrak tried an airline executive a few years back with the hire of Richard Anderson which was a real disaster. Whatever ideas and innovations he tried to put forth to make Amtrak work and he actually had Amtrak break even on making money were overshadowed by his many mistakes and lack of understanding that running a railroad and an airline are two different animals. However hospitality, customer service and proper and decent dining and food service are the same on a railroad, an airline and a cruise ship line. Amtrak does need to do a better job on advertising and promoting their product and services and convince prospective customers to ride the train. Mr Hamlisch can do that with the right tools and resources given to him and being an outsider with no ties to the old guard or old boy network can do this. By the way I wonder if Eliot Hamlisch is any relation to the noted songwriter and arranger Marvin Hamlisch who was a pioneer and musical genius in his own right and any oldtimers remember the movie The Sting and tht famous song The Entertainer and there is a railroad connection in The Sting where the con team of both Paul Newman and Robert Redford con Robert Shaw the ruthless mob boss out of his money in a con game played on the The Twentieth Century Limited enroute to Chicago.
    Getting back to the real world and the present. Let’s hope Eliot Hamlisch can suceed where others before him failed and can turn things around. We know that Airline travel is Number One in this nation and around the world but we can still make train travel relevant and respectable and be part of the transportation picture
    Joseph C. Markfelder

    1. My fear is that Mr. Ham-lisch will be ham-strung by the aforementioned political hacks, bean counters and cost cutters. Charles, Amtrak is a quasi-governmental entity whereas airlines are publicly traded businesses. If the airlines don’t deliver and drive sales (butts in seats) no profits, no dividends no more airline. They fill ALL of the seats, they invest in more airplanes. Amtrak simply can’t do that. Amtrak is necessary for a small percentage of travelers yet the red -headed stepchild of the passenger transportation industry. It won’t die and they can’t kill it.
      If Elliot doesn’t already have an ulcer, he’ll likely have a bad one, out of certain frustration and ineffectiveness after too short of a while.

    2. Yes, the airlines are private, but they would not exist without billions in bailouts and subsidies (think FAA and airports). Historically far more than Amtrak has received in amount– though probably not per passenger-seat mile. Their service can also be quite lousy as well as quite great if you can afford first class and are flying between the biggest cities. (This was also definitely true of the railroad prior to Amtrak to a large extent.)

      Nevertheless, sometime all you really need is a reliable, clean mode to transport you from here to there

  9. You are right Charles about the differences on first class service on airlines and trains. First class meals on planes,(recent AA) at least some are excellent. On time performance is dramatically different also.
    I wonder what type of train service we would have if the government spent as much on trains as on planes. It seems like towns with around 50,000 pop (est) can get an airport. My city is getting multiple millions for upgrades like placing a canopy so no one has to get damp.
    Apparently Joe B doesn’t care that the airline industry’s not going to help with climate change issues.

    1. Contrast this with the European policy, which is to promote rail equally, if not over air. New services are constantly being added, and even sleeper trains have made a comeback. Stations are being improved, right-of-way upgraded, speeds competitive with other modes. This is social policy, not a bunch of railfans in political control. Surely there are numerous city-pairs in this country which are comparable candidates. There is no will here, thus no way.

    2. Daryl,

      Joe B. does not control policy alone, and their are lots of entrenched interest used to the way things are. I think your criticisms is unfair though I agree I wish more funds went to Amtrak and public transit.

  10. Now I’m going to make myself even less popular on this site, even more dreaded than I have been. I say this: what’s wrong with Amtrak hiring from the airline industry. Aviation is a huge success in this country. Amtrak isn’t. Go to an airport like DEN Denver International, then to the corresponding Amtrak station. Then tell me which mode is doing it right and which mode is struggling (to put the best face on failure).

    Hospitality? My most recent two flights, both First Class on UAL, were an absolute dream. And far cheaper than first class (i.e. sleeper) on Amtrak.

    1. Very brave Charles!

      However, I don’t think most people think of great customer service and airlines. All the airlines have had their epic meltdowns, SW being the latest. Yes, first class can be great if you can afford it on longer trips but on short trips which are most– hardly worth it unless you need a bigger seat (which is definitely not me :)) Basically, the airlines are selling a comodity at this point– though some are even more basic than others.

  11. “if we are to achieve our goal of doubling our ridership by 2040”. I guess that could happen on the east coast. But certainly not on the long distance routes. The present mentality of high prices and reduces capacity, mandates very little, if any increase in ridership.

    1. Well they have a goal of 2040 and that’s his job to achieve that through “hospitality”and Marketing. At least he didn’t come from the airline industry.

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