News & Reviews News Wire Amtrak paid $2.3 million in executive bonuses in 2021 despite lower revenue, ridership

Amtrak paid $2.3 million in executive bonuses in 2021 despite lower revenue, ridership

By | August 5, 2022

New York Times report says CEO Gardner has received more than $766,000 in bonuses since 2016

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Man speaking with microphone on a train.
Stephen Gardner of Amtrak gives a tour of Amtrak’s storm-damaged North River Tunnel to New Jersey officials in January 2019. Gardner, now Amtrak’s CEO, has received more than $766,000 in bonuses since 2016, the New York Times reports.  (Ed Murray | NJ Advance Media for

NEW YORK — Nine Amtrak executives received bonuses of $200,000 or more in 2021 despite lower ridership and revenue in the wake of the COViD-19 pandemic, after none were awarded in 2020, the New York Times has reported.

Six people received bonuses of $200,000 or more in pre-pandemic 2019. There were also no bonuses awarded in 2015, and smaller bonuses in 2016, 2017, and 2018. As a company, Amtrak just over $480,000 in bonuses in 2018, almost $1.8 million in 2019, and no bonuses in 2020. In 2021, it paid $2.3 million, despite the lowest revenue and largest losses in more than a decade, the Times says. The newspaper obtained the data under the Freedom of Information Act.

Woman with short hair and glasses in blue suit
Eleanor Acheson, Amtrak general counsel. (Amtrak)

Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner has received more than $766,000 in short-term bonuses since 2016, leading the company. Gardner became the company’s president in December 2020 and its CEO in January of this year, following the unexpected retirement of Bill Flynn just 21 months into a term expected to last at least five years [see “Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn to retire,” Trains News Wire, Dec. 16, 2021].  Eleanor Acheson, executive vice president and general counsel & corporate secretary is next at almost $727,000. Acheson, at Amtrak since 2007, leads the company’s law department.

Amtrak declined to provide the Times with additional information on salaries or other compensation. The company’s chief human resources officer told the newspaper that the bonuses were intended to help the company attract and retain talent. Qiana Spain said in a statement that Amtrak had not paid any bonuses “without first meeting its financial target.”

Gardner received $293,000 in bonuses in 2021, and eight others in the 12-member leadership team received bonuses of $230,000 more. That came after Amtrak’s results for fiscal 2021, which ended that September, showed the company making $882.8 million in revenue, down from $1.24 billion in 2020 and $2.35 billion in pre-pandemic 2019. Overall ridership in 2021 was 12.2 million, down from 16.8 million in 2020 and 32.8 million in 2019 [see “Analysis: Amtrak fiscal 2021 results favor longer routes,” Trains News Wire, Oct. 11, 2021].

The bonuses also came after the company announced plans to furlough almost 2,000 workers in 2021 and eliminate about 100 managerial positions during the 2021 fiscal year [see “Amtrak tells employees it will furlough 1,950 workers,” Trains News Wire, Sept. 1, 2020]; the Times report says more than 1,200 actually were furloughed. The company also paid out almost $17 million in buyouts to 511 management and union employees in July 2020 [see “More than 500 accept Amtrak buyouts,” News Wire, July 27, 2020].

The Times report says Amtrak’s current workforce remains smaller by about 1,500 workers, or 8%, than its pre-pandemic figure. Amtrak continues to cite worker shortages as a factor in reduced service, train cancellations, and trains operating with reduced consists because of a shortage of operable equipment.

31 thoughts on “Amtrak paid $2.3 million in executive bonuses in 2021 despite lower revenue, ridership

  1. And they want $1061 for a roomette on No. 5 Chicago to Emeryville in late September. Wont see me onboard………..

  2. Mr. Singer; very thoughtful comment. From my experiences over the years with Amtrak, Amtrak hit its pinnicle under the leadership of Graham Claytor. 98, north, from Jax, an 18 car train. Clean equipemtn, efficient employees (many left over from the pre Amtrak era, duplex dinners, yes serving cafeteria style; but the food was fresh and plentiful.
    All who use Amtrak deserve much better.

  3. Some bonuses are based on a mix of qualifying criteria. In Amtrak’s case I can only speculate, but I am sure part of it not just based on route performance. Some of it may be from a measure of operations, effectiveness in getting funding and cost-benefit gains.

  4. What Congress, the media, and taxpayers consistently fail to understand and miss by a mile is how Amtrak was actually run consistently better under the steady hand of leaders with proven railroad operating experience, e.g., Graham Claytor, David Gunn, and Paul Reistrup.

    These leaders kept their subalterns focused on maximizing performance; not how to gin up criteria to measure bonuses. A contributing factor was how Amtrak also benefited from a competent, hands-on Board of Directors.

    Today, most good managers with railroad experience have been pushed out by a highly politicized outside corporate management recruited from the airlines; with Gardner coming from Capitol Hill as a staffer. The Board cannot provide any meaningful stewardship as its insufficient membership lacks the very credentials as required by Railpax, Amtrak’s enabling legislation.

    Today’s focus has been on manipulating numbers to max out bonuses, e.g., cut costs by reducing labor–by laying off experienced managers. Without a competent Board to ensure oversight and accountability, CEO Gardner and his cronies evidenced their inability to operate any railroad, let alone the all passenger Amtrak:
    -laying off the seasoned, experienced crews and maintenance at beginning of pandemic without a thought how they would be needed to re-start Amtrak. Same with losing its HR people to recruit and train new hires.
    -without complete consists, long distance trains forced not to operate daily and/or with short consists, impacting revenues.

    The failure of Congress to provide meaningful check-and-balance has contributed to Amtrak’s fiasco. Why is Congress not charged with the mandate to review and approve the CEO; the perpetual extension of the Board Chair?

    Why does Congress not get into the ‘grass where the goats graze’ to review/verify financial records? Does Congress know, approve Amtrak’s juggling of its books to push costs out of the Northeast Corridor to lay-off on the long distance and state-supported corridors? Does Congress accept how Amtrak gives a free ride to the states along the Northeast Corridor while charging all other states costs in direct refutation of GAAP (Generally Acceptable Accounting Principles)? Dealing with Amtrak is like buying from a butcher shop with both thumbs of the butcher on the scale.

    With Board Chair Coscia singing from the same hymnal in concert with CEO Gardner focused on the demise of the long distance train, Congress has no control over Amtrak, as evidenced by the ridiculous, excessive bonuses that only encourage the devolution of a national rail system once run by competent management with oversight and accountability provided by a Board with the requisite experience.

  5. RPA will probably applaud the bonuses given. No 97/98, who cares. No decent food, whatever. The public who actually support the trains, deserve so much better.

  6. An argument can be made that bonuses are warranted if a company is making money. But bonuses for the executives of a company that has never earned its keep rubs me the wrong way.

    People should be paid competitively in accordance with their responsibilities and accountabilities. They either perform or they don’t.

    Having worked in HR for more than 10 years, I am familiar with bonuses. All too often they are awarded for the wrong reason. Frequently, they are doled out to employees who know how to manipulate the system and look good in the process.

  7. Although Amtrak has stock, it is not publicly traded and his little more than a hobbyist’s value, they have to pay their executives bonuses. However, these should be approved the board of directors; but they really are not independent. Perhaps Congress should set a line item for bonuses which could not be paid unless certain metrics were achieved? E.g. Passenger miles traveled, average number of Superliners in service per day, mechanical failures less than “x” per month, passengers accommodated in the dining car > “x”, etc. No wait this is too logical, too stringent, too harsh and no one would earn anything, if it were lucky to be approved. Sad.

  8. What amazes me is how corporate executives can earn bonuses when a company has filed bankruptcy to so call retain top talent. The list of companies is way too long to list where these things happen. Look at retail, manufacturing and a myriad of other industries. When I was in school, you had complete requirements before moving to your next grade or be sent to summer school. I hated the thought of going to summer school so I made sure I completed the requirements every year.

  9. Mentioned earlier that maybe some of that money went to front line managers. No, it did not. The article was about the ivory tower boys who are horrible at running a railroad and the bonuses they got.

  10. Hey, cut them a little slack; they gotta keep up with the freight guys who got huge bonuses and stock options from ripping up their railroads and screwing their customers, right? Fair game!

  11. They’ve really done nothing to return service to pre pandemic levels, they furloughed too many employees they mothballed too much equipment, they reduced service on LD routes which still had strong demand then were slow to restore service due to lack of personnel. Now they still haven’t restored daily service to some LD routes & have failed to capitalize on summer travel by not adding more sleepers & coaches because of the lack of serviceable equipment yet have not yet called for bids on new western LD train. I have not seen any monthly ridership numbers posted why all the secrecy? Is it due to the fact that the LD routes are posting higher #s & the NEC continues to slump?

  12. While not defending or justifying any one person’s bonus, I don’t see the real issue here. First, the lack of context on what is an “executive” may hide that some portion of that $2.3m is going to front line supervisors who deal with a lot, are making maybe $125k/yr and their bonus comes out to about $7k, not insignificant, but not life-altering.

    Second, some of those positions might justify it. A General Counsel is worth a lot, particularly when their legal strategies win. $200k is nothing in context of perhaps millions saved in litigation.

    1. No problem with bonuses that retain or reward real talent. Good luck finding any such thing in the upper ranks at Amtrak.

  13. They’re giving themselves a pat on the back for their genius plan of eliminating the LD routes through equipment attrition & diverting all the Congressional Infrastructure $$ to the failing NEC.

    1. Correct Mr. Riley. They’ve already axed the Silver Meteor except few realise it yet. Any who receive the RPA Friday Hotline News email blasts want bet how that wretched organization spins this?

  14. Amend the sentence as follows, “Stockholders and bondholders can always sell their securities if they aren’t pleased with the financial results.”

  15. Stockholders and bondholders can always sell their securities if they aren’t with the financial results. We taxpayers are stuck with Amtrak, unless Congress takes action.

    1. Sen. Schumer “took action” when President Biden, after FINALLY coming up with a list of nominees for an Amtrak Board beyond their terms, by ramming through the retention of Anthony Coscia as Chairman. And that dynamic duo made Gardner CEO upon William Flynn’s leaving the agency. Kay Bailey Hutchison wanted Amtrak “national or nothing”. Schumer, Coscia, and Gardner want Amtrak to be nothing but the Northeast Corridor.

  16. It’s part of the corrupt bureaucrats’ game, to reward themselves. Amtrak is no less corrupt than most, and maybe more.

    1. As others have said it is no just government bureaucrats but also CEOs and their ilk. America has long past met its economic peak relative peak compared to rest of world for many reason, but one of them must be that the managers and executives no longer are asked to have risen from the ranks of folks who do the work– not just endemic to railroads (passenger and freight)

  17. Two lessons in the American economy from Mark Belling, Milwaukee right-wing radio talk show host:

    (1) There’s a lot of profit in non-profit.
    (2) There’s a lot of money in going broke.

    1. Congress has been AWOL so far. Congress is more concerned with the upcoming elections.

  18. When Chrysler was bankrupt, I remember Lee Ioccoa taking a $1 salary. Talk does not deliver good service. Actions do. Reward fluffy talkers and you get more talk. This is shameful.

  19. Nothing wrong here right? I mean look at all the other business’s who have lost money in the past 30 years that have rewarded their leaders with massive bonuses. It’s the American way, screw up and be rewarded. When your BOD is made up other CEO’s what do you expect? It’s called CYA. I don’t care what your political leaning is, we should all be pissed of about this. And please do not tell me that these people should be rewarded for creating jobs, they are not. And maintaining and attracting talent? Yeah right.

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