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Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018

Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018

Amtrak National Network Campaign – Some Helpful Tools

Here are a couple of sample letters to cut and paste in whole or in part.  The first objective is to get our California Senators, Feinstein and Harris, to recognize the problem and to take action with their fellow Senators:

Dear Senator (  ):

Thank you for your support of passenger rail, including the Amtrak national network.  I believe that this system of trains and connecting buses is a great asset, providing essential mobility and links between both urban and rural America.  Amtrak is carrying record numbers of passengers on ALL its routes, many of which serve communities where there are no longer alternatives such as local air service or intercity bus.  Many people choose rail, even with a longer journey time, because of the greater comfort and on-board experience, and many people simply have a fear of flying.

We know that Amtrak is not a profitable operation.  We do know that most public support goes to maintain the expensive infrastructure of the North East Corridor (“NEC”).  We also know the State supported corridors are either a break even or profit center for Amtrak.  The long-distance trains are a bargain for the taxpayer and represent about a third of Amtrak’s business.  Without them the States would be paying far more for their corridor services, especially California.

It has become apparent that Amtrak management, using metrics and policies based on airline experience, is obsessed with destroying the national network.  Recently retired Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman has just issued a statement with the same message.  By cutting on board dining and other amenities, and failing to invest in locomotives and coaches for the past twenty years, they are deliberately downgrading the service and driving away customers.  We believe they are doing this in attempt to squeeze more money from the States, in order to fund the backlog of infrastructure projects on the NEC.  The NEC is important, but not at the expense of passenger rail for the rest of the country.

We believe that investment in and improvement of the national system is the way to go.  California can build the locomotives and passenger cars needed to expand and replace the existing fleet.  A positive approach from a new Amtrak management team will attract more business, including tourists, as well as a growing population of retirees.

I request that you work with your fellow Senators to pressure transportation Secretary Chao to appoint knowledgeable and forward-thinking members to the Amtrak Board who can then appoint a CEO that wants the company to succeed, not to destroy.

Yours etc.

 

Next is a generic letter for your Mayor, County Supervisor, Chamber of Commerce etc.

 

Dear Mayor ….

Amtrak’s national system of trains and connecting buses serves hundreds of communities throughout the country.  It is a vital link between urban and rural America providing basic transportation needs to many communities that no longer have intercity bus or local air service.  In addition, many Americans simply have a fear of flying, and many more have a preference for the ambience of train travel without the stress of airports.  Amtrak is also a tourist attraction, bringing in revenue from overseas visitors.

Recently appointed Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson (formerly with Delta Airlines) does not understand the passenger rail business and is foolishly trying to save money by breaking up the network into short corridors.  His purpose is to save money by transferring the financial responsibility of these short corridors to the States through which they run, so that Amtrak’s federal funds can be used to rebuild the North East Corridor (“NEC”).  I acknowledge that the NEC is important and has major problems, but these should not be fixed at the expense of the rest of the country.

Joe Boardman, recently retired Amtrak CEO has just has just issued a similar warning, that Amtrak management is destroying the national network.

Please join the Rail Passenger Association of California and other advocates around the country in fighting to preserve this mobility option.  Let Senators Feinstein and Harris know that we support their efforts to appoint pro-rail members to the Amtrak Board, and to replace the management with positive, forward-thinking individuals who believe in their mission.

 

Amtrak Campaign – Talking Points

If you are contacting any of your elected representatives, here are some talking points:

If the western long-distance trains are eliminated:

There will be no connected train network, only isolated corridors or local services.  A connected network of over 500 stations will be replaced by “islands” of service with many fewer travel choices.

If the western states want passenger rail they have to pay, no more federal program.  The corridors Anderson proposes will require state funds, which most states cannot afford or will not support.

Another massive transfer of funds to the Northeast Corridor (“NEC”).

Amtrak deliberately running the service down.  No new investment in Superliners and locomotives for 20 years or more, now removing diners, parlor cars, station agents.

Brand New Dining Cars going into storage.

Will destroy most passenger rail service west of the Mississippi.

Loss of jobs, especially in California.  Train crews, on board service, car attendants, maintenance personnel.

Transfer of costs to State corridors.  Currently the California corridors share administrative and maintenance facility costs with the long-distance trains.  Amtrak will be California 100% of these charges if the long-distance trains go away.

Many of Amtrak’s initiatives have been tried before.  They more revenue than the costs that they cut.

By all means add in your own thoughts, experiences etc.

Here are some useful links:

Find your Senator and Representative

https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

https://ziplook.house.gov/htbin/findrep

California Government”

http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov/

Let’s get busy and make some noise.  We need to contact our representatives at every level to express our concern.  TODAY!

Any questions, contact pdyson@railpac.org or info@railpac.org

 

Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018, Editorials

Boardman Joins the Fight for the National Network

In a surprise development, Joe Boardman, former Amtrak CEO, has written a scathing article in Railway Age criticizing the policy of the current Amtrak Board and CEO.  When I get permission I’ll reproduce it here.  Boardman states that the national network, and especially the long distance trains, are threatened by a philosophy that seeks to convert the system to short haul day only trains, sponsored by the States, so that the federal funds given to Amtrak can be used for NEC projects like “Gateway”.  Sound familiar?

Here is the full story, courtesy of Railway Age.   Joe Boardman writes:

Having spent much of my productive life at the state and federal levels observing, studying, regulating and then leading a rail management team, I am appalled with what increasingly appears a unilateral violation of the public trust by Amtrak’s current leadership to dismantle our interconnected, intercity rail passenger network, beginning with hollowing out of its long-distance passenger train service.

Amtrak is not a privately held corporation whose fate is to be determined by a few individuals behind closed doors. It was created by the people and for the people and is funded by taxpayers who help to supplement Amtrak’s farebox revenue. Amtrak provides a cherished public service, with opinion polls repeatedly validating support for its existence and even expansion.

The role of Amtrak leadership is to operate the railroad and its various lines of business safely, efficiently and in accordance with congressionally approved statutes. It is the role of congressional lawmakers who answer to the public to determine the fate of Amtrak, and only through a transparent legislative process.

From materials I have seen submitted to congressional staff, Amtrak management has begun surgical communications in a way that does not provide a transparent discussion of what management is doing or intending to do. Quite the opposite of being transparent, Amtrak management is limiting the substance of public briefings, denying journalists access to relevant management officials and making decisions in isolation.

Evidence points to a covert effort to divide Amtrak’s political constituencies and create distrust and discord. Consider a current effort by Amtrak management to convince opinion leaders and decision makers that providing service via the Southwest Chief passenger train, which makes 31 stops between Chicago and Los Angeles, is somehow too costly.

Confirming this intent to eliminate the service, Amtrak has informed elected officials in Colfax County, N.M., that it will not provide its match for a recently awarded congressional grant intended to sustain operation of the Southwest Chief. This directly undermines a federal grant program that, while Amtrak president, I personally brokered with BNSF CEO Matt Rose to improve the BNSF route used by the Southwest Chief—a joint benefit to freight trains and Amtrak.

Additionally, Amtrak management is engaged in “weaponizing” safety to attack more broadly Amtrak’s long-distance network. Under a façade of “safety first,” there are threats to discontinue Amtrak operated passenger trains by Dec. 31, 2018, wherever Positive Train Control is not installed and operating. That is neither acceptable nor responsible.

Yet on route segments—some 100-miles or longer—where the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has decided to exclude a requirement for PTC, Amtrak responsibly intends to utilize a highly respected Federal Aviation Administration safety program to assess risks.

Certainly, commuter carriers operating in the congested Northeast will continue operating on non-PTC equipped track beyond the Dec. 31, 2018, deadline for its installation because other FRA safety measures will govern operation.

Halting New Jersey Transit or Metro-North commuter railroads because a PTC deadline cannot be met and other safety measures are in place would be ridiculous. If commuter carriers in the Northeast can continue operating beyond the Dec. 31, 2018, PTC deadline, then certainly the Southwest Chief can, also.

Indeed, there is additional mitigation for safety risks, such as Automatic Train Stop or even solar powered switch position indicators. And, yes, it will take time and funding, but neither Amtrak management nor its board of directors has made clear whether service would be continued while those mitigations are funded and completed. If it is not made clear by July, then Amtrak management and its board is validating my allegation of “weaponizing” safety to attack Amtrak’s national interconnected passenger train network.

Make no mistake: I am strongly in support of Positive Train Control technology, and my record as the nation’s rail safety regulator speaks for itself. Safety conscious railroaders know that PTC is not an off-the-shelf technology, and where the FRA has allowed extensions and exclusions, there are available safety mitigations.

A pattern is emerging of Amtrak management and its board of directors seeking, on its own and without public input and transparency, to hog all Amtrak federal financial assistance to complete Northeast Corridor (NEC) rail projects such as the Gateway Program, to procure new “city pair” trainsets for off-NEC operation, and to shorten Amtrak long-distance routes so as to shift costs to states, ultimately destroying Amtrak’s national interconnectivity.

I think current Amtrak management and its board of directors have drawn a line in the sand at the foot of Raton Pass, targeting the Southwest Chief as their first—but not last—long-distance train to target for cutting.

The Southwest Chief issue is the battleground whose outcome will determine the fate of American’s national interconnected rail passenger network. Said more simply, the battle is Raton Pass vs. Gateway. The history of public policy toward Amtrak is that you cannot have one without the other.

Congressional leaders have long asserted that without support for Amtrak’s long-distance trains, federal support for the Northeast Corridor will evaporate.

While there is eminent good reason to fund Northeast Corridor projects, there is equivalent good reason for preserving daily train service to, for example, Dodge City, Kan., La Junta, Colo., and Havre, Mont., where the economic impact is significant and other options non-existent.

Ignoring the political process and unilaterally abandoning service linking Denver with Albuquerque and Los Angeles is equally absurd and would not survive a transparent public process were it allowed.

Joe Boardman retired in 2016 after eight years as Amtrak president and CEO, making him second only to W. Graham Claytor Jr. as Amtrak’s longest serving CEO. Previously (June 2005-December 2008), he was President George W. Bush’s Federal Railroad Administrator. Earlier, Boardman was the longest serving Commissioner of Transportation in New York State history. In 2014, he was Railway Age’s 51st Railroader of the Year.

Paul Dyson

pdyson@railpac.org

 

Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018, Commentary

The Anderson Tape – LA Rail Summit April 19, 2018

The recording of Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson’s presentation, plus audience questions, is now available.  The Anderson segment begins at approximately One Hour and 46 minutes.

https://www.ustream.tv/recorded/114596550

It seems to be taking an awfully long time for the implications of these remarks to sink in.  RailPAC is currently reviewing the options, and sounding out potential allies, for a coordinated campaign to restore sanity to Amtrak policy.  Stay in touch.

Pdyson@railpac.org

 

Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018, Commentary

Why Anderson thinks he is doing the right thing – Amtrak’s mission statement

Why Anderson thinks he can, and should, destroy the National Passenger Rail Network

Paul Dyson, RailPAC President

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson has interpreted PRIIA and other Amtrak legislation, and together with Amtrak’s flawed management information systems, has concluded that the national Network is a hopeless money loser.  It is therefore his job to get rid of these losses by converting parts of the routes to “corridors”, i.e. day trains only up to about 400 miles maximum, and abandoning service on the rest.  These corridors will be State subsidized or they will not exist.  Do the Governor’s know this?  I don’t suppose that Congress, especially the more rural districts with Amtrak service, expected this as the “thank you” for increased spending in the new budget.

The text below in black was provided by Jason Abrams. Amtrak Corporate Communications.  It outlines the justification that CEO Anderson believes he has to convert the long-distance trains to shorthaul corridors, and thereby destroy the national network.  Note that nowhere in the text does National network appear, nor overnight train, nor long-distance, in either a positive or negative light.  Where were the passenger rail advocates when PRIIA was written, (me included)?

My comments are in Italics. Draw your own conclusions.  As always your comments are welcomed. pdyson@railpac.org

 

Amtrak’s Mission and Goals As Defined by the U.S. Congress through the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) and codified in 49 USC 24101:

Our Mission “The mission of Amtrak is to provide efficient and effective intercity passenger rail mobility consisting of high-quality service that is trip-time competitive with other intercity travel options.”

Does Amtrak eliminate the route if not “trip-time competitive”?

Our Goals

Amtrak shall— 1) Use its best business judgment in acting to minimize United States Government subsidies, including— A) increasing fares; B) increasing revenue from the transportation of mail and express; C) reducing losses on food service; D) improving its contracts with operating rail carriers; E) reducing management costs; and F) increasing employee productivity;

2) Minimize Government subsidies by encouraging State, regional, and local governments and the private sector, separately or in combination, to share the cost of providing rail passenger transportation, including the cost of operating facilities;

For “Government subsidies” read Federal Government subsidies.

3) Carry out strategies to achieve immediately maximum productivity and efficiency consistent with safe and efficient transportation;

4) Operate Amtrak trains, to the maximum extent feasible, to all station stops within 15 minutes of the time established in public timetables;

5) Develop transportation on rail corridors subsidized by States and private parties;

Note that this ties in with Anderson’s remarks in Los Angeles 4/19/18.  Convert a Federal program into a State program, keep the Federal money for….well guess where.

6) Implement schedules based on a systemwide average speed of at least 60 miles an hour that can be achieved with a degree of reliability and passenger comfort;

Most long-distance trains average about 40mph.  The corridors are not much better.  How will this be done?

7) Encourage rail carriers to assist in improving intercity rail passenger transportation;

8) Improve generally the performance of Amtrak through comprehensive and systematic operational programs and employee incentives;

9) Provide additional or complementary intercity transportation service to ensure mobility in times of national disaster or other instances where other travel options are not adequately available;

10) Carry out policies that ensure equitable access to the Northeast Corridor by intercity and commuter rail passenger transportation;

Open access for a competitor intercity operator?  

11) Coordinate the uses of the Northeast Corridor, particularly intercity and commuter rail passenger transportation; and

12) Maximize the use of its resources, including the most cost-effective use of employees, facilities, and real property.

Minimizing Government Subsidies — Amtrak is encouraged to make agreements with the private sector and undertake initiatives that are consistent with good business judgment and designed to maximize its revenues and minimize Government subsidies. Amtrak shall prepare a financial plan, consistent with section 204 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, including the budgetary goals for fiscal years 2009 through 2013. Amtrak and its Board of Directors shall adopt a long-term plan that minimizes the need for Federal operating subsidies.