President’s commentary: Amtrak CEO Gives Up On AMTRAK

By Paul J. Dyson, RailPAC President, January 13, 2012

Joe Boardman condemns the long distance trains to a lingering death.
Sunset Limited in “immediate danger”.

Someone needs to tell Mr. Boardman that he is CEO of the NATIONAL Railroad Passenger Corporation. It seems that since he took the CEO position a couple of years ago that is one memo that did not cross his desk. Whether he has made up his own mind that the national passenger rail network is expendable or whether he is receiving marching orders from the administration, or even indirectly from the class one railroads, the end result is the same. Boardman’s words and (in)actions speak loud and clear. The long distance trains, especially in the west, are expendable. Indeed the Sunset Limited is in immediate danger, and we’ll need your help to save it.

Why do I draw this conclusion? Yesterday Mr. Boardman held a press conference at which he managed once again to characterize the long distance trains as losers, stated that he refused to fight for his own turf, viz. the future of the Sunset Limited, and at the same time managed to insult and denigrate his own marketing staff for their handling of the Sunset issue.

Furthermore he turned down the golden opportunity of cooperating with the states over the bi-level building program. Here was a chance in a lifetime for a transportation company to reduce its costs and expand its service, as well as help its partners reduce their costs, by piggybacking on a modest order for new passenger equipment for the western states. (Freight railroads and shippers do this all the time). Instead Boardman repeats the old bromide, more or less that “the more business I do the more money I lose”. I suppose that’s the price we pay for putting a government administrator in charge of what is supposed to be a commercial enterprise.

Here are some opinions that I believe are shared by most proponents of a successful passenger rail network:

If Amtrak gives in to Union Pacific over the Sunset the writing is on the wall for the Zephyr, Starlight, and Eagle, as well as any hope for the Pioneer and Desert Wind.

If we don’t supply new cars for these same trains plus the Builder and Chief both to make up the consists and to grow the business, these trains have a very limited future. Already there are far too many short consists, in service failures, trains without dining car service.

The end of trains like the Sunset will destroy the possibility of corridor service for places like Palm Springs, or through service to Phoenix or Reno.

We need a new Amtrak CEO and Board. Boardman must go, it’s that simple.

There are those that are convinced that this is some kind of conspiracy, that Mr. Boardman, and Ray LaHood for that matter, were appointed to carry out the task of finally ridding the railroads of their legacy passenger obligations. Others say that the CEO is simply incompetent, that the organization is now out of control with the loss of so many senior managers from the mishandled buyout. I prefer to withhold my judgment. Suffice it to say that the net result is the same.

We need to call out the Obama administration on this. This is supposed to be a passenger rail friendly government but we hear very little support for what we have, only platitudes about High Speed Rail projects, most of which have crashed and burned before leaving the drawing board. Where do you stand, Mr. President?

We also need to call out NARP. Is the National Association of Railroad Passengers willing to let this pass, and simply say that Mr. Boardman is doing his best, (while still marshalling 95% of the resources to the NEC of course)? Or will NARP also see the writing on the wall and join us and the Steel Wheels Coalition in defending the national system?

These events bring us back to commentaries and opinions we have shared over recent years, namely that we need to split Amtrak and divest the NEC into another organization, leaving a new National Railroad Passenger Corporation with the specific task of preserving and developing the national network. We need to think about what this post Amtrak world will look like and how the new organization will rise to the many challenges. Where will the money come from to make the necessary and overdue investments in rolling stock? How will it preserve and expand its rights to run trains over the common carrier railroads’ infrastructure, and what will it be charged?

These are questions for future discussion. In the short term once again we are having to fight with our backs to the wall. It will be an uphill struggle to explain to elected officials and the public that in spite of the ceaseless propaganda about losses we have a national asset that is worth protecting and expanding. We will need the support of all of our members and friends. If you live along the route of the Sunset Limited get your local elected officials involved. Let them know that if Union Pacific has the infrastructure to run the train 3 days a week then they can run it on the other 4 days too. Have your electeds write to the STB and the DoT to have them investigate. Tell them we need a new Amtrak CEO who believes in his job, and Amtrak Board members from the western states. Most of all make your Senators aware that mobility is an issue, the national network is an issue, and that there are votes to be won or lost.

Paul Dyson, President

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