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Amtrak CEO: Phasing out long distance trains in favor of “corridors”.

Report – Richard Anderson, Amtrak CEO – Remarks to California Rail Summit and Questions and Answers

19th April 2018

Richard Anderson, CEO of Amtrak, gave a keynote address to about 150 passenger rail officials and industry professionals, plus a handful of advocates.  I have the feeling he had not counted on there being any advocates in the audience. To the best of my knowledge there was no audio or video recording of the meeting, which is most unfortunate.  I have done my best to give a reasonably concise account from my notes and from memory and have conferred with others who were there.  I am reasonably certain that I have captured both the tone and overall content of his remarks and replies.  I wish I had had the presence of mind to turn on my I phone, at least to capture my own question. I have used quotation marks when I have recalled actual words used, otherwise it is my best recollection.

Anderson had some positive items to report about reforms and initiatives he has undertaken.  These include:

Union Contracts – All Unions are now covered with 7-year contracts which have been ratified with high percentage votes in favor.

OTP – He’s genuinely concerned about OTP and says they have achieved days on the NEC with 100% on time.  He did not mention private cars.

Safety – He is also very concerned about safety and noted that airline safety is superior to rail.  He seems to be shocked at the concept of dark territory, although he did not repeat his threat to cease operations on those routes.  PTC implementation is continuing and is very complex as a tenant on 20 railroads.  Amtrak is hiring more Road Foremen to help their engineers improve safety, and they have upgraded their route qualification rules.

Fleet renewal:  His remarks on fleet renewal focused on the Amfleet Ones that are 45 years old and operating under FRA waiver, and the P42 locomotives.  They will be replaced by DMUs and a few locos.  The P42s are unreliable, forcing them to use two units instead of one. “I don’t like carrying a spare”.  The locomotives are Tier Zero and operate with an EPA waiver, which “they would not get if a private company”.

Finance – He claimed that Amtrak is “debt free” and is “stockpiling cash” for fleet renewals.

Stations – Spending money on stations.  I think he regretted saying that, as Amtrak doesn’t own many out west.

Operational Concept – Amtrak’s market opportunity is in corridors of 100 to 400 miles (he wavered a couple of times on that and said 300 miles) and would be operated by DMUs. DMUs are lighter weight, more environmentally friendly.  His concept is something like an Acela with diesel power.  This would need investment by the States and cooperation by the freight railroads.  I noted that he did not specifically say that the long-distance trains would go, only that corridors are the future.

He hinted that spare Superliners would go to the Surfliner and other corridors.

Questions and answers:

There was a question by David Cameron of the Teamsters about enforcement of passenger priority on the Class Ones.  His answer was that this has never been enforced but that they were “working” with the freights to improve matters.

I then had the mic and introduced myself as President of RailPAC, a nonprofit volunteer group that represents rail passengers.  A lot of RailPAC members are regular customers of the ld trains and spend many thousands of dollars on tickets.  There is a concept in business of having a “Unique selling proposition”. Passenger rail has many unique features, like dining cars, lounges, the Pacific Parlor car, which you seem to be destroying.  I note that you have skirted the question of the long-distance trains.  Does this mean there will be no more long-distance trains?

Main points from his answer:  His demeanor was angry and agitated.  The long-distance trains cost $750 million a year to operate. Corridors are better.  Only 4% of passengers travel end to end.  Under PRIIA he believes that he has to operate at lower cost and more competitively.  “That’s what the law says”.  He angrily challenged me on that, expecting me to tell him to break the law.  He said “There is some room for experience travel” but did not elaborate.

Another person in the audience asked “What will you do about the studies from a few years ago of the Pioneer and Sunset?  Answer: “Nothing, they don’t make economic sense.”

Next came a question from Dana Gabbard:  What about the National in NRPC?  Are you not supposed to operate a National System? Are not these corridors going to fall into the category of State supported trains? Anderson was fuming by this time and again stated, I am following the law.  “Anyone have a question about policy?”

I thought our questions were about policy!  I suppose he was expecting some softball questions.

Editorial:  There we have it.  This is how Anderson will restructure Amtrak and destroy a connected national system.  I have the feeling he expected the audience to be in agreement with him as many there represented the State Corridors.  We’ll see what the reaction will be, if any.

The objective of the policy is obvious.  By terminating the long-distance trains and establishing state supported corridors in their place there will be a further transfer of dollars to the NEC.  It also means that Amtrak will not have to expend any of its capital budget on renewing or augmenting the Surfliner fleet and P42 locomotives.  Any replacements will be charged to the States with their cost plus formula. 

I will be writing further and discussing with the RailPAC Board and other like-minded organizations what our actions should be.  Watch for more postings.