RUNNING A RAILROAD IN 2019

Richard Anderson was appointed CEO of Amtrak in 2017 and is attempting to make the railroad profitable.

Anderson is the former CEO of Delta Airlines and is currently being met with the charge – from union officials, long-haul train fanatics, safety regulators, private rail car owners and others – that he’s trying to run it like an airlines.  Anderson remains unapologetic about his efforts to try to get Amtrak to change.  He has instituted cost cuts that slashed staffing (resulting in closing call centers at one point and eliminating hot meal service on long-distance routes).  But the most contentious action,  to date, is altering or eliminating some of the network’s venerable long-distance train routes in favor of more frequent service where the population is growing (ref WSJ).  Hobbyists are irate at Anderson’s attempt to limit their ability to attach private cars to the backs of Amtrak trains.  Anderson cut off access in some locations and drastically increased prices for the service in others, arguing that the private cars make Amtrak’s trains late.  As a result, one train buff has hung a “Fire Anderson” sign outside the Pennsylvania freight-sorting facility. When Anderson was asked what he thought when he saw the sign, his reply was, “Nothing.”  According to recent reports, Amtrak is profitable on the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston, but lost $540 million on its long-distance trains.  Unfortunately, Congress is enamored with the storied old train routes that Anderson wants to break up.  His operations officer, Stephen Gardner, wrote the 2008 rail reorganization act that Anderson credits with helping Amtrak improve its fiscal stability, in part by requiring states and commuter-rail agencies to help shoulder the costs of some services.  Gardner says, “We’re not here to run a museum; we’re here . . . to move people.”  Anderson has taken to dispensing copies to complainants of the 2008 law that lays out his mission to “provide efficient and effective intercity passenger rail mobility consisting of high-quality service that is trip-time competitive with other intercity travel options.”  That about sums it up; here’s wishing Anderson good luck in his quest to run a well-functioning railroad in modern times.

 

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