Image via WikipediaThis Week at Amtrak; August 24, 2009
A weekly digest of events, opinions, and forecasts from
United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.
America’s foremost passenger rail policy institute
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Volume 6, Number 31
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1) Here’s the pertinent question: Is Amtrak really interested in being a successful company?
Amtrak doesn’t seem interested in route or frequency expansion, Amtrak doesn’t seem interested in drawing new passengers, and Amtrak doesn’t seem interested in cultivating new friends.
All Amtrak seems interested in doing is keeping a company going which constantly has to feed at the various public troughs on the federal level and in several of the united states.
We are less than two week away from Labor Day, indicating the end of the high volume summer travel season.
With the recessionary times we’re having, most of the long distance routes seem to be holding their own, but trains on the Northeast Corridor are performing so badly and advance demand is so low, summer sales have been extended deep into the fall and winter months.
We see some glimmers from Amtrak it wants to be a player in the new high speed game, but it performs so poorly in the conventional speed passenger business it’s hard to imagine it could do any better spending high speed money.
We see Amtrak executives like Vice President Richard Phelps and planner Brian Rosenwald in Washington, or General Superintendent Daryl Pesce in Chicago or transportation manager Mike Chandler in Los Angeles working as hard as they can to make Amtrak a better place, along with a number of their colleagues.
But, we’re not seeing a vision from the top, and we’re not seeing a plan for the future of Amtrak.
We’re seeing a lot of status quo, and a lot of scandal, like the retirement of former Amtrak Inspector General Fred Weiderhold, when it appears he may have been one of the few people who genuinely cared about the future of Amtrak and the ability of Amtrak to behave as an honorable company.
The good guys as Amtrak must be getting tired, and the bad guys at Amtrak seem to be keeping things as business as usual.
Wise gray heads like Gil Carmichael have presented a great gift to our nation with a vision of what passenger rail, in a healthy partnership with freight rail, can be in our country, right down to chapter and verse how to get it done.
But, Amtrak continues operating with an interim president and chief executive officer, and an under-populated board of directors.
Every president Amtrak has had since the departure of Graham Claytor over 15 years ago has spent more time either cleaning up the messes left by their predecessors, or following bankrupting dreams like Acela for the Northeast Corridor instead of creating and following a real business plan which doesn’t constantly rely on the generosity of others for annual funding.
Nobody wants to – or seems capable of – coming up with a realistic business plan calling for expansion, growth, and prosperity. All we see is the same song on a different page; more highly expensive, low revenue short distance corridors which are designed to financially fail.
Substantial new equipment orders seem to be an elusive myth; existing passenger cars continue to deteriorate and become less reliable.
Amtrak was a huge beneficiary of free stimulus money, and lots of projects were funded that needed to get done, but very few of those projects will actually produce any new revenue outside of the small number of out of service passenger cars and locomotives which will be put back into service.
So, the question remains, is Amtrak as a corporate culture interested in being a success?
The obvious answer is no. The anguish is Amtrak has such huge potential, but no desire to fulfill that potential. What a waste.
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J. Bruce Richardson
United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.
1526 University Boulevard, West, PMB 203
Jacksonville, Florida 32217-2006 USA