Wednesday, September 30, 2009

This Week in Amtrak

Amtrak Cascades Mud Bay Surrey BC 08-04-2005 1...Image by Stephen Rees via Flickr

This Week at Amtrak; September 18, 2009

A weekly digest of events, opinions, and forecasts from

United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.

America’s foremost passenger rail policy institute

1526 University Boulevard, West, PMB 203 • Jacksonville, Florida 32217-2006 USA

Telephone 904-636-7739, Electronic Mail •

Volume 6, Number 39

Founded over three decades ago in 1976, URPA is a nationally known policy institute which focuses on solutions and plans for passenger rail systems in North America. Headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, URPA has professional associates in Minnesota, California, Arizona, New Mexico, the District of Columbia, Texas, New York, and other cities. For more detailed information, along with a variety of position papers and other documents, visit the URPA web site at

URPA is not a membership organization, and does not accept funding from any outside sources.

1) Word has come from Gil Carmichael, former Federal Railroad Administration Administrator and Chairman of the Amtrak Reform Council.

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For Immediate Release

ITI's Gil Carmichael Calls for holistic transportation policy

- Says Two, New Intermodal Trust Funds Should Subsidize "Ethical" Intermodal Transportation System -

DENVER, CO, September 18, 2009 – In recent comments to the 68th Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (SASHTO), held in Biloxi, Mississippi, Gil Carmichael, Founding Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Intermodal Transportation Institute (ITI) at the University of Denver, said the key to solving the nation's 21st century transportation problems lies in establishing a holistic approach funded by two, new intermodal trust funds – one for freight movement, the other for passenger transit, and both based on miles traveled.

Speaking to a technical session of 1,200 government and association members from 12 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, addressing today's transportation challenges, Carmichael said the nation needs to establish an ethical and sustainable "intermodal" transportation system that incorporates both freight and passenger rail in order to produce a new transportation structure that meets 21st century needs. This system should be a joint public- and private-sector initiative that builds and expands upon the success of the Interstate Highway System of the last century.

"The Interstate Highway System that was built has served us well," he said. "But today we have a population that has doubled in 50 years; we have a deteriorating and badly congested transportation infrastructure that cannot meet consumer demand; and we have a growing global economy that requires interconnected, intermodal transportation. The solution to meeting this century's challenges lies in building 'Interstate 2.0', an ethical, fuel efficient, intercity, rail freight and passenger transportation system that reconnects our center cities, bus and transit lines, energizes our economy, and sustains our environment. It is a logical and necessary next step forward."

Among the challenges addressed by the two-day conference was the major dilemma of how a new transportation policy and such a massive intermodal transportation system would be paid for – especially with the end of the highway trust fund and declining gas tax revenues in sight. Carmichael offered several paradigms to address this concern:

• Develop a Holistic Transportation Policy. "Historically, this nation has had a 'single mode' mindset." he said. "Our federal government and state DOTs have not addressed transportation as an interconnected, intermodal system, choosing instead to address each mode independently. That myopic approach will no longer work in our global business environment. Today, the public and private sectors need to partner and address our transportation requirements as they relate to two intermodal modes – freight and passenger rail. This involves utilizing our 240,000 miles of existing (and paid for) rail Rights of Way (ROW) and upgrading about 30,000 miles of it to high-speed, grade-separated track. We should provide the private railroads with a 25 percent investment tax credit to encourage them to upgrade and double- and triple-track their main lines to increase speeds and double capacity. A high-speed rail network that reconnects our center cities, major airports, and ports is vital to 21st century transportation and economic development."

• Create Two Intermodal Trust Funds. "One of the dilemmas we are faced with is: how do we pay for this intermodal system?" he asked. "We paid for the Interstate Highway System with a highway trust fund from gas tax usage. The gas tax worked well for the highway and it is about to expire. To replace it, I strongly recommend the U.S. put into place two, new intermodal trust funds to pay for this new multimodal transportation system. There would be one tax for intermodal freight movement and another for passenger transit. And it would be simple to implement cost per mile traveled rather than cents per gallon."

• Reorganize State DOTs to Oversee Intermodal Transportation. "With a new intermodal transportation system in place, we should reorganize our state DOTs so we have two separate departments that are responsible for intermodal freight transport and passenger transit, respectively," he explained. "We can no longer afford to administer effective transportation policy on a single mode basis. States would also build or lease high-speed track on the private railroads' ROWs to allow new, modern, intermodal freight and passenger trains."

• Utilize Our New Technologies. "We have the technology, such as GPS and PTC, to make this intermodal transportation system work, and technology continues to advance," said Carmichael. "High-speed tracks could be grade separated just like the Interstate Highways so we can safely run passenger trains at 110-125 MPH and freight trains at up to 90 MPH, vastly increasing freight capacity. This could cut highway fatalities by at least 50 percent and drastically reduce the stress, wear and tear, and cost of maintaining the highways, thus extending its life.”

• Increase Freight Capacity and Stimulate the Economy. "A major public-works project of this magnitude will add millions of new and permanent jobs, will produce a prosperous economy, just as Interstate I did, and will build a long-lasting, truly sustainable transportation system," said Carmichael. "We can electrify the rails by mid-century, producing a new source of energy and weaning ourselves off of our dependence on foreign fossil fuels. It will then be an ethical and sustainable system that increases freight capacity and protects our environment."

In closing, Carmichael said: "A new holistic, ethical transportation policy will build upon the strengths of each mode, will reduce injuries and deaths, will be environmentally benign, will not waste fuel, will not cost too much to use, and will provide ongoing economic stability. This 21st century intermodal transportation infrastructure will use the ‘steel wheel and steel rail’ – the same as it did in the 19th century – as its fundamental element of transport."

About ITI

The Intermodal Transportation Institute at the University of Denver offers an Executive Masters Program that awards a Master of Science in Intermodal Transportation Management from the University of Denver. This graduate degree program prepares transportation industry managers for the increasingly complex, global business environment where knowledge of finance, quantitative processes, supply chain, law, and public policy issues as well as freight, passenger, and intermodal transportation operational strategies are critical management tools for success. For more information on the ITI Executive Masters Program call: 303-871-4702 or visit:

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Whatever plan moves us into the future – and Mr. Carmichael usually has the sharpest eye on the future – is going to have to find new ways to pay for the next generation of railroads and highways. The original highway trust fund at one time was sacrosanct, and left alone. Too many uninspired members of Congress kept looking at the pool of money and thinking about how many local pork barrel projects in their districts could be funded with someone else’s money, and ever since then, the highway trust fund lost its integrity. If Congress has the will to plan correctly for the future, it will have the necessary nerves of steel to set up new funding mechanisms which again become sacrosanct and are dedicated to the very important cause of surface transportation. It’s time for Congress to adopt the stepchild and call it its own.

2) The gun haters are going nuts. This week, the Senate passed a bill requiring Amtrak to restore the rights of gun owners to transport guns on Amtrak under proper safety precautions in baggage cars.

To read some of the hilarious, delirious ravings of the gun haters, you would think the Senate is inviting known terrorists to a tea party and asking them to bring along their weapons of choice.

Amtrak used to allow guns onboard trains in baggage cars, prior to September 11, 2001. Since then, Amtrak – acting on its own after 9/11 and the later Madrid train bombings – banned guns from its trains.

However, the Senate, in an overwhelming majority vote, has told Amtrak either figure out a way to get the guns safely and securely back on trains, or your free federal monies go away, as soon as March of 2010.

The gun haters, with great whining and gnashing of teeth, have said it’s impossible to make this happen.

More rational people have reminded one and all we have this controlling document in our lives as Americans – it’s know as the Constitution for those who may have forgotten about it with everything going on in Washington these days – which plainly and loudly says Americans have the right to own and carry guns.

These same rational people also like to point out the TSA (Those same passenger-friendly people who love to watch us take off our shoes in airports.) already has lots of plans in place for things like guns on Amtrak.

The sooner they return, the better.

3) Union Pacific Railroad, the railroad everyone thinks loves to hate passenger trains, apparently is willing to make some money embracing one particular passenger train.

The Chicago Tribune reported today, in a story datelined Denver, the Ski Train may be back this winter, operating between Denver and the Winter Park resort. Previously operating for 69 years, the Ski Train was thought to be dead when its previous owner ended the operation and sold his passenger rail equipment to a Canadian scenic passenger operator.

In came Iowa Pacific Holdings, with former Amtraker Ed Ellis now as President of Iowa Pacific, and the Ski Train is back on schedule. Iowa Pacific operates other short passenger routes, mostly as scenic and entertainment trains.

Mr. Ellis said Iowa Pacific would use Iowa Pacific equipment and contract with Amtrak to provide train and engine crews. A deal has not been finalized with Amtrak.

Okay, let’s take a roll call.

Union Pacific, which, through its official spokesman once described Amtrak as “novelty transportation,” is striking a deal with an operator to allow a seasonal, regularly scheduled passenger train operate over its tracks, which it could have easily let go away after the original operator pulled out.

Then, Amtrak, which sometimes thinks of itself as “novelty transportation” instead of being an important part of our domestic surface transportation network, is in the process of cutting a deal with someone else to run passenger trains.

Gosh (gasp!), could capitalism in passenger rail be rearing its allegedly ugly head and someone has figured out how a passenger rail operation can make money for all parties concerned?

What’s wrong with these people? Aren’t they listening to all of the alleged experts that continuously drone on and on and on that only government is capable of running any sort of passenger train in the proper manner (Which means at a loss.)?

4) Lots of mail came into the This Week at Amtrak e-mailbox after the last issue of TWA calling for another operator to replace Amtrak.

Here’s a sample.

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As the British would say: "Here, Here" to your latest newsletter! What about a new corporation formed by a consortium of freight railroads to run a national passenger railroad system? Since there is little more consolidation to be done between the big boys, perhaps the congress and courts would approve such a novel arrangement as there would be no freight competition issues. The freight lines would benefit from aid in infrastructure construction, and having open knowledge of all passenger operations, the freight lines would certainly be more flexible in schedule development/alternate routes even over competing lines since the passenger business would benefit all of them. Now, that "by George" would be a nice trick to pull off, especially since it might even make sense!

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[Begin quote]

The message both Joe & Joe (Boardman and Biden) should hear is: If you can't do it right, don't do it at all. Give it up!

I like the idea of shutting-down Amtrak, but suggest a slight variation.

Keep Amtrak in operation. However, quarantine Amtrak between Washington, DC; Boston, Springfield, Massachusetts; Albany, New York; and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Transition the remainder of the inter-city passenger rail network, and the franchise rights for additional rail services, to one or more other entities.

If Amtrak believes their NEC is so profitable and is the only part of their network deserving investment, as demonstrated by their actions, and trains in the remainder of the country are bleeding amounts of red-ink exceeding the combined inventory of all retail stationery stores, give Amtrak what it wants!

Let's see how long Amtrak can survive with the NEC and a reduced or zero subsidy.

[End quote]

5) And, finally, this advertisement for a vacant position for a qualified person at Amtrak came floating in to TWA.

[Begin quote]

Inspector General - Eff. 09/04/09 Choose actions for Inspector General - Eff. 09/04/09 Apply Remember

Location: District of Columbia-Washington

Req. Number: 90000243


Position Title: Inspector General

Department: Office of Inspector General

Location: Washington, DC

Posting #: 90000243


SUMMARY OF DUTIES: Amtrak's IG reports to the Chairman of Amtrak's Board of Directors and the Congress. The IG will keep them currently informed, by means of periodic reports required by the IG Act, concerning fraud and other serious problems, abuses, and deficiencies relating to the administration of programs and operations administered or financed by Amtrak, to recommend corrective action concerning such problems, abuses, and deficiencies, and to report on the progress made in implementing such corrective action. Amtrak's Inspector General will:

-Serve as the conscience of Amtrak.

-Work with Amtraks Board of Directors and the Congress to improve program management.

-Maximize the positive impact and ensure the independence and objectivity of Amtrak OIGs audits, investigations and other reviews.

-Use Amtrak OIGs investigations and other reviews to increase integrity and recommend improved systems to prevent fraud, waste and abuse.

-Be innovative, question existing procedures, and suggest improvements to programs.

-Where appropriate, build relationships with program managers based on a shared commitment to improving program operations and effectiveness.

-Work with Amtrak to address company-wide issues, both independently and collectively.

EDUCATION: An undergraduate degree is required.

PERFERRED EDUCATION: An advanced or Masters degree in an applicable field is preferred.

WORK EXPERIENCE: The Inspector General should have the following:

-Be an independent-minded leader who possesses the integrity to ensure Amtrak’s full compliance with the IG Act.

-Either be a sitting Inspector General or Deputy Inspector General, or have recent similar experience.

-A minimum of 10 years cumulative progressively responsible administrative, managerial and supervisory experience that provides extensive knowledge of auditing and inspection practices, law enforcement policies and procedures, accounting, internal controls, financial analysis, law, management analysis, public administration, and/or investigation techniques.

-A comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the audit, investigation and evaluation standards issued by the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency and the Government Accountability Office.

-Direct experience working with upper management, the media and Congress.

-Significant experience in management and a thorough understanding of Federal and IG audits, investigations, law enforcement and evaluations involving large scale companies and operations.

-Evidences familiarity with the Comptroller General's auditing standards.

-Ideally, have an understanding of railroad operations.

-Strong analytical skills and judgment to support critical decision making.

-Unquestioned ethical standards, high level of integrity, sound professional judgment, strong leadership skills, an understanding of business acumen, a high level of common sense and the ability to think logically.

-The ability to work under pressure and make sound decisions with limited information.

-Significant experience with leadership, human capital, and managing budgets.

-The ability to build a strong team; the IG should not be intimidated by a talented staff.

-Strong coalition-building and interpersonal skills to form solid relationships both internally and externally; s/he can work through internal conflicts and/or disagreements successfully.

-Excellent written and oral communication skills, including a strong ability to present to audiences both large and small.

-High energy and committed work ethic.

-No personal or professional relationships with Amtrak that would hinder the candidate's ability to be objective and independent with respect to audits and investigations of Amtrak and its operations.

OTHER REQUIREMENTS: The Amtrak Inspector General will have the responsibility of assuring best practices in the Amtrak OIG. The Inspector General will supervise over 90 OIG employees in conducting independent, objective audits, evaluations and investigations relating to Amtrak programs and operations.

This individual must demonstrate credibility, integrity and objectivity, be a strong communicator internally and externally, and have extensive relevant experience.

The successful candidate will have a strong commitment to the Amtrak mission. The candidates commitment should reflect an interest to help build the Amtrak enterprise, creating best practices for a "first class" organization for the passengers, employees and stakeholders. The successful candidate must also demonstrate an equally strong commitment to implementing all requirements of the IG Act.

SUPERVISORY RESPONSIBILITIES: 99 employees and 8 ARRA employees

TRAVEL: Less than 25%


Hiring Range: $246,000.00 - $268,000.00


Last Date to Apply: 09/30/09

Position Type: Permanent

Job Category: Inspector General

Years of Experience: 10 - 15

Travel Requirements: <25%

Relocation Benefits May Apply: Yes

Classification Agreement: No

Referral Bonus: 2500 pts

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Well, Amtrak ASKED for all of the right things. It’s another story as to whether or not the new IG will be able to accomplish anything without the type of interference which seems to have occurred in the immediate past.

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J. Bruce Richardson


United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.

1526 University Boulevard, West, PMB 203

Jacksonville, Florida 32217-2006 USA

Telephone 904-636-7739

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