Thursday, December 10, 2009

This Week in Amtrak

Track approaching Medway Viaducts. {{location ...Image via Wikipedia

This Week at Amtrak; November 24, 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 47

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) Today is the Tuesday before the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and Wednesday is considered by everyone to be just about the busiest travel day of the year, even in times of recession.

Once again, Amtrak is making its usual Herculean effort on the Northeast Corridor to shuttle holiday travelers between Washington, New York City, and Boston.

This year, there are also some additional services on the West Coast in California, and some extra goodies elsewhere.

However, once again, there is a notable lack of beefing up of long distance trains throughout the nation; Amtrak apparently feels only people on the Left Coast and Right Coast, north of Virginia, celebrate Thanksgiving, and the rest of the country – as usual – are left to fend for themselves for holiday travel.

Part of the problem is Amtrak’s lack of equipment, due to its deliberate plan to keep as much long distance equipment as possible out of service to save on maintenance costs. Never mind the revenue lost or new passengers to be served; Amtrak managers only receive recognition and bonuses on money saved, not money spent to improve the company’s core financial position.

2) All of that aside, it is important to pay respect to all of the Amtrak employees who will be working long and hard on Wednesday and Thursday, and throughout the holiday weekend taking care of their passengers. Amtrak is still a 365 day a year operation, and no matter that it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, or any other holiday, dedicated Amtrak employees are out on the road, manning ticket windows in stations, cleaning cars in coach yards, and refueling locomotives all over the country, and we thank them for taking care of our needs while they are away from home and their families.

3) You may want to glance again at the date of this missive; one month from today is Christmas Eve. Finished your shopping, yet?

4) Thanksgiving also marks another milestone: Amtrak Interim President and CEO Joseph Boardman marks the completion of his single year contract this week as Amtrak’s chief steward. Since no announcements have been made to the contrary, everyone can only assume his one year contract has been extended ...

William Lindley of Scottsdale, Arizona has some thoughts on the subject.

[Begin quote]

By William Lindley

Those of you who held General Motors shares and now hold the converted "Motors Liquidation Company" will be pleased (sarcasm alert) to know that according to their website (, at the end of the bankruptcy proceedings, it is the Company's expectation your remaining interest in "common stock will have no value."

We could argue who was to blame for GM's failure – the unions? the management? the corporate culture? too much government regulation? not enough government assistance? – but the crux of the matter is, the board of directors – and particularly the president – are ultimately responsible for a corporation's performance. It was the board's, and the president's, responsibility to either guide the company to stability, or advise the stockholders far in advance of an impending failure. The board, and particularly the president, failed to do so.

No-one should be much interested in placing blame now, though; words have little value, results have much.

By the same token, we expect interim Amtrak president Joseph Boardman to be clear about his company's future. Many of us have heard him speak, with positive impressions. Yet the results that matter – reports stuffed with lackluster, unimaginative excuses instead of positive plans for restoring furloughed routes or opening new ones – ultimately rest under his watch. The failure to order equipment sufficient even to maintain current routes, ultimately rests under his watch.

Look out your window. Do you see a tree or a shrub? It is doing one of two things – growing or dying. There is no middle ground, there is never stagnation. A business is the same way. Grow, or die.

Is it Amtrak's intention simply to go gentle into the good night? If not, where is the bold plan, where is the vision for growth? Eagerly, we await.

[End quote]

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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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