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Joseph H. Boardman, President and CEO, Amtrak

RailPAC Annual Meeting, NARP Member Meeting


Joseph H. Boardman, President and CEO, Amtrak

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Richard H. Phelps, Vice President, Transportation, Amtrak

Mr. Phelps was on the agenda with Mr. Boardman, but was not given an opportunity to speak.  In the past, I've heard Mr. Phelps speak and he had a great deal of real news about Amtrak.  I re-introduced myself and reminded him that he had been instrumental in my having my first (and last) cab ride in a Pacific Surfliner to and from Santa Barbara.

Above, Right,  Joseph H. Boardman, President and CEO, Amtrak, before the Meeting started.

Right, Ken Ruben introduces Mr. Boardman to other attendees.  (I'm sorry, Mr. Boardman, that I caught you in a 'deer in the headlights' pose, but I wanted to have another picture of my friend Ken in this report.)


The Meeting began on time and Mr. Boardman was introduced, and began his talk entitled,

"Amtrak into the 21st Century"

Mr. Boardman showed a preview brochure of Amtrak's Vision (left).  After the conference, I found it online, copied it to this report, and you can read this promotional piece by clicking:  trains_move_our_economy.pdf

Mr. B. credited "Lou, a Train Attendant" with the poem:

They don't let me run the train
or even ring the bell,
but when the train goes off the tracks,
I'm the one that catches hell.

He also said that we need to "Revise the 'status quo' of Amtrak."  Evidently referring to the current monies from the US Congress, he said, "It's kind of like the dog that caught the car -- what do we do now."

He quoted President Obama as saying this is a down payment on Amtrak.

He arrived on the Amtrak Car #10001, the Beach Grove.  He can go through the transition car and visit with travelers.

We need a 1)  Safer, 2)  Greener, 3)  Healthier Amtrak.

Positive Train Control originally was priced at $2 Billion and now the estimate is $6 Billion, as a result of Chatsworth accident.

1869 was Promitory Point - the beginning of steam trains and steam ocean liners and the beginning of timetables so boats on the Hudson River did not have to wait for the tides.

He mentioned, to the liking of this western US group, that the 'Center of Gravity' in Amtrak was moving west.  "Chicago got rail yards early as the Gateway to the West.  Amtrak is America's Surface transportation from Coast-to-Coast and Border-to-Border, like the Interstate System for highways."

High Speed Rail can be incremental.  Class 6 track is 110 mph with grade crossing changes or closings.  Class 5 track is 90 mph.

He summarized his message as:  Where do we need to fix and invest in the West?  Including fixing Seattle.

RailPAC/NARP copied a TRAC procedure of handing out Question Sheets on which you would tell which speaker you directed your question to, who you were, and the question.  TRAC effectively uses this procedure to keep the audience from taking time to state their case and maybe ask a question, and to eliminate the same question being asked over and over.  TRAC summarizes the questions and asks them from an appointed board member of their organization ... it works great. 

However, Question sheets were handed out, a few, and never collected, so the same problems took place at this conference as I outlined above.  Hello:  If you use question sheets, pick them up, summarize them, and ask the questions.  I still have my question sheet for Brian Rosenwald!

Questions that were asked of Mr. Boardman:

First, from RailPAC's Board:  "Where are the cars?"  Mr. B. mentioned Baggage Cars, Diners, View Liner Sleepers for long-distance trains.

Second, "Phoenix and Las Vegas markets are lost, Why not reinstate?"  All I can say is that there was no answer to this question.

Third, "The crew levels on long-distance trains are down, can we improve?"  "Yes, we are looking at reinstating the Onboard Crew Chief."  "Money received so far from the feds is specifically capital money."  (This could have been his answer to the first question.)  "For the Pioneer to be reinstated, Amtrak needs additional congressional money."

No more questions were answered!  Hello!  We have the President of Amtrak willing to answer questions and we had three!  My suggestion would have been to have been to let someone who has a long and popular history with Amtrak answer questions -- Richard Phelps, who was sitting quietly nearby.

IMG_3969.jpgTom LaBonge, LA City Councilman (left) was introduced to Welcome Mr. Boardman to the City. 

He mentioned the '32 Olympic Games and the building of Union Station as a 'Union' effort of 3 railroads:  Union Pacific, Santa Fe, and Southern Pacific - first time I had heard that bit of information. 

He says LA is working on reinvigorating the central cities including the railroad stations. 

The best way to get railroad support from congress is to write your congressman asking for RR support and have your name on it, as opposed to signing a mass request.

I was able to interview some attendees, asking their thoughts on Mr. Boardman's comments.

Here is one person's thoughts:

... there does seem to be a lot more attention and money going for Amtrak to Chicago. Before it was just the northeast corridor. But now it is Chicago too. That makes sense since Obama is from Chicago, Thomas Carper is from the Chicago region (Chairman Amtrak Board of Directors), and the new head of the FRA is from the Chicago region. So what Boardman said about the "center of gravity" for Amtrak moving west is true, but I don't know if it has moved any further west than Chicago.

I thought the presentations by Boardman and Rosenwald 
(my notes on his speech later) were very positive. I can see they both want Amtrak to serve the public as best as it can, but are limited by a number of financial and political realities. Unlike some prior Amtrak Presidents, Boardman seems willing to go to bat to try to get a fare share for the western routes and to expand rather than eliminate them.
But all the political clout is along the Northeast Corridor. With the exception that there is now also significant political clout in Chicago, the political home of Obama and the hub on the Amtrak national long distance route system. Thus, attention and funding is going to be concentrated on the Northeast routes and the equipment needed for those routes as it has always been. But more attention and funding will also head to the long distance routes than has headed that way in decades. Boardman and Rosenwald seem determined to pry as much funding away from the northeast and into the whole network as is politically workable. A very difficult task with all the political power seated back east.
I really don't like the way I'm hearing people classify Boardman with Warington and Warrington's willingness to strip and sacrifice the entire Amtrak system to create a better funded new "Acela" company that would only have had routes serving the northeast. I don't think Boardman's goals are anything like Warrington's.


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