Monday, March 03, 2014

Thank you, Ross Capon

Written by  Eugene K. Skoropowski
Ross Capon Ross Capon
My first encounter with Ross Capon was some 40-plus years ago when he was Special Assistant for Railroad Operations to Massachusetts Governor Francis (Frank) Sargent’s administration. I was a member of the Advisory Board (Budgetary Approval Board) of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) in the early 1970s, and an active participant in the Advisory Board’s Commuter Rail Subcommittee, representing the City of Melrose.

While a Republican governor in Massachusetts was itself somewhat of a novelty, the depth and magnitude of a massive re-thinking of transportation investments by the state in the late 1960s and early 1970s was virtually without precedent. The Boston Transportation Planning Review (or “BTPR” as it became known), changed the entire way of thinking about transportation investments in Massachusetts, and changed the investment priorities to provide more choices for travel in the Boston region, including major investment proposals for commuter rail throughout eastern Massachusetts. The inclusion of commuter rail was a new element, and its inclusion in the comprehensive transportation plan was due in no small part to Ross Capon’s influence.

When I was Chief Railroad Services Officer at MBTA from 1977 to 1982, Ross had already gone off to Washington, and had gotten me appointed as a Director to the first Board of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), upon which I served for some 35 years. During virtually all of this time, Ross Capon headed the NARP organization, and ably represented the interests of rail passengers, primarily by presenting factual testimony before Congress, and in meetings with Amtrak. Some believe NARP was simply a “cheerleader for Amtrak,” but Ross could be very critical of Amtrak decisions when he thought Amtrak was making a bad decision, or neglecting a major component of its service. He did not shy away from pointing out these shortcomings to Amtrak, even during the terms of their strongest and most influential presidents.

Perhaps the most telling moment revealing Ross Capon’s knowledge and respect on Capitol Hill came at a NARP Board of Directors meeting in the late 1980s. Jim Brunkenhoefer (“Broken Rail”), the National Legislative Director of the United Transportation Union (UTU) came to speak to the NARP Board. During his remarks, he commented that Ross Capon, functioning on NARP’s “shoestring budget” from a collection of individual citizens, had achieved more credibility and effectiveness in Washington and with Congressional members that he had with his well-funded PAC and multi-million-dollar annual budget to represent UTU interests. This was an enormous tribute to Ross, coming from one of the largest rail labor organizations in Washington.

People in Washington know Ross Capon. They know that Ross knows what he is talking about when he speaks about passenger rail issues. They know that Ross has nothing personal to gain from being an advocate for the tens of millions of rail passengers across our country. NARP as an organization has been associated with the name Ross Capon, and NARP’s credibility has been established and enhanced by Ross’s tireless work and dedication to the cause of representing the interests of passenger rail, in all its various forms. For many in the industry, NARP is Ross Capon, and Ross Capon is NARP. This is an accomplishment few can achieve, at any price.

Whether challenging erroneous statements of a Congressional opponent of passenger rail, or responding to the many factually baseless “reports” of the usual cadre of conservative “think tank” representatives attacking passenger rail, Ross Capon has always conducted himself with propriety and respect, even when stating facts that refute some of the most outrageous statements made by these opponent organizations and the authors of their reports. The survival of a national passenger rail system for more than 40 years, in spite of some extreme political policies designed to destroy our country’s national passenger rail network, is testament to the success of Ross’s work.

NARP, and the nation, owe Ross Capon a debt of gratitude for the decades of work that he has given for the sole interests of the train-riding public. He and his family have done without many of the luxuries enjoyed by most people, and he has made this sacrifice freely, and given of himself without limitation.

Most in Washington would call NARP finances a “miniscule budget” (almost all from individual member contributions), yet Ross has managed to assemble a small dedicated and qualified staff to carry on NARP’s work. NARP does not have a PAC with millions of dollars to dole out to elected officials, as do most Washington advocacy organizations with financial gains to be had for the people/companies they advocate for. NARP’s only “special interest” is the passenger train riding public, representing the people who rarely have their voices heard or listened to in Washington. Ross Capon has been the most effective and selfless advocate and spokesman for these people, and for us all.

While many of us undertake our professions and employment for personal gain, Ross Capon is one of the few among us who lives modestly, and has made his career by speaking for, and being an advocate for, those people in our country who use and believe in a national passenger rail network, but who almost never can influence the policy makers who make decisions impacting passenger rail service. Ross has been their able advocate. No one could have done it better. Thank you, Ross Capon.

Gene Skoropowski is Senior Vice President Development at All Aboard Florida, and the former Managing Director of northern California’s Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority.