The news on July 26, 2019 of the derailment at speed of Amtrak 393 at University Park, Ill., due to a careless truck driver created a PTSD-like reaction for me. Instantaneously, I thought back to the derailment of Amtrak 59 at Bourbonnais, Ill., the night of March 15, 1999. Despite denials, this wreck was due to the overt negligence of a driver attempting to beat fully functional grade crossing warning devices with a truck loaded with 22 tons of steel pipe. Regrettably, the driver’s reckless behavior resulted in 11 people killed; much equipment was destroyed in the ensuing fire.
Author: M. E. Singer
As Amtrak, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, approaches its golden anniversary in 2021, it is quite apparent that it has squandered opportunities to mature into a stable and useful transportation entity, given the plethora of internal issues that have historically crippled Amtrak operating under the federal umbrella as a state-owned enterprise. Adding to this position is the impact from a shortage of experienced senior management.
First, a salute to Railway Age Capitol Hill Contributing Editor Frank Wilner for finally obtaining an interview with a senior officer at Amtrak, Executive Vice President Stephen Gardner. From my perspective, this article offers interesting revelations; yet, it’s still like pulling a thread from a sweater to slowly unwind the backstory as to why Amtrak conducts itself in such a secluded, secretive style, operating in a bubble seemingly oblivious to expressed concerns.
Apparently, only as a fortunate consequence of the partial federal government shutdown, the U.S. Senate returned to the Administration its three proposed appointees to Amtrak’s Board of Directors. Rather than an outright rejection, a fair question would be: Does the U.S. Senate operate in such a bubble that it acts like the House of Romanov that everything is fine with Amtrak? Is the Senate in such bi-partisan denial that it does not see Amtrak as a failing State-Owned Enterprise (SOE)?
Regrettably, Stephen Gardner’s year-end response to the many op-eds appearing this past year in Railway Age (“Amtrak A ‘Failure’? Hardly. Here’s How We See It,” Dec. 20) fails to explicitly answer the factual issues previously raised here. Instead, his retort to the decisive points raised in op-ed and editorial pieces this year reads very hollow, ignoring the salient issues and making excuses for what could not be achieved. Throwing questionable data around these issues prevents concise, acceptable answers.
In follow-up to my previously published article in Railway Age (“Does the Emperor Wear No Clothes?” June 23, 2017) critically analyzing why would Amtrak put sleeper compartments on sale without any black-out dates during the last part of summer and Thanksgiving, “There ya go again, Mr. Anderson!”
In its former high-flying days, GE’s business model was praised in most MBA programs for its skills in planned, self-destructive obsolescence to cannibalize its operations; to reinvent itself to always stay ahead of the competition by pushing competitors back on their heels. Today, Sir Richard Branson evidences that business acumen quality sorely lacking at Amtrak between the political appointees indifferent to stewardship on the Board of Directors and the ranks of “cardboard senior and executive management” dutifully towing the party line.
Perhaps former Congressman John Mica had a point, after all, to claim that Amtrak operates like a relic of the Soviet Kremlin? That, and knowing we have the best politicians money can buy, tells a clear story: Beyond the history of outrageous corporate failures due to illegal manipulation of their financial data, like Enron, is there any other example of a company operating in such an egregious manner as Amtrak that defies Congress, lies to states, and spits in the face of the public interest, all the while scooping up even more taxpayer funding?
With no panache in any prior media announcement, nor even a tip-off to its diehard advocacy supporters, Amtrak launched on June 20 a unique sale of roomettes through only June 26, and good for travel between Aug. 20 and Feb. 15, 2019 (https://www.amtrak.com/roomette-sale-buy-one-get-one-free). Based upon the prior atmosphere of Amtrak and certain airlines, this surprise sale actually gives the impression of simmering issues behind the iron curtain of transparency deep within the Amtrak bunker.
Regarding Joe Boardman’s May 10 Opinion piece, the former CEO of Amtrak is railing against a situation he actually created. His actions left Amtrak in disrepair after eight years at the throttle.