Joseph H. Boardman, former Amtrak President and CEO and Federal Railroad Administrator, and Railway Age’s 2014 Railroader of the Year, died March 7, 2019, of a stroke while vacationing with his family in Florida. He was 70.
Boardman was the longest-serving Commissioner of the New York State Department of Transportation, from July 1997 until resigning to head the FRA in 2005. He was the second-longest serving head of Amtrak, after W. Graham Claytor, Jr. in the 1980s, serving from 2008 to 2016.
Boardman was a lifelong resident of New York State. He was the second of eight children born and raised on a dairy farm in Oneida County that two of his siblings currently operate. In 1966, he volunteered for military service in the United States Air Force, serving in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969. Upon receiving an honorable discharge from the Air Force, he received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Agriculture Economics from Cornell University, and a Master of Science Degree in Management Science from Binghamton University.
Boardman was in the transportation industry for more than 40 years with experience in city, county and state government. In addition, he owned his own transportation management company. He was former chairman of the Executive Committee of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and Chair of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Standing Committee on Rail Transportation (SCORT).
Railway Age Capitol Hill Contributing Editor Frank N. Wilner, whose relationship with Boardman dates to Boardman’s time as New York State Transportation Commissioner, frequently visited with Boardman, and spent a day with him at his home in upstate New York last June. “He was a man of deep religious faith who cared deeply about those in all walks of life.”
“When I think of Joe, I always see his mustache and smile, representing his state and the States for Passenger Rail at a meeting of the AASHTO Standing Committee on Rail Transportation, discussing the Bush Administration’s ideas about intercity passenger rail reform with equal amounts of skepticism and respect with a young, unproven FRA Administrator from Texas,” said former FRA Administrator Allan Rutter. “He was as imposing as a grizzly bear, but his spirit was Phil Harris in Disney’s ‘Jungle Book’: warm, winsome, cheerful.”
“Joe’s high standards and ethical leadership helped create a great working environment at the FRA,” said American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association Senior Vice President Safety and Regulatory Policy and former FRA Associate Administrator for Safety Jo Strang. “He was a great boss, and I loved working for him.”
“I’m saddened to hear of Joseph Boardman’s passing. He was a personal friend, a highly regarded public servant, and well respected among the FRA staff,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Ron Batory. “He was FRA’s 11th Administrator before becoming Amtrak’s CEO. We at FRA and the Department of Transportation extend our deepest sympathies to Joe’s family.”
“Joe Boardman was a great American who cared,” said La Junta, Colo., City Manager Rick Klein. “He always had the best for all of the nation in his heart. He made a difference in the lives of the people who knew him and what he did for all of us. He continued after he retired to make sure that Amtrak was the best that it could be and that the Amtrak’s National Network was not abandoned. We will always remember what he accomplished during his life.”
“Joe’s passion for passenger rail and public service was infectious to all,” said Cliff Eby, Boardman’s Deputy Administrator at the FRA. “His voice supporting rail is a big loss to our industry. He leaves a legacy of love and emotion for family, staff and passengers.”
“During his more than 40 years in the industry, Joe Boardman’s work was more than just improving transportation; it was grounded in a mission to bring people together,” said Association of American Railroads President and CEO Ian Jefferies. “I am deeply saddened by the news of his passing and would like to extend my sympathies to his wife Joanne and the rest of the Boardman family.”
“The entire NJ Transit family is saddened to hear of the passing of Joseph Boardman,” said Executive Director Kevin Corbett. “Joe is not only an icon in the transportation industry, but was a good friend who I had the pleasure of working with and collaborating with for the good of the industry and the public for many years. Joe has been a tireless advocate for passenger rail and public transportation throughout his career. His leadership has consistently moved us forward, and everyone who rides the rails or roads has benefited from Joe’s contributions. He will be missed by all of us.”
Amtrak Board Chair Tony Coscia and Amtrak President and CEO Richard Anderson issued the following statement: “We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Joe Boardman. Joe, during his tenure as FRA Administrator, Amtrak Board Member, and Amtrak President and CEO, was a tireless advocate for passenger rail and the nation’s mobility. During his eight years at the helm at Amtrak, Joe helped the company make significant progress in reducing our debt, improving our infrastructure and raising our cost recovery performance. He leaves a lasting legacy that includes public service and making passenger rail transportation better for millions of people.”
Boardman’s down-to-earthness is evident in this excerpt from his 2014 Railroader of the Year interview with Railway Age Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono: “My dad walked one day with me out of the barn and we looked at Route 69, which goes by our farm,” . A Greyhound bus went by. There weren’t many people on it, and I thought, that’s kind of a waste of money. My dad, who had grown up in the city of Rome, really said you need to understand that there are a lot of people that need to get around that don’t have a car, that don’t have a way to get around, and it got me thinking about that fact and the necessity for connections. In 1992, after I had been living all over the place and moved back to Rome, it really was because we had a canal, we had a railroad, we had a bus system, we had connectivity to the rest of the world. So that really had me interested right from the beginning in transportation. My wife says, anything with a motor and wheels and Joe’s interested. It can be trains or trucks, whatever. My college years saw me driving a bus after I got out of the military. That really started me in transportation.”
Boardman is survived by his wife Joanne, three children, and five of his seven siblings.