Railroader of the Year: All Aboard with Joe Boardman

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

Railway Age’s 51st Railroader of the Year, Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph H. Boardman, is the first Amtrak chief executive since the legendary W. Graham Claytor Jr. in 1989 to be so honored.

Boardman, who came to Amtrak after his tenure as Federal Railroad Administrator, has been chief executive for the past six years, far longer than any of his post-Graham Claytor predecessors. Under his watch, Amtrak has posted record ridership and revenue, ordered a new fleet of electric locomotives for the Northeast Corridor and new single-level long-distance cars, developed a long-term strategy for additional new rolling stock acquisitions, and is effectively administering major capital programs. Boardman has a sustainable vision for the future of U.S. intercity passenger rail, which includes higher-speed services. He will be honored on March 11, 2014, at Chicago’s Union League Club.

On Dec. 16, 2013, Boardman and Railway Age Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono got together aboard Amtrak Amfleet business car 10001, the Beech Grove, for a “moving” interview between Washington, D.C. Union Station and Penn Station New York.

Boardman1RAILWAY AGE: You are the first Amtrak president since the legendary W. Graham Claytor Jr. was selected way back in 1989. Your thoughts?

BOARDMAN: I never knew Graham Claytor, but he certainly is a memory here. There’s still a love for and an understanding and respect for Claytor. I’m humbled that I’d be selected for something like this. I’m not an awards type of guy naturally. I know a lot of people aren’t, but I appreciate the fact that it’s really about the railroad. The women and the men here really get the job done. We’re making improvements on a regular basis and that’s a good thing for Amtrak.

RA: You’ve seen steady improvement—as you well know, record ridership numbers, record revenues, and demand for the service is growing and growing.

BOARDMAN: People today, I think, are ahead of their politicians. I’m really kind of quoting our former chairman Don Carper when I say that he really saw in Illinois the demand, the change, that was happening in the mobile Midwest for delivering something really new for the people, a different mobility. We’re really happy about being part of that.

RA: You are from upstate New York, originally from a farming community?

BOARDMAN: That’s right. A place called Taberg, N.Y., which is just outside of Rome, where I still have my home, my family, in that whole area. I grew up with five brothers and two sisters. We operated a commercial dairy farm, my dad and my mother and my grandparents and the whole line of family, so I really learned how to work early. You became productive in your single digits and then really began to do an adult’s work by the time you were 11 or 12 years old.

RA: So from that background tell us how you transitioned from there to transportation. You’ve spent most of your career in transportation.

Boardman2BOARDMAN: It’s my whole career other than the farming time and the military service. Let me tell you one story. 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.

RA: In what branch of the military did you serve?

BOARDMAN: I was in the Air Force. I volunteered when I was 17, in 1966. I think it was in large part because I didn’t want to do the haying that summer on the farm.

RA: Your college background?

BOARDMAN: I returned from Vietnam in 1970 and applied to Cornell University. I decided if I didn’t get accepted there I would become a state trooper instead of being a college-educated kid. Darn, they accepted me—which was wonderful! My grandfather and uncles had all gone to Cornell. They were veterinarians so I went there to be a veterinarian.

RA: You went from veterinary medicine to transportation. How did that happen?

BOARDMAN: Well, it took me a year to tell my family that I wasn’t going to become a veterinarian, since they were all proud of that. But I really enjoyed driving a truck and a bus part-time for the Cornell campus bus service while I was in college. I changed, after my first semester, to an economics degree, and my degree is in agricultural economics. It was that experience that led me to become the manager of the Rome Transit System when I was finished with college.

RA: And that eventually evolved into Commissioner of Transportation for New York State?

Boardman3BOARDMAN: Quite a few years in between, but yes. Transit—putting butts in seats—has occupied most of my career. Safety is the other piece. Eventually, I started my own company. I was my own first employee in 1988 in Dutchess County, N.Y. We started a connection to the railroad in Dutchess County, and by 1995, when George Pataki became governor, I was the Assistant Transportation Commissioner for Transit, and then moved up to Commissioner. I stayed there until I got a call from the Bush Administration to be the Federal Railroad Administrator, when we got involved with Amtrak rebuilding the Turboliners. So I came down to Washington to do something different with the FRA.

RA: What would you say were your most important accomplishments at the FRA?

Boardman4BOARDMAN: Any time you come into a job like that you need to understand where you are, where things are going, how you provide the leadership that’s necessary. I looked at a fantastic staff that really knew what they wanted to do, whether it was Grady Cothen or somebody else in the operation; Peggy Reid, who’s with me at Amtrak at this point in time; or DJ Stadtler. The folks that really produced for FRA had an agenda. That agenda was safety. What I found when I got there was a surprise—I wasn’t going to be the appointee to the Amtrak Board like I had thought. The Transportation Secretary at the time, Norman Mineta, had somebody else on the Amtrak Board. So I set myself in a different direction, and that was safety. I paid close attention to the safety agenda. One of the pieces of that agenda came true with Positive Train Control and the 2008 safety legislation. When Mary Peters, who I’ve known for years, became Transportation Secretary, she appointed me to the Amtrak Board as her representative.

RA: Was it your aspiration to some day run Amtrak? There seems to be a natural progression here.

Boardman5BOARDMAN: I’m a very private person generally and don’t tell people what my plans are, but I’ll be 65 on Monday (December 23). I didn’t expect it when it occurred. I thought that I was ending my career with New York State DOT, then I thought I was ending my career with the end of the Bush Administration with FRA, but here I am, still part of delivering something I think is important to America.

RA: You’ve been at it for five years.

BOARDMAN: Five years on the 26th of November. I started in 2008 the day before Thanksgiving. I stayed on the ground at Amtrak during Thanksgiving Day.

RA: I remember that.

BOARDMAN: It was a good thing. It was a positive thing. Amtrak has great people.

RA: It has been observed by many that the presidency of Amtrak is maybe the toughest job in railroading, because you have so many constituents. You have your passengers. You have your employees. You have Congress, which may or may not cooperate, and you have an Administration that may or may not be favorable to passenger rail. Would you agree with that assessment?

Boardman6BOARDMAN: It’s interesting. I’ve taken lot of jobs where there were major challenges, whether it was FRA or whether it was some of the transit systems I operated and managed over the years. Each one had a set of circumstances that really gave me a lot of learning opportunities and understanding. I’m really glad that I wasn’t at Amtrak as the CEO when I was a lot younger than I am now because now I have a certain element of freedom in what I need to do. I don’t think about where I might go in the future. That has helped me understand all the different pressures and directions, and the number of people that we have to satisfy or try to satisfy, number one being the Amtrak customer.

Safety is the foundation of any transportation system, because if people don’t trust the safety of our operation, our company, customers aren’t going to flock to the trains. I also have a very important role in increasing revenues and reducing cost. Congress wants that; so does the public. They want to see a system that really produces efficiencies and provides a better service. Those are difficult things to do but they’re not insurmountable, and we’re seeing that today. We’re buying equipment, we’re increasing our revenues, we’re increasing our ridership, we’re changing our direction, we have a strategy. There was a necessity to have somebody here long enough. When you think about the fact that, at five years, I’m the second-longest-term CEO at a 43-year-old company, which indicates that there was way too much turnover in that period of time. Graham Claytor was here long enough to establish a direction and make improvements. That’s what Amtrak has really needed, with the work that the women and men have done, with the other senior leaders, and the Board. I have a great board, one committed to making changes. There are going to be some future opportunities because our debt is really to the future—not to the past. We often look at the age of our infrastructure, like the Baltimore & Potomac tunnels, built right after the Civil War. Or the Canton Viaduct, built around 1835. These are things that were invested in for the future of railroading, and we’re still using them. We need to make those investments here for the future.

RA: When you came to Amtrak five years ago—and of course you had exposure to Amtrak as FRA Administrator and in your previous positions in New York—what did you see as things you wanted to accomplish? What did you see that needed to be changed or improved?

Boardman7BOARDMAN: When you first come on board you have a different impression than you have as you move along. I think that’s true in any role that one steps into. I certainly wanted to increase ridership. One of the things that I had been advocating for during the Bush years was to increase the investment and get all of the equipment that was on the sidelines back on the track. In 2007/2008 there was a crisis that we had to deal with as a nation, our financial crisis, but also a fuel cost crisis, and those kinds of things seem to keep recurring. Our service was in demand, but could we deliver it? So one of the first things I did when President Obama made some additional money available was to rebuild everything I could possibly rebuild, everything at Beech Grove, our long-distance shop, and at Bear and Wilmington (Del.) for our Northeast Corridor services, so that we could increase the capacity for our trains. We accomplished that goal under the deadline of the stimulus program, and we also met a deadline of rebuilding some of the bridges and other infrastructure along the Northeast Corridor. The other thing was my desire to get Positive Train Control done. My expectation is that this company will meet the 2015 PTC deadline, because we made early decisions when I got here to make that happen. For ACSES (Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System on the NEC), we are adding another 1,200 miles of track, and also making sure that it’s operable with ETMS, the GPS based-system for the freight railroads.

RA: You have to equip your locomotive fleet with ETMS-compatible technology. How is that going?

BOARDMAN: We’re moving along with it. We’ll make the deadline on our own services, and we need to make sure we’re doing it right with the freight railroads, to the extent that they get the radio spectrum, which is still in question at this point in time, and whether they can get all the equipment lined up logistically in a timely fashion and make those investments.

RA: And your overall relationship with the freight railroads?

BOARDMAN: We have an excellent relationship with the freights. They go far beyond for us in many cases. We fight with them about on-time performance and we want to be running first like we’re supposed to be and all those kinds of things, but we’ve got good solid people in these freight railroads that understand our needs, that look at what we need to get done, and what they need to get done, and work with us.

RA: Would you say that your biggest challenge with running on the freight rail system is dealing with their own problems in trying to add enough capacity? Because, like Amtrak, their services are in growing demand. Just look at all the oil trains on the BNSF northern corridor. That business has increased exponentially, and no one really expected it. BNSF goes from almost nothing to 650,000 barrels of oil a day. How do you deal with it?

Boardman8BOARDMAN: At your conference, Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads, I was listening to [BNSF Director-Passenger Train Operations] Rich Wessler talk about the transit operation in Minneapolis, and whether they would agree to that today had they known they were going to have that kind of growth. One of the biggest challenges for freights is continuing to have the relationship they had with Amtrak in 1971 when we took over their passenger services, which helped the freight railroads at that point in time. The new leaders at the freights don’t really understand that they were not just a freight railroad back then, which is how they think of themselves today. There is still a national need to have connectivity with passenger railroads coast-to-coast and border-to-border. That relationship, that partnership, with the freight railroads is a continuing challenge. There are have good leaders coming up in the freight railroads, and we need to make sure that they understand that connection, that relationship, still needs to be strong.

RA: Your relationship with the states: Under PRIIA, there’s been a major change where the states are expected to pay most of the operating costs. It took a while to get there, and it’s a big change for Amtrak, but it seems as though it has worked out well.

BOARDMAN: The states are going to pay about 85% of [operating] costs. There’s still going to be about a 15% subsidy, if you want to call it that, or “availability payment” from the feds into our state operations. With a difficult transition I think it’s important that we move with the states beyond that at this point in time and that we do our jobs well for the customer. Our partnership with the states had some strains. I had to be the bottom-line guy at the end, making sure this happened, and that required me to take some pretty strong positions at times. I had a great staff, with DJ Stadtler and Joe McHugh really working in trying to satisfy all the concerns. One of the main challenges for Amtrak is that everybody that we deal with is sovereign except Amtrak in terms of their demands upon us. Whether it’s a state or one of the Congressional committees, everybody has an expectation, and we can’t really deliver every expectation for everybody. We’re not doing too badly in delivering good service for the states and good service for Congress. What they don’t get is that, at 88%, we are probably number one in the world on covering our operating costs. That includes auxiliary revenues from real estate.

With technology, there probably isn’t anybody else that has e-ticketing. We worked with Apple Computer to make that happen with their devices. Our board chairman, Tony Coscia, went to France and visited with SNCF. He was surprised that, at the time, they didn’t have e-ticketing, and they’re one of the global leaders in passenger rail.

We in this nation have become so darn negative in tearing down institutions, whatever they are, and are expert at it. We don’t recognize that we need to stop that and join in common cause to move forward on the debt we owe to the future—our grandkids and beyond our grandkids.

RA: You had a great piece in today’s USA Today where you talked about that very subject within the context of PTC. A lot of us feel there’s too much negativity. Everybody talks about what is wrong but not what needs to be done.

BOARDMAN: It’s not just PTC and improvement in rail. It’s a new air traffic control system. It’s the need to rebuild the bridges in this nation. We’ve got 200,000 bridges with 140,000 of them that need repair and replacement. Those are things that we need to get at and do together. We need to improve our ports. My understanding is that when the Panama Canal opens [to bigger cargo vessels], the equipment at East Coast ports to unload containers off ships is not going to be sufficiently long enough to reach out and grab them. So we’re talking about the necessity to think about a balanced transportation system—highways, railroads, aviation, ports. Our nation is not well-served by those who are lobbying and demanding for only one source, one piece of the infrastructure that needs to be rebuilt. You can add in the water systems, the sewer systems, the electric grid. We need to build infrastructure to grow this nation and grow our economy and it’s not just railroads.

RA: When people talk about Amtrak and operating or capital support they use the word subsidy, which has a negative connotation. I like to think of it as an investment. How do you bridge that gap and perception? That’s always been a struggle.

BOARDMAN: I attended a couple of hearings in Congress. One was a T&I Committee hearing where we talked about the Northeast Corridor and the investment in high speed rail and the future of using public-private partnerships and private investment. The argument that kept going back and forth with Congress was that if there was an expectation for private investment, the private investor would need to make sure that it knew how much revenue was going to come in. If that revenue didn’t come in—let’s say it’s based on the total number of passengers or trains or whatever—then there would have to be an availability payment to make sure that the private investor didn’t lose any money. So, there would be an availability of service that wasn’t being used by the public but would still need to be paid for. That’s another way of saying subsidy.

When we’re talking about the need we have for an operating subsidy, or operating availability payments, it’s for long-distance service, the connectivity across our nation. Those who support long-distance trains argue that the Northeast Corridor needs as much subsidy as the long-distance trains. That’s not the right argument. The Northeast Corridor needs [capital] investment in its infrastructure for the future. For the long-distance services, those investments in most cases are being made by the freight railroads. Those freight investments are in the billions. We need that investment since we operate on those railroads and we pay the private railroads for the use of their tracks, plus incentives for on-time performance. They argue that we ought to be paying more. I understand that. Yet, what Congress and the public need to get together on is the fact that Amtrak has about 525 stations across the country, and at more than 300, we’re the only [public transportation] service into those communities. The economy in those communities are dependent in many ways upon connectivity to rail.

To lead, you have to have logic and compassion, and a clear direction of where you’re going. What isn’t always expressed is the fact that the middle of our country in a lot of ways today needs an ability for those in my generation—I’ll be 65—and those in front of me in age to be able to travel other than on Interstate highways, because the buses aren’t there and the ability to go see their kids on one of the coasts or their grandkids or their great grandchildren is brought to them by Amtrak. Their neighbors can take them 100 miles to an Amtrak station, but they can’t drive them the 600 or 800 or 1,000 miles to the coast. So there’s a great deal of value that we’re adding to this nation. It’s just like when we brought electrification to rural farms, understanding that it was never going to pay for itself in of itself but it brought a much better life to the rural communities across this country. Amtrak does much the same thing.

RA: Capital investment looking forward five years or so: Amtrak has a long-term plan for equipment and facilities. What can the rail supply industry look forward to? They know what to expect from the freight railroads. What can they expect from Amtrak in terms of investment beyond what you’ve already done with the electric locomotives and some of the improvements being made on the Northeast Corridor and elsewhere?

BOARDMAN: Before we can get to 220 mph we’ve got a lot of building to do. We also have to begin to supplement and then replace the Acela Express trains, which are our high speed trains today, so you’ll see an RFP going out within the next few weeks for up to 28 new trainsets for the Northeast over the next five or six years. There’s a major investment we believe we can pay for, frankly, with money that comes from the Northeast Corridor, both on the investment that we can make in those trains and also in the ability to get future revenue that really is going to provide not just a payback for the investment, but also an additional dollars to make more capital investments in the Northeast Corridor. One of the things we’d like to do if we could sooner rather than later is to undercut the railroad between Washington and New York, which we believe is getting rougher than it should be. It hasn’t been done in a while. We’ll completely undercut the main lines, the high speed lines, for about $200 million dollars. It would take three to four years to get it done because when you rebuild these things you’ve got to run the railroad while you’re doing it. Penn Station New York is the biggest bottleneck on the Northeast Corridor. We only get 55 hours of downtime per week to maintain or replace anything in that station. That’s from Friday night to Monday morning. The next big thing other than undercutting the railroad is to advance what we call the Gateway Project.

RA: The two additional tunnels and Portal Bridge.

BOARDMAN: The entire right-of-way from Newark to New York. After the recent problems that we’ve seen in Connecticut, the state’s property run by Metro North, I’m hearing from the business community that we have to figure out the least expensive way to reduce the time travel between New York and Boston—fix 58 miles of railroad so that we can run at 110 miles per hour. We’ve got bottlenecks going into New York from the north and south. That’s got to get fixed. Everybody wants to be in New York, the financial capital of the world. If they’re going to stay there this has got to get fixed.

New Jersey Transit is a big player. We had a lot of excess capacity back in 1976. We don’t have that today. The Long Island Rail Road’s dwell time in the station is pretty short in the morning because they go to Westside Yard and park their trains. New Jersey Transit doesn’t have a yard other than Sunnyside, which is Amtrak’s yard, and we share that space. We only have the two tunnels under the Hudson River, and we’ve got four going into Long Island and into Sunnyside yards [under the East River], so we really need to have those two new tunnels. We need high density signal systems in the East River tunnels. We’ve got a good partnership with the MTA, with [Chairman] Tom Prendergast. He was at our last board meeting. We’re talking about how we can work together. The railroads have not always worked well together, and that’s absolutely critical for the future, especially on the passenger side, and for passenger with freight. It’s a necessity for our nation to begin to find ways to work together, to advance what we know is going to be needed for the future.

RA: We’re about to go into the second tunnel in Baltimore.

BOARDMAN: These are the tunnels that were built just after the Civil War. We can make major improvements here, but those are major dollars well into the billions. We’re in the planning stages, working with Maryland and Baltimore to make those changes in the tunnels, in the station, in the connections. All throughout the Northeast Corridor there’s an interest in improving rail.

RA: A lot of people talk about maximum speed, but my perception—and this goes back to pre-Acela days when Amtrak was looking at high speed trainsets for the Northeast Corridor. The mantra was, it’s not about speed, it’s about trip time. The passenger really doesn’t care how you’re fast you’re going. Most people are concerned about the convenience, the comfort, the safety, and the amenities on board, but also just that trip time.

BOARDMAN: It’s trip time and reliability. The worry I have continually is about safety and reliability. We can knock off a few minutes from time to time, but making connections is where we get the biggest frustration from folks. I get direct email from customers that are held up on our trains. Many times I’m the first one that hears that the train is stopped. If somebody has my email and they’re on that train they let me know right away, and then I go looking to see if we can make some improvements. People do want to make sure that they get to places at the time that we say we’re going. We know that for the future we can reduce the time traveled on a continuing basis as we improve the railroad. We know that in order to get to 220 mph there needs to be a major change in the U.S. government policy of making investments in railroads whether it’s here or whether it’s in California or wherever. But we can’t stop improving the existing railroad.

The most important thing, bar none, is safety, and you’ll keep hearing that from me. Something that culturally needed to be changed when I came here was how we addressed the unions, the engagement of the workforce, to bring something different in for safety. Our behavioral safety program, which we call Safe to Safer, is really critical because it also helps develop leaders, those who begin to notice things that could be changed and make a different commitment for the future.

RA: Your personal style: I perceive you as being as being very strong, very resolute, but at the same time a little bit low key. Would you agree with that?

BOARDMAN: Well, I guess you can say it that way. Over the years I’ve learned that you have to forgive. I know that if I don’t forgive I won’t be forgiven, and I’ll make lots of mistakes. As you grow up you do make mistakes, and one of the difficulties with the culture that we’re in today is that we don’t generate a lot of forgiveness. One of the values that we developed as a part of our strategy was forgiveness. Now, forgiveness is not the same as not being held accountable. You are held accountable for the mistakes you make. There’s no question about it, but if you’re not forgiven for them how are you going to improve for the future? How are you going to give the opportunity for the future? Trust has to come back into relationships. With forgiveness you have that, so part of my style is to understand others and try to forgive others and go through my roster of what do I need to forgive. I can be liberated from the necessity of having an argument with somebody about something I’ve already forgiven them for, and I look for the same from others. We have strong values on integrity and transparency. A lot of people misunderstand that what I’m talking about is humility.

When I’m tough in a business deal somebody would say, well, I don’t see the humility, and I understand that. The humility I’m talking about has three parts. First is collaboration. I found very difficult union relationships when I walked into Amtrak—the worst I had ever seen anywhere during more than 30 years of leadership responsibility in small to large systems. People weren’t listened to. It was a culture of blame, so the necessity was to really listen. There’s a big difference between somebody having a say and having a vote, so we really took the opportunity to listen to people and let them have their say and still make decisions. We’ve allowed people to contribute in a way that others hadn’t. You have to trust others as you grow in life.

When it comes to an engineering decision, I don’t make them. I look for my chief engineer and his staff to do that, and you’re not going to find a more collegial group of people, generally speaking, than engineers. They all have their opinion on how things should be done, and so the second piece of humility is really about being collegial, finding ways to use others’ expertise to get to a decision that’s the right one, that’s logical, that can move forward.

The final piece of humility is the debt you owe to the future. It’s those that are going to follow you and stand on your shoulders, that are going to improve passenger rail in the future by having benefited from what you’ve done now. The debt you owe to the future is the people you select now, the processes you put in place, the strategy you have now, the values you’ve developed, the culture change you’re looking for to provide for the future. It’s all part of trying to be responsive to those who are sometimes overly critical and looking for a knee-jerk response so they can be justified in what they’ve decided to do. They’re wrong, but they’re looking for the emotional reaction they need to be justified. We all slip from time to time, but we have to be mature about it.

RA: Union-management disagreements are sort of traditional to railroads, but from what I’ve observed in the past few years I think things are better. Would you agree with that? I find just talking to various people around the railroad that you as a chief executive are highly respected and well-liked.

BOARDMAN: I continue to tell employees the truth about where we are, what we’re doing, what we want to do for the future. We put offers on the table in the same way. I came from the Bush Administration, so the expectation was that I was going to be negative for labor, and that’s just not true. It never was true, but our employees needed to find that out through their own experience. When they did, there were changes. One of those changes—let me go back to something I said already—I forgave everything they said. There were some negative feelings. I understand those. I believe that people have to have a right to express themselves. I ask them to do it courteously but that doesn’t always happen.

We have union leaders here that are truly leaders. They understand they’re not perfect. They also understand they have an obligation to defend things they wish they didn’t have to defend at times. We all do, but if you’re willing to collaborate, to sit down with them and listen to their point of view—even if you don’t agree with it—at least you show them the respect that they deserve because they are leaders, the people who operate our trains. A few years ago, I would hear worries about the idea of subcontracting or selling the Northeast Corridor and what would happen to jobs. I said, who do you think is going to run the trains? You think that there is going to be somebody else that comes in and steps into your job? Stop worrying about that. You’re going to have a job. They could call us peanut butter if they wanted to, or Amtrak, but we’re going to run this railroad, and it’s the people that run it now that will run it in the future. We knew when we put this high speed rail plan together the idea was that we would have all sorts of foreign railroads from Japan, France, etc., coming over here and looking at [the Northeast Corridor]. Nobody coming here would want to operate the railroad without the people that are already operating it. Maybe without the CEO, that’s OK, but not without the people that know what they’re doing.

RA: There’s something to be said for customer loyalty and obviously we’re seeing that.

BOARDMAN: Yes. We see in our ridership. We see it in Amtrak Guest Rewards. We see it in a number of people that are sincerely interested in presenting their issues or what they see could be better. I see it in the emails I get sometimes. I got a pretty rough one the other night from a young woman who was upset about not catching the last Acela Express out of Washington going to New York. She had some pretty negative things to tell me about me and management. I understood her point of view and I responded to her right away. I understood her anger and talked to staff afterwards about the issue. We have to take a special care of somebody if we’re trying to build a service for a new, last later Acela getting out of Washington. This customer got closed out at the gate with two minutes left; she thought she could get on the train and the gate agent wouldn’t let her. I explained to her it was because of safety. But at the same time, we need to make sure that our customers are given that extra special effort to make sure they get on that last Acela going out of town, to meet the profile of riders that we’re trying to attract. So we’re thinking about customers, we’re talking about that. We still make mistakes and we’ll continue to make them because we’re human, but we’ll try to fix them as best we can and change our culture into one that provides better customer service.

RA: What’s next for Joe Boardman? Are you thinking about that?

BOARDMAN: When you get an award like this, and people know you’re 65, they say, well, he’s on his way out. That’s not my plan. I made a commitment to the board, to my family, and to myself. I’m staying and will sign up for at least a couple more years if they’d like that. I made a commitment to my health. I made some changes in lifestyle that allowed me to lose weight. I’ve got two grandchildren now. One is in North Carolina and one is in New York. I can get to both places on the railroad.

I plan on being here for as long as I can contribute. I want to help provide for mentoring and succession for those behind me. I’ve got a great team, people who are really delivering at a senior level, changing our culture, getting into something very different for the future that will deliver a better railroad and a better experience for our customers, maintain our safety, and improve our bottom line.

See also Railway Age Contributing Editor Frank N. Wilner’s commentary on Joe Boardman on this website.

Tags: , ,