On Wick Moorman leaving Amtrak ... we didn't have you there long enough

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Monday, June 26, 2017

It was only a few minutes after I’d gotten a “heads up” message from Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari about a new CEO announcement this morning that Wick Moorman was on the phone to speak a good word for his freshly named successor, Richard Anderson. Anderson is known for being former CEO of Delta and Northwest airlines.

I’d no more than dashed off a note to columnists Fred Frailey, Bob Johnston, and Don Phillips and given Associate Editor Steve Sweeney, who handles our online News Wire in addition to our print pages, their own heads up when the phone rang.

I congratulated Wick on finding a successor in less than a year. “He is excited. He wants to do it,” Wick said of Anderson before underscoring two attributes that are appealing to Wick and the Amtrak board: Anderson’s work at the head of a transportation company that’s about meeting the needs of individual customers and his role as the leader of a big corporation with multiple issues facing it. It will be interesting to see what an aviation guy can do with a publicly owned national railroad system that’s constantly starved for operating and capital money.

Wick’s role as a back-to-basics railroad CEO will be remembered primarily for this: He followed through on his promise to restructure the company, put a new emphasis on safety, and find a successor in an expedient period of time. It will also be remembered as the time when the Penn Station tracks in New York City fell apart in Spring 2017, and when Amtrak had to move quickly and decisively to fix them this summer. Knowing that Wick came up as a track guy back in the 1970s when Southern Railway was laying welded rail and keeping its trains upright during the bad track era of American railroading, I suspect that we may see a lot of him in Penn Station between now and the end of the year. It would be fitting for the track guy to return to where he came from.

Wick said that Amtrak had a good slate of candidates with CEO experience, but few with transportation in their resumes. He and Anderson will work together through the end of the year in a transition phase.

From the email I sent to the columnists, Don Phillips immediately fired back “Way too soon. Too bad.”

I agree. I would have liked to see Wick, a true railroader with a strong passion for passenger trains, run Amtrak for a longer period, at least a few years. But home calls, and I understand. He’s been gone a long time running Norfolk Southern and then Amtrak as of last Sept. 1. Railroading, as anyone who has touched it knows, is a time-draining, all-consuming job. It’s tough on family time.

A few years ago, Wick’s predecessor, Joe Boardman, taught me a wonderful phrase at a town hall meeting we co-sponsored with Amtrak in Chicago. In answering questions in the forum setting about “when will this be done” or “when will that be done” Boardman had a wonderfully disarming reply, which he delivered with a straight face: “Not in a time frame that you and I would find acceptable.”

That phrase popped into my mind once again when I learned that Wick Moorman’s successor had been named and he would be leaving Amtrak. His short tenure was definitely not a time frame that I find acceptable.

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