An exercise in futility

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An exercise in futility
Posted by 243129 on Thursday, August 01, 2019 9:12 PM

 

Mr. Moorman:This was originally sent to various officials, including corporate, in June 2014(I have since updated it). Frankford Junction occurred on May 12, 2015.

June 24, 2014

Amtrak: An accident waiting to happen.....again.

I am a recently retired locomotive engineer. My career in engine service spanned the years1963-2014. I started with the New York, New Haven and Hartford R.R. and after a series of takeovers and mergers I ended my career with Amtrak in 2014. I have experienced many different forms of railroad management techniques from five entities and I must say that Amtrak tops the list as the very worst. Amtrak is an accident waiting to happen. I loosely compare Amtrak's 1983 takeover ofoperations on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) to Robert Mugabe's takeover of Rhodesia. Mugabe expelled the resident farmers and intellectuals who brought prosperity and technology to the country. Amtrak took over the NEC and installed their own management team eschewing input from the resident veterans. Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, continues to be in dire straits, their currency is worthless and their economy is a shambles. Amtrak is still employing the hit and miss, trial and error tactics it has utilized since inception accompanied by inept,wasteful managerial practices and to this day has still not achieved that which it is capable of. Until recently Amtrak has trundled along despite their inadequacies because their veteran workforce was there to 'bail them out'. That resource is now dwindling and it is showing in recent mishaps.That having been said it is time again to focus on Amtrak's hiring and training practices. During the past eight months Amtrak has had two major incidents,the latest with fatalities, that are a result of their hiring and training procedures coupled with grossly unqualified supervision. Since 2011 I have implored Amtrak management to review their training and hiring practices and use the knowledge and input of their dwindling veteran workforce to no avail. I have written to Chairman of the Board Carper, President Boardman, Vice Presidents of Operations Geary and Stadtler, Vice President of Transportation Phelps, Congressmen John Mica, WilliamShuster, Senator Charles Grassley, Robert Samuelson of the Washington Post, Brian Ross of ABC, Bill O'Reilly and others pleading with them to have Amtrak review their hiring and training procedures and listen to their seasoned veteran workforce. With the exceptions of Phelps and Stadtler I have been ignored. Phelps answered my letter to Boardman after I sent the same letter three times via registered mail return receipt requested. Stadtler patronized me with a visit to Philadelphia with those responsible for the training program where they very politely nodded their heads in faux concern at my presentation. Sensing their disinterest in what I had to say I called an end to the meeting citing that I felt it was an exercise in futility and took the next train back to New Haven. I have stated repeatedly to all who would listen, and those listed above who did not, that with the right combination of these recently trained individuals it could be a prescription for disaster,a 'perfect storm' if you will.

They have ignored all warning signs of impending disasters. There was the incident in November 2013 of an inexperienced and obviously poorly trained crew wandering six miles inthe wrong direction on a foreign railroad. Still Amtrak did not review it's training and qualification regimens. Then came Frankford Jct.(added 2016)As a rule I try to refrain to telling anyone that 'I told you so' but after Frankford Jct. I felt that it was appropriate to do so in an effort to demonstratively drive home the fact that Amtrak's training and hiring programs are abject failures and downright dangerous.

The following is my email of May15 2015 to Vice President of Operations D.J. Stadtler who has absolutely no previous experience in railroad operations. It was ignored.

Mr. Stadtler:The recent tragic event in North Philadelphia will have once again brought to light the inadequacies of Amtrak's training and hiring procedures. There are folks out 'there' still who have no business operating trains. Your training and hiring procedures, for lack of a better analogy, have come back to bite you in the ass once again. I had previouslyattempted to effect change by stressing the value and input of your veteran but aging remaining workforce to no avail. I no longer work for Amtrak , I retired in July 2014 after 51 years in the operating department. That being said I still retain the esprit de corps instilled in me by my employer 50 plus years ago and I feel that I would like to help restore the professionalism that existed before Amtrak and it's cadre of inexperienced managers eroded that attribute. I have a template for hiring and training. Should you be interested in seriously entertaining my ideas, this time, I would be happy to impart them, once again, to you.I have attached the presentation I made to CTO Nichols in December 2013 and my correspondence to then Vice President of Operations Richard Phelps for your perusal. In one of my missives I made reference to a prescription for disaster, a 'perfect storm' if you will, which sadly seems to have come to fruition.

This past week on my former home division there was another stop signal violation. The individual involved has an atrocious work record in his 3 year career as an engineer, it was the second stop signal violation in 13 months coupled with a forgotten passenger station stop(Mystic CT), overshooting others due to misjudgment, running over a derail on a track belonging to another railroad where he had no business being and sundry other miscues that were'overlooked'. Where was supervision?Amtrak has the unknowing teaching the unknowing. If one were to check the pedigree of these so called instructors one would find that they themselves have minimal experience. All of the technology such as Positive Train Control, speed control cab signal etc. cannot preclude proper training and experience because if those systems were to fail, and they do, 90% of the present operating workforce, including supervision, would not have a clue as how to operate.I stand behind all I have stated here. I am supported by my fellow veteran railroad men. I can prove or qualify all that I have stated here and am prepared to do so. Hopefully this missive will find it's way to the proper authority and an oversight committee of experienced railroad operations employees can be established to set the proper guidelines for training personnel for railroad operations on Amtrak

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Friday, August 02, 2019 7:00 AM

Judging by the tone of said letter, I'd be quite surprised if it didn't get filed under "Miscellaneous" when it was received.  Rants without specifics of what sort of improvements need to be made don't get very far.

The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
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Posted by Flintlock76 on Friday, August 02, 2019 8:21 AM

In all fairness, I thought the letter was pretty well written.  If "243129" started going into names, dates, the mechanics of the various incidents he'd have ended up sending a dissertaion instead of a letter which would have lessened the chances of it's being read even more.

"243129," you're passionate about your subject, and I admire passion, even if I don't agree with the person making the statements. (Just speaking generally, mind you.)

And I too have experienced the "wise heads" coming down from "on high" up in corporate where they listen, nod their heads gravely and understandingly, and then leave and don't do a damn thing. 

Look man, you tried your best.  They won't listen.  Forget it.  Take up a hobby, fishing, golf, gardening, maybe even model railroading.  Enjoy what time God lets you have left on this earth.  

The only good thing about banging your head on the wall is it feels so good when it stops.

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Posted by 243129 on Friday, August 02, 2019 9:37 AM

CSSHEGEWISCH

Judging by the tone of said letter, I'd be quite surprised if it didn't get filed under "Miscellaneous" when it was received.  Rants without specifics of what sort of improvements need to be made don't get very far.

 

Had you read the entire missive you would have seen that specifics were offered. What you classify as a rant are facts.

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Posted by 243129 on Friday, August 02, 2019 9:57 AM

Flintlock76
And I too have experienced the "wise heads" coming down from "on high" up in corporate where they listen, nod their heads gravely and understandingly, and then leave and don't do a damn thing.

I call it Amtrak arrogance.

Flintlock76
Look man, you tried your best. They won't listen. Forget it. Take up a hobby, fishing, golf, gardening, maybe even model railroading. Enjoy what time God lets you have left on this earth.

Thank you for the advice and wishes. This is not the single occupier of my time, I do have hobbies, I have toured the entire USA, Canada and two forays in to Mexico on my motorcycle. I have two boats, a 31' Tiara with which I cruise Long Island Sound and a 22' Pursuit with which I fish the Florida Keys, I skied until the age of 68 and this October I am headed to the Copper Canyon by auto as I sold my motorcycle. 

For those of you railfans who are not aware of this venue I understand that the train ride is spectacular.

https://www.coppercanyon.com/index.php/train

So, yes I have plenty to keep me busy and have been enjoying the retirement that my railroad career has afforded me but I will continue to speak out against Amtrak's dangerous hiring and training procedures.

 

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Friday, August 02, 2019 10:16 AM

You're welcome Bro, just remember, there's a million things in the world you can do and influence, and a million things you can't.

Don't break your heart over that second million.

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Posted by selector on Friday, August 02, 2019 12:34 PM

An organization's culture is hard to change.  It takes sometimes ruthless and dogged leadership, threats, carrots, policy re-thinking and promulgation, and pink slips.  But, it also takes trust-building and consultation so that all who stand to lose or to gain feel they have been at least heard, and can be given a chance to adapt if they are so inclined.

I won't presume to guess where the problem lies, but my military background suggests it's somewhere near that highest parapet. Secondly, I'd bet my next two pension cheques (Cdn spulling) that His Nibs never even heard of the letters.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Friday, August 02, 2019 2:45 PM

selector

An organization's culture is hard to change.  It takes sometimes ruthless and dogged leadership, threats, carrots, policy re-thinking and promulgation, and pink slips.  But, it also takes trust-building and consultation so that all who stand to lose or to gain feel they have been at least heard, and can be given a chance to adapt if they are so inclined.

I won't presume to guess where the problem lies, but my military background suggests it's somewhere near that highest parapet. Secondly, I'd bet my next two pension cheques (Cdn spulling) that His Nibs never even heard of the letters.

 

Specificity helps to get the initial reader to have a positive  reaction,  take note and pass it upstairs rather than into the trash. 

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Posted by JPS1 on Friday, August 02, 2019 2:54 PM

selector
 An organization's culture is hard to change.  It takes sometimes ruthless and dogged leadership, threats, carrots, policy re-thinking and promulgation, and pink slips.  But, it also takes trust-building and consultation so that all who stand to lose or to gain feel they have been at least heard, and can be given a chance to adapt if they are so inclined.

I won't presume to guess where the problem lies, but my military background suggests it's somewhere near that highest parapet. Secondly, I'd bet my next two pension cheques (Cdn spulling) that His Nibs never even heard of the letters. 

Spot on!  I spent more than five years participating on or leading projects designed to change the culture of a Fortune 225 Corporation. 

People paid attention to us because we reported directly to the CEO.  If he agreed with our recommendations, they floated.  If he disagreed, they were dead in the water. 

The recommendations that floated were relatively simple, specific, and coupled with a cost/benefit analysis.  We learned not to give people a fire hose for a drink of water. 

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Friday, August 02, 2019 5:54 PM

If you are serious about wanting those in power to listen,  try looking at the relevant chapters in Canegie's famous book. 

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Posted by 243129 on Friday, August 02, 2019 7:52 PM

charlie hebdo
Specificity helps to get the initial reader to have a positive reaction, take note and pass it upstairs rather than into the trash.

Where do you not see specificity in the OP?

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Posted by 243129 on Friday, August 02, 2019 7:55 PM

charlie hebdo
If you are serious about wanting those in power to listen, try looking at the relevant chapters in Canegie's famous book.

I could not find "Canegies famous book".

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Friday, August 02, 2019 8:11 PM

I believe Charlie's speaking of Dale Carnegie's "How To Win Friends And Influence People."  

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Posted by Overmod on Friday, August 02, 2019 8:13 PM

243129
I could not find "Canegies famous book".

You're just making fun of his typo.

He means Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People.

All trolling aside, it's a good and useful book.

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Posted by 243129 on Friday, August 02, 2019 8:28 PM

Overmod

 

 
243129
I could not find "Canegies famous book".

 

You're just making fun of his typo.

He means Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People.

All trolling aside, it's a good and useful book.

 

 

Ah thank you Senor Ellsworth and flintlock for clearing that up.Angel

I do not kiss ass in order to get someone to listen to me. The facts are there and they ignore them. My missive is and has been on the internet along with mailings to the media politicians etc.

When the next human error disaster occurs on Amtrak, and it will, I shall refer to them and trot them out, again, and perhaps someone will listen.

Oh yes and I will say I told you so.

 

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Friday, August 02, 2019 9:09 PM

1. You don't need to kiss ass to not be abrasive.  

2. Your many letters were largely  ignored.  When you were acknowledged  with a meeting,  you stormed out because you felt no one was listening.   You need to look in a mirror and listen to how you respond to those who are critical of you. 

3. Specificity is absent in details about what you would propose to change vetting and supervision. 

This was all said to you long ago and rejected with an abrasive tone. 

The portion of Carnegie that is relevant is how to influence people.  You could have great ideas,  but your demeanor causes people to have no interest in what those ideas are. 

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Posted by 243129 on Saturday, August 03, 2019 7:24 AM

charlie hebdo
When you were acknowledged with a meeting, you stormed out because you felt no one was listening.

That is your spin and totally inaccurate.

charlie hebdo
Specificity is absent in details about what you would propose to change vetting and supervision.

Absent to you perhaps but presented to 'them'. They feel they have a better idea. They don't.

charlie hebdo
You could have great ideas, but your demeanor causes people to have no interest in what those ideas are.

I do not/will not engage in 'corporate style' backslapping and phony guffaws to curry favor so they will entertain sound advice. If straightforward 'big boy' talk is too much for them to bear then as I did with Stadtler I will say I told you so. If they had interest in improving their product they would listen to their veteran workforce. If it was not invented by them they don't want it.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Saturday, August 03, 2019 8:39 AM

243129

 

charlie hebdo
You could have great ideas, but your demeanor causes people to have no interest in what those ideas are.

 

I do not/will not engage in 'corporate style' backslapping and phony guffaws to curry favor so they will entertain sound advice. If straightforward 'big boy' talk is too much for them to bear then as I did with Stadtler I will say I told you so. If they had interest in improving their product they would listen to their veteran workforce. If it was not invented by them they don't want it.

 

And therein lies at least some of the obstacle.  Influencing others does not mean back slapping,  and phony guffaws, etc.  It means reaching your audience where they can and will listen.  It means acknowledging what is good initially to gain respect as an objective observer,  rather than starting with a shopping list of what is wrong,  which allows them to quickly dismiss you as an embittered crank, even if that is not true.  

But I think trying to give advice to you is an exercise in futility, to quote the title of this thread. 

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Posted by BaltACD on Saturday, August 03, 2019 9:39 AM

The easiest thing in the world is to flame about what is wrong.  Ranting about what is wrong is the fastest way a piece of paper can find its way to the circular file or the shreder.

Formulating and expressing correcting steps and/or procedures that can actually be implemented is many times harder and thousands of times more productive.

The paper and words that go on it are yours - use them wisely.

One thing that I learned early, if you are trying to 'move the bosses actions' phrase your ideas in such a manner that the boss thinks it is his own idea.  Of couse such process requires sacrificing your own benefits for the overall 'team' benefits.  Even stars have ot sacrifice for the good of the team.

 

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Posted by Euclid on Saturday, August 03, 2019 10:25 AM

243129

Mr. Moorman:This was originally sent to various officials, including corporate, in June 2014(I have since updated it). Frankford Junction occurred on May 12, 2015.

June 24, 2014

Amtrak: An accident waiting to happen.....again.

I am a recently retired locomotive engineer. My career in engine service spanned the years1963-2014. I started with the New York, New Haven and Hartford R.R. and after a series of takeovers and mergers I ended my career with Amtrak in 2014. I have experienced many different forms of railroad management techniques from five entities and I must say that Amtrak tops the list as the very worst. Amtrak is an accident waiting to happen. ...

I believe you are correct in your observations about Amtrak’s safety culture and how it may be distinctively poor compared to that of the private railroad industry. I believe this difference stems from the fact that Amtrak is a public sector organization, which therefore has a business philosophy that is different than that of the private railroads. 

But both are big business with bureaucracies that resist change and especially resist outside advice from other people.  In approaching either public or private enterprises with constructive criticism, you have start at the top of the organization.  However, I conclude that there is a fundamental difference in how problems tend to originate in public versus private business.  With private business, the problems often originate at the production or middle management level.  Then top managers recognize this and seek outside advice on how to correct the problem. And they can make this happen precisely because they are at the top and have the ultimate authority to change things. 

In public sector organization, the problems tend to start at the top with the entire organization following that lead.  Whether problems start at the top or the middle, the people actually creating the problems will not believe they are doing so, and will not seek or listen to advice.  But in private business, people creating problems in the middle can be forced to stop by the people at the top.  But with Amtrak, assuming that their safety problems start at the top, the top people will not listen to outside advice, and there is nobody higher that can force them to listen.  Therefore, I think it is futile to take your message directly to Amtrak.  They will not listen, so you have to figure out a way to force the changes upon them.

The people who are really at the top of a public sector organization are the public themselves.  They are the boss of Amtrak.  They are also the ones who are hurt or killed in the rash of accidents.  So take your message directly to them.  They will listen and demand a remedy as any responsible business manager would. 

Another alternative would be to penetrate Congress with your message because they are the public in a condensed representational form.  And like the actual public, Congress can tell Amtrak what to do and force them to do it.  But Congress, like Amtrak, is a public sector organization, so dealing with Congress will pose problems similar to the problems of dealing directly with Amtrak.  

So I suggest taking your message directly to the American people in the form of a book that lays out your case.  Then they will take your message to Congress, and Congress will change Amtrak.  The public already is informed of the problem by the news they get about the Amtrak disasters.  So they are primed to hear your message. 

Use your expertise, experience, and further research as the basis of the book.  But writing a book is a very large project in both the writing and the marketing.  So, get professional help with that project.  The book project will be massive, so start with a foundation.  Compose thoughts and ideas, write drafts, design the presentation structure, develop questions, and do a lot of research to get the answers.  A well done book will have the power to take your message to right where it is needed, and the changes to Amtrak will follow.  Also, if you put enough marketing into the book to sell it in the necessary numbers to move the public, there will be book revenue that will return much of your investment.   

Also keep in mind that the drama of this safety issue with Amtrak is ongoing, and the future may very well hold more disasters the likes of which have never been imagined.  So the time spent writing your book will allow room for these additional demonstrations of the problem that you book presents. 

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Posted by JPS1 on Saturday, August 03, 2019 12:35 PM
The executive suites of large organizations like Amtrak are bombarded daily with letters, phone calls, etc. 
 
No matter how eloquently and precisely it is stated, the probability of a letter being read by the CEO or a member of the executive team is very low.  Most of them land on an administrative assistant's desk. 
 
CEOs have to attend to many stakeholders, i.e. customers, employees, creditors, regulators, etc.  Amtrak's CEO also has to kiss up to 535 Congress members as well as numerous state and local politicians. 
 
Anderson probably works 60 to 75 hours a week.  He does not have time to respond to every message that reaches the executive suite. 
 
The most effective way to have your voice heard in a large organization is through a group leader that has a personal relationship with the CEO or somone on the executive team, e.g. union, regulator, legislative, advocacy, etc.   
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Posted by BaltACD on Saturday, August 03, 2019 1:37 PM

JPS1
The executive suites of large organizations like Amtrak are bombarded daily with letters, phone calls, etc.  
No matter how eloquently and precisely it is stated, the probability of a letter being read by the CEO or a member of the executive team is very low.  Most of them land on an administrative assistant's desk. 
 
CEOs have to attend to many stakeholders, i.e. customers, employees, creditors, regulators, etc.  In the case of Amtrak, the CEO also has to kiss up to 535 Congress members as well as numerous state and local politicians.  He probably works 60 to 75 hours a week.  He does not have time to respond to every message that reaches the executive suite. 
 
The most effective way to have your voice heard in a large organization is through a group leader that has a personal relationship with the executive team, e.g. union, regulator, legislative, advocacy, etc.   

243129's style almost insures that any level of the organization where the letter lands, if they get beyond the first paragraph will line it up for a form reply at most and circular filing most likely.

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Posted by Euclid on Saturday, August 03, 2019 1:44 PM

There is absolutely no point in sending a letter to Amtrak.  They are the problem, not the ones to fix the problem.

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Posted by Overmod on Saturday, August 03, 2019 2:02 PM

Euclid
They are the problem, not the ones to fix the problem.

If that is so, may I gently inquire who you think would be?

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Posted by Euclid on Saturday, August 03, 2019 2:13 PM

Overmod
 
Euclid
They are the problem, not the ones to fix the problem.

 

If that is so, may I gently inquire who you think would be?

 

The general public demanding action through Congress.

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Posted by Overmod on Saturday, August 03, 2019 2:23 PM

Euclid
The general public demanding action through Congress.

And who's going to do the consciousness-raising and the community organizing to actually bring this to first a bill and then a successful vote?

Directed action to key members of Congress is likely far, far more successful to work.  But you are going to have to put special emphasis on problems with precisely the sort of larger-picture social prioritization that led to some of the Amtrak hiring issues in the first place -- before you start getting onto prioritizing correct mentor-centric and longer-term training procedure establishment.  The knee-jerk response will be to mandate more and stricter interlocking rules as if those would solve the issues Joe raises.  They don't know any better, yet.  And they're unlikely to listen to anyone who can tell them -- let alone anyone who starts out of the gate hectoring them, no matter how objectively correct it might be to do so.

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Posted by BaltACD on Saturday, August 03, 2019 2:38 PM

Euclid
 
Overmod 
Euclid
They are the problem, not the ones to fix the problem. 

If that is so, may I gently inquire who you think would be? 

The general public demanding action through Congress. 

Your orbit is now outside Marianne Williamson

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Posted by AnthonyV on Saturday, August 03, 2019 3:01 PM

A number of good points have been made here.  What role/responsibility, if any, does the NTSB have with this?

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Posted by Euclid on Saturday, August 03, 2019 3:52 PM

Overmod
 
Euclid
The general public demanding action through Congress.

 

And who's going to do the consciousness-raising and the community organizing to actually bring this to first a bill and then a successful vote?

Directed action to key members of Congress is likely far, far more successful to work.  But you are going to have to put special emphasis on problems with precisely the sort of larger-picture social prioritization that led to some of the Amtrak hiring issues in the first place -- before you start getting onto prioritizing correct mentor-centric and longer-term training procedure establishment.  The knee-jerk response will be to mandate more and stricter interlocking rules as if those would solve the issues Joe raises.  They don't know any better, yet.  And they're unlikely to listen to anyone who can tell them -- let alone anyone who starts out of the gate hectoring them, no matter how objectively correct it might be to do so.

 

Overmod,

About 7 or 8 posts up from yours here, I explained what I would do if I wanted to bring about this change.  But it would not be easy.  It may not justify the effort. In my opinion, it would be impossible to get change by contacting Amtrak.  Even through the public and Federal politics, it may be as difficult as running for president.  Maybe change will be driven more by the next Amtrak catasrophic accident than by personal efforts.  Maybe there are not enough people interested in riding Amtrak to care whether or not it is safe.  Maybe Elon Musk will make it safe by automating passenger trains. 

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Posted by Deggesty on Saturday, August 03, 2019 4:29 PM

Overmod

 

 
Euclid
The general public demanding action through Congress.

 

And who's going to do the consciousness-raising and the community organizing to actually bring this to first a bill and then a successful vote?

Directed action to key members of Congress is likely far, far more successful to work.  But you are going to have to put special emphasis on problems with precisely the sort of larger-picture social prioritization that led to some of the Amtrak hiring issues in the first place -- before you start getting onto prioritizing correct mentor-centric and longer-term training procedure establishment.  The knee-jerk response will be to mandate more and stricter interlocking rules as if those would solve the issues Joe raises.  They don't know any better, yet.  And they're unlikely to listen to anyone who can tell them -- let alone anyone who starts out of the gate hectoring them, no matter how objectively correct it might be to do so.

 

I wonder how many people in Congress are aware that Amtrak even exists, much less have any idea of the problems that have been presented on this thread. 

Johnny

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