Mr. Anderson’s awkward start

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Sunday, April 1, 2018

Richard H. Anderson has been sole CEO of Amtrak for three months. He’s a skilled airline guy who heads a public utility that has been largely rudderless since Graham Claytor retired a quarter century ago. He must be feeling as if he stepped into a time warp. Anderson goes to see his fellow CEOs at two Class I host railroads. They are dismissive. One tells him bluntly that Amtrak has a “broken business model.” The other simply calls Anderson’s company a “nuisance.”

Now imagine what Richard Anderson must think of the big railroads. At Delta, he had a rep of being smart, tough, and respected. The airline he ran dwarfs the Class Is. Airline safety cultures are the stuff of legend. In short order he watches his own engineer in Washington state and a CSX crew in South Carolina commit what will surely be called egregious safety violations. Both killed people and both were preventable by positive train control. But Amtrak didn’t have PTC installed on its engine in Washington state and the commuter line over which the wayward train operated had not cut in PTC in any case. What must Anderson be thinking of the railroad safety culture, including that of Amtrak? Damn little! is the obvious answer. He said as much when testifying recently that he might not run his trains next year on tracks not PTC-equipped.

So Anderson and the Class I railroads have problems with each other. Anderson also has problems with much of his largest constituency—his passengers. In rapid order Amtrak has eliminated its special discounts. No more student discount. No more senior discount. No more AAA discount. No more railfan (NARP) discount. No more veteran discount. Did I miss anything? Only the discount for the active-duty military survives (as it does on airlines). And with his concurrence Amtrak is ending all or almost all excursions and special trains and curtailing where private car owners can add and subtract their carriages from Amtrak trains.

Let’s see where this leaves us. A great swath of Amtrak passengers has had its nose twisted. A politically active group of customers, the private car owners, is in outrage at a policy instituted without (to my knowledge) any consultation. People are asking questions about this man. For instance, 11 brand new dining cars sit idle in Hialeah, Fla., while long distance passengers on two routes get fed crap. What’s up? The big railroads don’t talk nice to Richard Anderson and are probably perceived by him as dinosaurs. Everyone is confused. And he says nothing. Therefore, I have five words of friendly advice for Richard Anderson: Tell us where you’re going.—Fred W. Frailey

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