Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Kummant’s letter

Amtrak President Alex Kummant has penned a little note to Amtrak folks on the one-year anniversary of his arrival. It’s late, so my commentary will have to wait for tomorrow, although I am generally favorable. Your remarks are, as always, invited.

Dear Co-workers,

When I joined Amtrak a year ago, everyone told me that time passes quickly here, and it certainly does. It’s hard to believe that this month marks my one-year anniversary — in some ways I feel like it was just yesterday that I walked through the doors at Union Station. I’ve learned a lot this past year, and while we need to continue to address our day-to-day problems, I wanted to share with you a few thoughts about our future together.

First, I want you to know that I am most impressed with the
dedication and expertise of our employees. There’s a sense of mission that collectively drives our employees — whether you’re in an office, aboard a train, in the shops or at a work site — and it’s unique to Amtrak. Despite our challenges, there is a great loyalty to our company.

Second, FY ’07 will go down in the books as another strong year for us, both in ridership and ticket revenue. We have managed — in the face of rising fuel costs, inflation and other factors — to keep our operating loss steady. The credit for these accomplishments belongs not only to the employees who worked hard to deliver quality service this year, but also to those who rebuilt our infrastructure and fleet over the last few years.

Third, I’ve realized that there is a huge reservoir of people out
there who support Amtrak. It’s not just the people who simply love trains and train travel; it’s local, state and federal elected
officials, community and business leaders, among others. I find that network very encouraging. I’ve met station volunteers, people who memorize our schedules, and others who know virtually every piece of equipment; they also give me a lot of free advice.

Fourth, one of most important lessons I’ve learned over the last 12 months is that we think too much in the moment; we are too worried about surviving and not enough about thriving. Simply getting through another month is too low of a bar for a company with as much talent as Amtrak. Without a doubt, we have to be focused on doing our jobs, operating safely and being good managers, but we have to break through to the other side.

There are very few opportunities in business where the path is as
well-lighted as ours. In addition to the growing support for
passenger rail, there are factors that make intercity passenger rail extremely relevant in today’s world. Highway and airway congestion, volatile fuel prices, increasing environmental awareness, and a need for transportation links between growing communities, are a few among them. The stage is set for Amtrak to take on a role not just as a contributor to the nation’s transportation network, but as a leader among transportation modes.

Growth is my strategy for the future and it will take shape along
three integrated fronts: investing in our workforce, investing in our partnerships with states and freight railroads, and investing in equipment and infrastructure.

You are the face of our product, and all of us combined are its
strength. Our industry has changed and we have to change with it; we must invest in our human capital to build a 21st century workforce. Achieving new union agreements is only a part of the strategy; it also has to reflect the large number of expected retirees in the next few years. Accordingly, we need to map out sound hiring strategies to meet the needs of the future.

Nonetheless, I reiterate my willingness to join our unions at the negotiating table to achieve fair and fiscally responsible agreements that meet the needs of the company and our deserving agreement-covered employees, as well as to better attract and retain a highly skilled and engaged workforce.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the future of our
business is in expanding and developing corridor service. We need to strengthen our partnerships with states and host railroads to make that happen. We can take a leadership role in advancing corridor service with bold infrastructure projects that would break apart some of the key bottlenecks across the country. By dedicating some capital and working with our state and freight partners, we could open up segments of routes that would transform rail service.

Imagine what a dedicated line from Chicago to Porter, Ind., would do for the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited services, as well as our Michigan trains. Imagine what an additional line between Richmond and Washington could do to improve and expand service there, or another route developed to link Los Angeles and the Bay area. What I’m suggesting is that we have to be bold.

If we hold out the promise of growth, we have to acquire new
equipment. Much of our fleet is old and we run the wheels off our
equipment. It’s high time we invest in new equipment and our state partners — and prospective partners — are looking to us to take the initiative on this front. When I accepted this job, I knew I was joining a cause as much as a business. Amtrak was created at a time when few saw any chance of survival of passenger rail. Now we are seen as one of the solutions to high gas prices, climate change concerns, and congestion. The company has proven itself and now we have to be more than just survivors, we have to be builders. That challenge falls to all of us — I’ll do my part in leading and driving the vision, but every single Amtrak employee can play a real role in taking us to the next level.


Alex Kummant President and CEO


Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Few show up for Atlanta maglev meeting

And what exactly were they expecting on a Tuesday evening?

HSR promoters need a bit of “out of the box” thinking. For one thing, nobody is coming out on a work night to talk about some impossible sounding transport system. Remember that many folks out there have only ever heard one side of the story.

Are there ways to meet folks in shopping malls? comign in and out of ball games? No, they may not want to talk then, but it might be an opportunity to slip a slick handout in somebody’s hand.

Is there a way to get on college campuses? Younger folks are more open to the message. Just a tought. Heck, I could be all wrong.

Here is part of a rather gloomy but comprehensive story from the typically supportive Atlanta Journal Constitution.

The consultants pointed out how high speed rail — up to 200 mph on flat, open stretches — could whisk passengers from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to Chattanooga’s airport in an hour.

They talked about whether it would be a typical steel-wheel rail system or a maglev track. They spoke of travel times, of easements, of elevations, of all the fascinating pylon in the sky elements of gee-whiz rail technology.

They did not speak about where Georgia, unable to fully fund some transportation projects that are already approved, would get the money to build about 120 miles of track and buy cars and locomotives.

It isn’t their job to find the money; their charge is to spend the federal money Georgia was about to lose if it didn’t launch the study, which will take up to three years.

Costs will vary with the route, but Karl Schaarschmidt, who has built rail systems throughout the world, including the original MARTA lines, said a San Diego to San Francisco high-speed rail project is pegged at $42 million per mile, an average leavened somewhat by the ease of building through central California.

Using the California costs, that would put the Georgia project at $5 billion.

David Doss, a DOT board member and enthusiastic supporter of maglev rail, knows that’s a big number.

Well, it may be a big number, but let’s compare it to the total waste of spending another dime on highways that are clogged the moment they open.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, United States High Speed Rail

Atlantic City run is big winner

It’s nice to see that big Amtrak investment work out. Graham Claytor made few mistakes, but betting the ranch on Atlantic City was an error. Sadly, Amtrak is on such an unreasonably tight chain, there is no tolerance for any mistakes.

Anyway, here is the latest from the Press of Atlantic City.

NJ Transit’s Atlantic City Rail Line set another record for passenger trips during fiscal year 2007, breaking the previous fiscal year record by about 100,000 passenger trips.

Passengers took about 1.3 million trips on the line that stretches between the Atlantic City Rail Terminal and 30th Street Station in Philadelphia.

This marked the fourth consecutive year the line posted a ridership record, in part because of more marketing campaigns, partnerships with casinos to provide promotional incentives and targeting of some groups in Philadelphia who enjoy going to the gaming halls, NJ Transit spokesman Dan Stessel said.

Also helping ridership is that riders are getting to and from their destinations more comfortably: NJ Transit has completed a year-long transition of replacing its Comet 3 passenger cars – which were built in 1990 – with more comfortable and mechanically reliable Comet 4 passenger cars, which were built around 1996. The Comet 4 cars came from other NJ Transit lines that got newer cars, such as the deluxe bi-level coaches running on the Northeast Corridor Line between Trenton and New York City.

Filed under: Regional USA Passenger Rail

For better or worse, Amtrak signs on to Michigan deal

Make up your own mind. Here is the crux of a story reported in the Battle Creek Enquirer.

Amtrak today agreed to a plan that would put a passenger service line between Kalamazoo and Ypsilanti under new ownership.

The railroad sale has been a point of contention for many leaders in communities along the line, including Battle Creek, who have cited fears of decreased passenger service under the new Michigan Central Railway. That is a joint venture between Norfolk, Va.-based Norfolk Southern Corp. and Pittsburgcq, Kan.-based Watco Cos. Inc.

“We were looking for an enforceable commitment, and it appears that Amtrak is holding Michigan Central Railway accountable,” said Battle Creek Mayor John Godfrey.

Filed under: Amtrak, Regional USA Passenger Rail

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September 2007