Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Amtrak names Boardman as new “interim” CEO

The excitement simply never stops at Amtrak. Bloomberg has the latest news on corporate leadership. Here is the lead, and a link to the entire story.

By Angela Greiling Keane and John Hughes

Nov. 25 (Bloomberg) — Amtrak, whose budget may increase under an Obama administration, said its new chief executive officer will be the head of the U.S. railroad-safety agency.

Joseph Boardman, 59, who has led the Federal Railroad Administration since April 2005, succeeds Alex Kummant, who resigned from the passenger carrier on Nov. 14. Boardman will serve for a year as Amtrak searches for a “permanent” chief, Chairwoman Donna McLean said today in a statement.

For additional context, I urge you to scroll down to my analysis of the Alex Kummant “resignation” and commentary by former Amtrak board member Paul Weyrich.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Daily Kos discovers HSR (and TFA)

Let me, first of all, welcome any of you who might be dropping in from Daily Kos. Please browse around and, yes, HSR will do a world of good for the USA.

And, many of you have correctly noted, those of us who live in middle America (I live in Little Rock) would be jumping up and down delighted to have passenger trains running at 1950 speeds.

A contributor to Kos has linked to one of Logan’s  stories about John Kerry’s tireless efforts to improve ground transportation.

If you are not a Daily Kos reader, here is the link. It’s a great story!

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, United States High Speed Rail

Weyrich comments on Kummant departure

This made my blood run cold. Paul Weyrich is a rich guy whose politics I generally deplore, but he is consistently right on transportation. He is intelligent and well motivated. Weyrich has served on the Amtrak board, which adds credibility to his analysis.

The sudden absence of Alex Kummant from the presidential suite at Amtrak has not  drawn much attention. CEO’s at troubled little Amtrak come and go. Nonetheless, this seemed hasty, especially in light of the generally favorable news about the National Railroad Passenger Corporation.

Don Philips at Trains posited a disagreement with the board over some obtuse matter of financial structuring. I continue to think that is way too vague.

Paul Weyrich has an important essay in Philadelphia’s Bulletin. You need to read it. He gives some juicy details, but it comes down to this:

The more the board continued to intervene in management matters, the more Mr. Kummant resented it. Finally, the board made it clear they regarded Mr. Kummant’s tenure as the equivalent of a bad marriage.

In fact, at the end Mr. Kummant and the board engaged in a nasty exchange of e-mails that could have burned up the Xerox paper. Finally the board set about trying to come up with a statement which would have given Mr. Kummant cover. The decision to let him go was made some time before he actually left. 

The story got out because Mr. Kummant’s packed boxes were seen. Also a complex California trip, which had been designed for Mr. Kummant by he himself, was cancelled. Instead it was an extremely tense time at Amtrak. 

Paul Weyrich proudly details his own activist role on the Amtrak board, which is a little disturbing. He was chair of something called the Strategic Marketing Committee. 

So, I am left to wonder, what exactly did they market? A bare bones hobbled transport system with zero operating capital? What strategy did they ever come up with to get some funds for new equipment?

Weyrich was on the board back in the Claytor era, but it has always been just a fight to day-to-day survival at Amtrak. Furthermore, one must acknowledge Paul Weyrich’s superior knowledge of rail transportation issues. I am sure he is an asset to Amtrak, but the revelations about board activities is troubling. 

Today, Amtrak suffers from a dire lack of equipment, which has worsened greatly since the days of Graham Claytor. A major portion of the network stands abandoned due to an apparent unstated policy of benign neglect. Amtrak has no ability to expand even to the most necessary new markets. 

The last thing any business needs is a dozen chefs seasoning the stew. It is bad enough to deal with congressional meddling, the board should stick with general policy and financial decisions. This is the appropriate role for a board of directors, and I think, all the earlier talk of congressional meddling notwithstanding, that this might bear some oversight from elected representatives.

If top management people are not allowed to manage, what good are they?

Since the Obama administration and a willing congress are about to invest in the national infrastructure, this question is even more prescient. 

Amtrak must deal with questions of debt, equipment, routes, and union contracts. These are specialized areas that demand professional insights, not micromanagement from the board.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

My insightful Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Column

The headline this week is “Stimulus that works.” It gives a well balanced to the options for auto manufacturers and infrastructure. Of course I give trains a fair shot.

You can read my columns online, but you need a subscription or you need to buy the article. It is an investment in the future of humanity. Here is the link.

And here is a snip of my wise words. Consider them well.

U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Arlen Specter have proposed a bill to provide tax-exempt bonds to improve rail lines on the East Coast and in the Midwest. There is even a proposed route linking Memphis, Little Rock and Fort Worth. State Rep. Steve Harrelson of Texarkana regularly mentions it on his “Under the Dome” blog.

The remarkable thing about this concept is that it is not the expensive European system one might use to connect big cities, but a more modest operation using existing right-of-way and speeds of around 110 mph. It creates a lot of jobs while the roadbeds are improved and many more when the trains start to roll.

This kind of thing also helps the operating freight railroads by drastically increasing their capacity. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association has been working it for years and has plenty of good research to back it up. Gil Carmichael, a Mississippi Republican and former federal railroad administrator, has another idea for enhancing the national railroad system for a greater volume of faster freight and passenger trains.

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

Texas T-Bone

Today’s Fort Worth Business Journal carries a fine opinion piece on the future of high speed rail in Texas. I have some opinions about this, and I expressed them in an interview you may be reading online soon. Texas is wa overdue for good ground transportation, and I think they might seriously consider letting Southwest Airlines run the “above the rail” operation. I’ll develop that thought later, but here is the highlight from today’s story.

The Texas T-Bone will provide High Speed Rail connectivity to the state’s international airports with trains traveling in excess of 200 miles per hour. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport would become a multimodal transportation hub for the 21st century, providing one-stop connectivity for air travel, rental cars, DART, DCTA, and The-T, and high-speed rail. Effectively shrinking the state, this system will create thousands of permanent jobs and attract a significant amount of investment, helping to ensure the continued growth of Texas’ economy. I predict that bringing high-speed rail to Texas will create for the Metroplex a sustained economic boom that will ensure the economic vitality of North Texas for many, many years to come. And it will do all of this while using roughly a third of the energy per passenger mile of air travel.

Furthermore, the visionary financing strategies advocated by the THSRTC do not require additional local, state, or federal tax money to make this revolutionary system a reality.  High-speed rail is among the few profitable transportation modes and, therefore, unlike our highways and transit agencies, this system will not require annual operational subsidies to stay afloat. Instead, it will bring enormous financial benefits to the communities it serves by creating jobs, generate new investment and Transit Oriented Development (TOD), and provide to city and regional planners a tool to responsibly orchestrate future development, aiding their efforts to mitigate sprawl and protect our precious rural areas.

Gary Fickes is Tarrant County Commissioner for Precinct 3 as well as secretary of the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation (THSRTC). For more information on high-speed rail, visit

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

California HSR moves forward

Here is the latest from KCBS in San Francisco. Major points: 2 hour 30 minute running time San Fran to L. A. and 68 million passengers a year.

Opponents worry that passengers teeth will fall out at high speeds and train will run of edge of earth.

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

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November 2008