Moorman Likens Amtrak to an Old House That Just Needs Improvement, Not Reconstruction

Although he has been in office less than three months, Amtrak President Charles “Wick” Moorman doesn’t expect to be around for a long time.

Wick Moorman

Wick Moorman

“My wife has told me that,” Moorman said at the Rail Trends 2016 Conference last week.

In his speech, Moorman said he is attempting to make Amtrak highly efficient, develop a stronger safety culture, and find the right person to lead the passenger carrier over the long term.

He also is seeking to build relationships with Amtrak’s host railroads.

He cited as an example his desire for Norfolk Southern chief dispatchers to get to know Amtrak operating officials so that they can solve problems together.

Moorman said that developing better relationships with its contract railroads is critical to being able to expand regional services.

He sees growth opportunities for regional trains and state-supported services in shorter corridors because they are attractive transportation alternative when compared to the hassle of flying and dealing with airport security.

“Amtrak’s bag fees are very low,” Moorman said. “And, you’ll hear this in our marketing, ‘there’s no middle seat.’ ”

Moorman described the long-distance trains as the “political glue” that holds Amtrak together and which play an essential role in providing transportation to underserved regions of the United States.

The Amtrak president said that although replacing Amtrak’s tired fleet of P42DC locomotives could be done relatively quickly, there is no fast solution to replacing Amfleet I and II equipment

That will require a source of funding as well as a new design. “We want to nail down what the cars should look like first,” Moorman said.

In the meantime, Amtrak has announced the replacement equipment that will be built to replace the Acela Express train sets with Moorman calling that a game-changer for high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor.

“It’s going to be a better product in every way,” Moorman said about the equipment that will be delivered starting in 2021.

Moorman sees Amtrak as having similar characteristic as an old house. It needs some attention, but not radical reconstruction.

“Amtrak’s not broken. There are things to be fixed,” Moorman said. “Think of me as the plumber.”

Moorman retired as head of Norfolk Southern in 2015 and initially spurned Amtrak’s overtures to replace Joseph Boardman as president.

He changed his mind after the Amtrak board of directors persisted in seeking him.

“I am not doing this for the money,” Moorman said. “I am doing this because the future of Amtrak is important to this country.”

He has brought on board some fellow retired NS executives, including Chief Operating Officer Mark Manion

Moorman said it will be easier to get legislators and others to support Amtrak if they can see that is is efficient and well-managed.

He said increasing efficiency means reducing operating losses while providing better service.

Although he sees Amtrak as safe and getting safer, Moorman said there is still work to be done to create a stronger safety culture.

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