Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak board of directors’

Biden Amtrak Nominees Might Not Get Vote

May 5, 2022

Although the nominations announced by the Biden administration to the Amtrak board of directors last week have drawn mixed reviews, it may all be a moot point.

Writing in the newsletter of the American Association of Private Rail Car Owners, Ross Capon, the organization’s Washington correspondent, indicated that the nominations may not receive a Senate vote.

Capon once served as executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers – now known as the Rail Passengers Association – and cited the view of The Eno Foundation’s Jeff Davis.

 “If the last few years are any indication, the only way the nominations will move to the Senate floor is if paired with future Republican nominees,” Davis wrote.

Davis said the Senate is unlikely to confirm an all-Democratic slate just as it refused to confirm the all-Republican slate presented by the Trump Administration until mid-2020. 

Even after Trump nominated two Democrats, the Senate still failed to act on the nominations because of objections raised by senators representing states served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) placed a hold on the nominations of Democrat Sarah Feinberg and Republican Todd Rokita.

Moran said he wanted to hear more from Feinberg on her views pertaining to Amtrak’s long-distance trains and that Rokita had failed to answer any of his questions on the matter.

Moran said he wanted to hear that all of the board nominees were supportive of Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

Until last year, the 10-member Amtrak board was mandated by federal law to include “balanced representation of the major geographic regions served by Amtrak.”

That changed with approval of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was approved by Congress last fall.

It contained language requiring that two Amtrak board members must reside along the Northeast Corridor and four must be from outside that region.

That is to include two members from states served by state-supported service and two members from states served by long-distance trains. A single individual cannot fill both a state and long-distance slot.

The Amtrak board currently has two vacancies and the remaining members are all serving on expired terms.

The only Biden nominee from outside the Northeast is Christopher Koos, the mayor of Normal, Illinois, who was nominated for the board by the Trump administration but not confirmed by the Senate.

Among the critics of the Biden nominees was Bob Johnston, the passenger rail reporter for Trains magazine.

In a piece posted on the magazine’s website this week, Johnston argued that the Biden nominations largely fail to comply with IIJA language as to Amtrak governing board membership.

Johnston wrote that having four of the five nominees from the Northeast Corridor region is in contradiction of the law’s goal of strengthening the national network.

Capon made similar comments. “Some rail passenger advocates, remembering the near-death experience of long-distance trains in 2018 under [Amtrak] President Richard Anderson, and concerned about limited capacity (and in some cases frequency) of long-distance trains today, are unhappy with the nominations, including their geographic concentration on the south end of the Northeast Corridor.”

One of the Biden nominees is Anthony Coscia, who has served on the Amtrak board since 2010 and been its chair since 2013. Capon said the re-nomination of Coscia can be viewed as an endorsement of current Amtrak leadership. 

Aside from the four Biden nominations, three more Amtrak board members are expected to be put forth by Senate Republicans.

By law the secretary of transportation or his/her representative sits on the Amtrak board. The Amtrak CEO is a non-voting member.

That leaves eight positions to be appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate.

No more than five of the eight presidential nominations can be from the same party. At least one board member must have a disability (as defined in section 3 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. 12102)).

The IIJA requires that the disabilities member must have a “demonstrated history of, or experience with, accessibility, mobility, and inclusive transportation in passenger rail or commuter rail.”

The Biden nominees received praise from RPA, which had in the week before they were announced sought to make an issue out of the lack of nominees to the Amtrak board.

RPA head Jim Mathews issued a statement applauding the White House for taking the group’s concerns seriously.

“We look forward to working closely with these nominees to understand their vision for Amtrak’s future,” Mathews said.

However, RPA issued another statement this week calling for Biden to appoint Amtrak board members who represent a broad geographic region.

The statement said Biden “missed an opportunity” to nominate board members from outside the Mid-Atlantic region.

 SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said in a statement the Biden Amtrak board slate “continues to prioritize the concerns of labor as he [Biden] and the DOT pursue an unprecedented and historic transformation of the nation’s passenger-rail network.”

Johnston, though, was not as approving and probably speaks for many rail passenger advocates in saying that none of Biden’s Amtrak board nominees have “hands-on business credentials dealing with inventory pricing, sales management, or hospitality” and that none of them have experience in the passenger railroad industry.

He has a point. The IIJA mandates that Amtrak board members have general business and financial experience, experience or qualifications in transportation, freight and passenger rail transportation, travel, hospitality, cruise line, or passenger air transportation businesses, or representatives of employees or users of passenger rail transportation or a State government.

Johnston’s article can be read at https://www.trains.com/trn/news-reviews/news-wire/bidens-amtrak-board-nominations-lack-qualifications-demanded-by-congress-analysis/

Biden Nominates 5 to Amtrak Board

May 1, 2022

The Biden administration has nominated five people to serve on Amtrak’s board of directors.

The nominations are subject to approval by the U.S. Senate. All of the current terms on the passenger carrier’s board have expired.

Among the nominees is current board chairman Anthony Coscia and former board nominee Christopher Koos.

Koos is the mayor of Normal, Illinois, which is served by Amtrak’s Texas Eagle and Lincoln Service trains. He was nominated in 2020 but the appointment was never acted upon by the Senate.

Coscia has served on the board since 2010 and became chairman in 2013.

Other nominees include David Capozzi, former executive director of the U.S. Access Board and former national advocacy director for the Paralyzed Veterans of America; Samuel Lathem, retired Delaware State AFL-CIO president and a former autoworker active in a number of civic organizations; and Robin Wiessmann, executive director and chief executive of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

By law Amtrak’s governing board is allocated 10 positions. Also serving on the board are U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner. Senate Republicans can select the other three nominees.

The board is required to include at least two members each from Northeast Corridor, and areas with state-supported routes, and long-distance routes.

Of the five Biden nominees, only Koos resides outside the Northeast. The remainder live in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Rokita Nominated for Amtrak Board Seat

August 1, 2020

A former Indiana congressman who voted in favor of amendments to reduce or eliminate Amtrak funding has been nominated by the Trump administration for a seat on the Amtrak board of directors.

Todd Rokita was named by the administration to fill a seat being vacated by Derek Kan.

Kan’s term is due to expire on Jan. 3, 2021. Rokita was also named to fill a seat on the Amtrak board whose term will run through Jan. 3, 2026.

It is not the first time that Rokita has been nominated for the Amtrak board.

He was nominated on May 7, 2019, but that nomination was never confirmed by the full Senate.

The Rail Passengers Association said Rokita voted against Amtrak in eight of the thirteen Amtrak-specific amendments during his time in Congress.

Amtrak Board Nominees Move to Senate Floor

May 23, 2020

Three nominees for seats on the Amtrak board of directors were approved by a Senate committee this week on a 14-12 party line vote.

Their nominations have been sent to the Senate floor for confirmation.

The nominations of Joseph Gruters, Lynn Westmoreland and Rick Dearborn had been languishing for months.

That action followed the Trump administration naming two additional nominees for the Amtrak board, Chris Koos and Sarah E. Feinberg.

Ranking Senate Commerce Committee minority member Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) opposed the advancement of Gruters, Westmoreland and Dearborn because they did not have bi-partisan support.

“These nominees, in my opinion, are controversial and have not appeared before this committee in the current Congress,” she said. “Further, they have been on committee markups multiple times only to advance on party-line votes. I hope that we can continue to work through these issues and questions on a more bipartisan basis.”

Westmoreland is a former Congressman who was nominated in October of 2017.

While in Congress he voted in 2009 and 2015 to end all Amtrak funding.

During his confirmation hearings, Westmoreland said he now understood the importance of government funding to Amtrak.

Dearborn is a former member of the Heritage Foundation, which has consistently called for the elimination of Amtrak.

An earlier nomination of another former Congressman, Todd Rokita, has yet to be resubmitted to the Senate.

Rokita voted a number of times in favor of amendments to slash or eliminate Amtrak funding.

Koos is the mayor of Normal, Illinois, while Feinberg formerly served as administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.

Previous moves to advance Amtrak board nominees to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote were stymied by Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) who objected to Amtrak’s efforts to separate the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief into two separate trains connected by a bus service between western Kansas and Albuquerque.

2 Named to Amtrak Board of Directors

May 19, 2020

The Trump administration announced it intends to nominate Sarah E. Feinberg and Chris Koos to Amtrak’s board of directors. Both are Democrats and would fill seats on the board set aside for that party.

Feinberg is interim president of MTA New York City Transit and previously served as Federal Railroad Administrator and as chief of staff to former Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.

She also once served as director of policy communications at Facebook and director of Global Communications and Business Strategy at Bloomberg.

A West Virginia native, she is the founder of Feinberg Strategies and received her B.A. from Washington and Lee University.

Koos has been mayor of Normal, Illinois, since 2003. He serves on the advisory board of Transportation for America, is a member of the Uptown Normal Business Association, and, since 1979, has served as the owner and operator of the retail specialty stores Vitesse Cycle Shop and Often Running.

Both nominations require confirmation in the U.S. Senate.

Amtrak Board Nomination Moves to Full Senate

November 16, 2019

A nomination of a former Indiana congressman to the Amtrak board of directors has been sent to the full Senate for consideration.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved the nomination of former U.S. Rep Todd Rokita on a voice vote.

Rokita, who was nominated to the Amtrak board last May for a five-year term, was attacked by some rail passenger advocates for his having twice voted to end Amtrak’s federal funding.

During a July hearing before the committee, Rokita said he voted against Amtrak funding to “send a message” to the carrier.

Rokita said that as a congressman he was sometimes limited to voting yes, no or present.

“I believe in fiscal responsibility for all of us,” Rokita said. “I believe my votes against these funding provisions sent a message to Amtrak.”

He also said during his testimony that he voted for the 2015 FAST Act, which helped create grant funding for Amtrak.

Three other nominations to the Amtrak board remain on hold due to the objection of Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas).

They include Rick Dearborn, a former deputy chief of staff for President Donald Trump; Joseph R. Gruters, a former Florida state representative who was co-chair of Trump’s 2016 Florida campaign, and former U.S. Rep. Leon A. Westmoreland of Georgia

Westmoreland also voted twice against Amtrak funding while in Congress.

Amtrak Board Nominee Says Rights Things in Hearing

July 28, 2019

A former Indiana Congressman who has been nominated by the Trump administration to serve on Amtrak’s board of directors has his day before a Senate committee this week and as expected he said all of the right things.

Todd Rokita spoke of riding Amtrak trains many times and said he favored a robust passenger train system.

He also was grilled about the times that he voted while a member of Congress in favor of amendments to cut Amtrak funding.

Rokita sought to explain those votes away by saying, “I believe in fiscal responsibility and my vote sent a message.”

The remarks came during a hearing by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

In response to a question from Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) about whether he would be a fierce backer of Amtrak, Rokita replied that funding of the rail service was up to Congress and his job would be to make sure it was spent wisely. He said his priority would be to improve on-time performance and track safety.

“We don’t need to beat the airlines but to improve “frequency and consistency,” he said.

The committee did not vote on Rokita’s nomination, which is opposed by the Rail Passengers Association.

Nominated in May, Rokita was introduced to the committee Senator Todd Young (R-Indiana), who also serves on the commerce committee and served with Rokita in the House.

Young described Rokita as having “a personal passion for transportation.”

Rokita said he has ridden several times on Amtrak’s Cardinal and Hoosier State.

“I’ve been an Amtrak passenger my whole life, riding the Cardinal from Wabash College (in Crawfordsville) home to Munster,” he said. “And I’ve have ridden the Northeast Corridor routes often while in Congress.”

Committee Chairman Roger Wicker ( R-Mississippi), asked Rokita if he favored eliminating any Amtrak routes.

In response Rokita said keeping a national system was a priority and he had “no preconceived notions to eliminate anything.”

Rokita served in the House from 2011-2019 and is now general counsel for Apex Benefits, a consulting firm in Indianapolis.

Dukakis, Gunn Express Concerns About Amtrak Board

July 28, 2019

The composition of the Amtrak board of directors is drawing concern from a former Amtrak president and board member that the board is becoming too political and is lacking in transportation experience.

The Trump administration has nominated two former Republican congressmen who voted in favor of amendments to revoke Amtrak funding.

Michael Dukakis, a former Amtrak board member, told Trains magazine that during his time on the board it was bipartisan by agreement.

“I don’t think any of us bought into the idea that Amtrak would pay for itself,” Dukakis said. “We have to serve all parts of the country, and in any event, we have an infrastructure deficit, and that means public funding (to fix it). The board I served on was quite unified around that notion.”

Dukakis, who is a now a professor of political science at Northeastern University and UCLA, said that during his time on the board the members were well-versed in transportation and “committed to the simple but powerful notion that the entire country needs a first-class rail passenger system.”

Gunn, who served as Amtrak president between 2002 and 2005, said the board members he worked with were an intelligent group with backgrounds in transportation.

“I was lucky when I went to Amtrak because I had Mike Dukakis, John Robert Smith [now Chairman of Transportation for America], Gov. Linwood Holton [Republican from Virginia] and a very smart guy, Michael Jackson, who was the Department of Transportation representative, on the Board,” Gunn told Trains.

The Trump administration last year nominated Joseph Gruters, Rick Dearborn, and Leon Westmoreland to the Amtrak board but have yet to be confirmed because of a hold placed on their nominations by Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas).

All three men have been nominated again this year along with former Indiana Congressman Todd Rokita.

Rokita voted in favor of amendments offered in 2011, 2015 and 2017 to cut Amtrak funding.

Westmoreland is a former Georgia congressman who twice voted in favor of amendments cutting Amtrak funding. None of those amendments were approved.

Gunn said that DOT board member Jackson “wasn’t a pro-Amtrak guy but he believed in honesty, telling the truth and getting things done. He would give you a heads up if you were getting on thin ice [with the George W. Bush Administration] and when you weren’t — he was good at that. Jackson wouldn’t fit in today,”

Gunn said politically appointed boards are worthless and dangerous if they bring nothing to the party.

He expressed concern that management buyouts in the past two years has robbed Amtrak of employees and managers who know, understand, and appreciate railroad practices—what works and what doesn’t.

“It’s very sad what’s going on now at Amtrak — the institutional knowledge is almost destroyed. And the people being nominated (to the board) to oversee them are, at best, lazy politicians.”

Senate Committee Hears From Amtrak Board, STB Nominees

July 31, 2018

A nominee for a seat on the Amtrak board of directors was described as a lifelong “train freak” during a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee.

The label was placed on Rick A. Dearborn by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, who presided over most of the two-hour hearing.

During the hearing, Dearborn said Amtrak needs to make its long-distance trains more attractive but did not say that he supports government funding of them.

“Amtrak trains should be on time, clean, competitive, and a good option for travelers,” Dearborn said. “Long distance service is a critical part of the national passenger rail system. I am committed to it.”

“I get the impression that Amtrak is being reduced, not built, because it’s requiring taxpayer dollars,” U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, told Dearborn. “Do you think taxpayer dollars are necessary to keep Amtrak going?”

“I can’t predict whether or not Amtrak could operate without financial assistance,” Dearborn said. “I would hope that if we focus on creating a good product, then revenues will rise and the dependency on federal dollars would be less.”

“If you had a choice between lowering operating losses and shutting down a long-distance line, what would you choose?” asked U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada.

“I hope I’m never faced with that decision,” Dearborn replied.

Dearborn also zeroed in on safety, saying it must be the passenger carrier’s highest priority.

Dearborn expressed optimism that Amtrak will meet the Dec. 31 deadline set by federal law to install positive train control.

In his opening statement Dearborn said he has a collection of O Scale models that includes 75 locomotives and 300 pieces of rolling stock.

He has worked for six senators since the mid-1970s, including 12 years as chief of staff for former Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama

Dearborn was executive director of President Donald Trump’s transition team and White House deputy chief of staff until he resigned in March.

Also speaking to the committee was Martin J. Oberman, former chairman of Chicago’s Metra rail system, who has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

He said he was studying issues facing the STB such as the conflict between carriers and shippers over “captive switching,” and the board’s work on streamlining rate disputes.

“My four years at Metra required my total immersion and continuous education in the railroad industry,” Oberman said. “I quickly learned that all aspects of our national rail system are fundamentally interconnected and the rail system is central to the national economy.”

Oberman pledged to take a “fresh look” at those and other issues. “Honoring precedent and not changing systems that aren’t broken are important values,” he said. “It also critical to be willing to question practices if they appear to be archaic and ineffective in meeting the changing needs of consumers and businesses, or keeping pace with technological changes in the global economy.”

Oberman said he favors negotiation over litigation as a means to resolve issues within the railroad industry.

“As a trial lawyer for 49 years, I know litigation is the worst way to settle a dispute,” Oberman said.

Dearborn Expected to be Named to Amtrak Board

June 25, 2018

A former member of President Donald Trump’s staff is expected to be nominated to serve as a member of Amtrak’s board of directors.

Rick A. Dearborn served as deputy chief of staff for Trump between January 2017 and March 2018.

He was executive director of the presidential transition team and has connections with conservative groups having served as the director of congressional relations for the Senate at The Heritage Foundation.

If approved, Dearborn would serve a five-year term.