Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak presidents’

Generational Change Underway at Amtrak

January 25, 2021

Several weeks ago I conducted an online search to determine the age of Amtrak president Stephen J. Gardner.

Some believe you can find anything on the Internet. Well, almost anything.

Maybe I didn’t look hard enough but I never did find Gardner’s birth date.

But extrapolating from the years that he attended Hampshire College as an undergraduate, which are listed in the resume posted on his Linked In page, I concluded Gardner probably was born in 1976. That makes him fortyish.

He wasn’t around when the original California Zephyr made its last trips in March 1970, when South Dakota lost its last passenger train in September 1969 or when the Twentieth Century Limited succumbed in December 1967.

If his parents took him on a trip by train during his childhood, it likely would have been aboard Amtrak.

By the time Gardner was old enough to begin remember much about the world around him Amtrak was well into the transition from streamliner era equipment to Amfleet and Superliners.

He is not old enough to remember a time when the intercity rail passenger service network was far broader than it is today.

As far as Gardner is concerned there always have been between 15 plus long-distance trains in America, not dozens of them.

Likewise, Gardner’s conception of intercity rail passenger service is that it has always been funded with public money, most of it coming from the federal government.

In many ways, Gardner’s career arc seems ideally suited for working at Amtrak because much of his career has been in the public policy making arena.

He worked for a short time in his early adult years for two railroads, but much of his time has been spent working on Capitol Hill as a congressional staffer.

That gives him insights into the politics of Amtrak funding that many rail passenger advocates don’t understand or don’t want to understand.

Gardner’s vision of the future of intercity rail passenger service is something more akin to Brightline, the privately-owned Florida service that developed in a public-private partnership in a densely populated urban corridor.

Until it suspended operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, Brightlight offered frequent, fast service between Miami and West Palm Beach with modernistic equipment that looks like it has been transplanted from Europe.

In his public comments, Gardner has paid lip service to long-distance passenger trains, saying they will always be a key part of Amtrak’s business.

But he also describes a world of corridor services focused on short-distance travel.

In Gardner’s mind the market for long-distance trains is shrinking and those trains create a mismatch among population density, transportation demand and Amtrak’s existing network.

“We are trading route miles for passenger trips by serving a lot of route miles but not a lot of people,” he said in one presentation.

This doesn’t sound like someone who expects today’s long-distance trains to be around in perpetuity as many baby boomer rail passenger advocates would like.

Top executives at Amtrak come and go. Gardner is the fourth person to sit in the Amtrak president’s chair in the past five years.

How long he will continue at the helm of the intercity passenger carrier remains to be seen.

However, Gardner is part of a wave of younger managers overseeing the passenger carrier who do not have the memories of past generations who lived through the last years of the streamliner era.

When Gardner says long-distance trains will continue to be a key part of Amtrak’s business he is making a political statement.

He knows senators and congressmen from largely rural states look out for those trains and so long as that is the case they will continue to operate at some level.

But that doesn’t mean those running Amtrak are fully vested in those trains or believe they should bear a resemblance of the great streamliners of the past other than their names.

One common theme I see in the writings of some rail passenger advocates is a disenchantment with Amtrak behaving as a sort of generic transportation provider rather than acting like a railroad.

This type of change seems inevitable as those who oversaw Amtrak in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s leave.

What we have seen in the past couple years in regards to Amtrak’s national network is reflective of this transformation.

Whether you like him or not, agree with him or not, the life experiences and vision of rail transportation of people such as Stephen Gardner are the future of Amtrak.

Gardner Named Amtrak President

December 1, 2020

Amtrak said on Monday that one of its vice presidents will become its president on Dec. 1.

Stephen Gardner

Stephen Gardner, currently Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief operating and commercial officer, will replace William Flynn.

Flynn, who became Amtrak’s president and CEO in April, will remain with the passenger carrier as CEO and a member of its board of directors.

The promotion of Gardner to president had been widely expected by many rail industry observers.

Railway Age reported that Gardner has been making most of the major decisions and setting policy during his time as an Amtrak senior vice president.

His elevation to the president’s chair coincides with the election of Joseph Biden as president. Gardner, like Biden, is a Democrat.

Earlier in his career, Gardner served in staff positions for Congressional Democrats on Capitol Hill, including Delaware Senator Tom Carper.

He joined Amtrak in 2009 after having helped develop railroad and transportation policy for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Before coming to Washington, Gardner worked for Guilford Rail System (now Pan Am Railways) and the Buckingham Branch Railroad.

Railway Age said Gardner is widely recognized as one of the principal authors of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.

The magazine said Gardner was unlikely to become Amtrak’s president so long as Republicans controlled the White House and the Department of Transportation.

In a prepared statement, Amtrak said the change in leadership was “part of a broader set of actions taken . . . to ensure that Amtrak is well positioned for success in fiscal year 2021 and beyond.”

The statement said Gardner will lead day-to-day operations and oversee marketing, operations, planning, government affairs, and corporate communication.

Historically, Amtrak’s president has been its top executive, but during the tenure of the late Joseph Boardman the company added the CEO title to his duties.

Amtrak’s statement said the carrier faces “two urgent challenges in 2021” including weathering the COVID-19 pandemic and bolstering Amtrak’s future.

Amtrak’s presidency has been a revolving door in recent years with no one person holding the position for more than a few years.

Charles “Wick” Moorman, a former CEO of Norfolk Southern, came out of retirement in 2016 to serve as Amtrak president and CEO in what at the time was described as a transitional appointment.

Moorman became co-CEO of Amtrak with Richard Anderson in June 2017, an arrangement that continued through the end of 2017.

Anderson, a former CEO of Delta Air Lines, served as Amtrak’s top executive until being replaced in April 2020 by William Flynn, a former CEO of Atlas Air.

Alan Boyd Dies, Was Amtrak’s 3rd President, 1st U.S. Secretary of Transportation

October 19, 2020

Alan Boyd, 98, a former president of the Illinois Central Railroad and Amtrak and who was the first U.S. Secretary of Transportation, died on Sunday in Seattle.

Alan Boyd

He served as head of the IC between 1969 and 1972 and headed Amtrak between April 1978 and June 1982. He was the third president of the intercity rail passenger carrier.

During his time at Amtrak, the passenger carrier underwent a series of route and service reductions including a major route restructuring in 1979 that ended five long-distance trains.

More train and route cuts came in the early 1980s, including the temporary discontinuance of the Cardinal and permanent cancellation of the Shenandoah, among other trains. during a period that has some parallels with what is happening with Amtrak today.

However, during Boyd’s term as Amtrak’s third president the carrier transitioned from steam-heated equipment inherited from the freight railroads and replaced it with head-end powered Amfleet and Superliner equipment.

Shortly after leaving Amtrak, Boyd said in an interview with The Washington Post that public funding of the passenger carrier was a reality that was unlikely to change.

“I don’t see any particular reason why rail passenger service should operate without public support,” he said at the time.

“We have any number of programs in this country which deal with the redistribution of wealth in the public interest. Subsidy represents a judgment by the government that the expenditure of this money is in the public interest.”

Boyd was an undersecretary of commerce for transportation during the Lyndon Johnson administration and led a group that wrote the bill creating the U.S. Department of Transportation.

He was the first secretary of transportation but stepped down when Richard Nixon became president in 1969.

Boyd was born in Jacksonville, Florida, and served as a C-47 pilot in World War II.

He earned a law degree and also served as chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board.

Until retirement, he was North American president of European aircraft manufacturer Airbus.