Richard Anderson became president of Amtrak last July, and served as co-chief executive officer with retired railroad president Wick Moorman until last December, when he became the sole occupant of that position as well, serving without a salary. Prior to that, he had served as CEO at Delta Airlines from 2007-2016, when he became executive chairman at that company.
Mr. Anderson’s early messages seemed reasonable and even encouraging, recognizing the need for infrastructure improvements, better equipment, and higher speeds, as well as indicating that privatization of the service would probably not work. Now, however, his actions are causing rumblings among those, such as TrainRiders NE, who want passenger rail service to survive and thrive in this country. His steps include:
- Elimination of discounts for veterans and AAA members.
- Elimination of the Coastal Starlight Parlor cars (and calling for them to be sold as scrap to boot)
- Elimination of in-train tour guides on some western trains
- Elimination of private cars and private charter runs
- Proposed elimination and scrapping of the dome car which has joined the Downeaster for the past two years to much acclaim and popularity
- Elimination, starting on June 1 of dining cars on the Lake Shore Limited between Boston and New York City to Chicago, as well as on the Capitol Limited between Washington, DC and Chicago, leaving sleeping car passengers with “chilled” meals to eat in their compartments, (contemporary cuisine they’re calling it) and coach passengers will have access only to a café car for these overnight trains
The next shock was his recent Congressional testimony that Amtrak service over lines where PTC (Positive Train Control) was not required, as well as over un-signaled track (dark territory) would be evaluated and might not be continued. This includes the current Downeaster line where, because of low volumes of train traffic, PTC is not required. It also includes the Rockland Branch, which is dark territory. Amtrak now says that the Downeaster line will have to undergo a “risk assessment, although, an Amtrak representative could not say when that would occur, or what the standards of the assessment would be. Amtrak officials also say that the Rockland Branch will have to undergo an assessment before proposed new service could begin there. Initially, NNEPRA was told that this would be the first assessment done by Amtrak of lines around the country. A few days later, however, NNEPRA was informed that Amtrak had changed its mind and that this assessment would not occur in time for service to Rockland this summer, a great disappointment to NNEPRA, TrainRiders and communities up and down that line.
And now, the rest of the story. By statute, starting in 2020 Amtrak will no longer be able to use federal funds to subsidize its meal services. This may be the reason for the elimination of dining cars on the Lake Shore Limited and the Capitol Limited. The reasons for the other actions being taken here are less than clear, particularly since Mr. Anderson did not see fit to discuss them with any stakeholders or interested parties, or even give anyone any advance warning, before announcing them. Whether intentional or not, these actions are direct and substantial threats to not only the Downeaster, but also to the existence of Amtrak’s national system. Although some of the already announced steps may seem minor, taken together they have the ability to downgrade the passenger experience, which is one of Amtrak’s major product plusses in comparison to other transportation modes. TrainRiders has already addressed some of these issues with the Maine and New Hampshire congressional delegations, and we hope to see a Congressional coalition formed to ensure that Amtrak is protected as a viable and desirable mode of transportation throughout the country. TrainRiders Northeast urges you to take action as well, contacting your Senators and Representatives in Washington, as well as Amtrak officials and its Board of Directors, to make your displeasure known.
Action taken will also ensure that TrainRiders Northeast’s remarkable 29-year innovative, positive, supportive, and cordial working relationship with Amtrak, that began with Amtrak President Graham Claytor in 1988 and continued with 7 following Amtrak presidents, survives for the future and that Amtrak prospers.
Wayne E. Davis