Sunday, November 16, 2008

Adios, Alex

It never fails. Take a short vacation and a major story materializes while you are away.

It just happened to me. Amtrak CEO Alex Kummant has resigned after two years on the job. At first glance, it seems like an odd time to step down, especially in light of Amtrak's growth during his tenure.

Right now, the environment for Amtrak is as favorable as it's been in decades. An Amtrak-friendly administration about to enter the White House, the Democrats have strong control of Congress and reauthorization legislation positions the embattled railroad for a big boost in federal aid.

However, published report suggests that like his predecessor, David Gunn, he did not play well with Amtrak's board of directors. An article published by the United Transportation Union quotes an anonymous source close to the board as saying: Kummant "was not hands on. He didn't have a handle on finances or operations. His personality was often confrontational."

The article goes on to suggest that a permanent successor is not likely to be chosen until after President-elect Barack Obama puts his stamp on the Amtrak board. Finally, it points out that Kummant's candidacy was championed by Union Pacific CEO Dick Davidson and BNSF CEO Matt Rose, both of whom where major supporters of George W. Bush.

Since the retirement of W. Graham Claytor in 1993, Amtrak has gone through four "permanent" and one interim CEO. Clearly, Amtrak could benefit from a new leader of Claytor's stature; a former CEO of the Southern Railway, he spent 11 years in the top job at Amtrak. More important, it could use a board that can free the new CEO from the political agendas that have impeded progress.

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