Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Boardman Takes the Amtrak Throttle

Earlier this decade, when he was New York State's Commissioner of Transportation, Joseph Boardman tussled with Amtrak's then-CEO David Gunn over an ill-fated high-speed train between New York and Albany-Rensselaer and sued the railroad. This week, he stepped into Gunn's former spot as interim CEO replacing Alex Kummant, who left earlier this month.

The appointment is for one year, giving Amtrak's Board of Directors time to conduct an extended search for a permanent replacement. Boardman, 59, has spent his public service career working on transportation issues at all levels of government. Prior to joining Amtrak, he headed the Federal Railroad Administration.
"He is intimately familiar with Amtrak, its strengths, its weaknesses and the direction it needs to go to build momentum," Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said. "He can begin to lead the company immediately."
With record ridership, a new rail-friendly administration and a Congressional authorization that would provide more money than it needs to the maintain the status quo, the stars may be aligned for Amtrak for the first time in its 37-year history. As Paul Weyrich notes in his weekly column:
"Whoever it is (new Amtrak CEO) will come in at an unprecedented time for Amtrak. The railroad always has had strong support in Congress. This is the first time since President Richard M. Nixon signed the Amtrak Bill against the advice of his aides Haldeman and Ehrlichman that the railroad will have strong support from the Executive Branch."
In his column, which offers the back story behind Kummant's departure, Weyrich points out that since the retirement of W. Graham Claytor in the early 1990s, Amtrak bosses have not lasted long. Boardman becomes the fifth Amtrak CEO since Claytor, following Tom Downs, George Warrington, Gunn and Kummant.

Many of the problems have stemmed from poor relationships between Amtrak's board, which tends to be hands on, and its CEOs. Concludes Weyrich:
"If the new person could get along with Board Members life at 60 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, would be much better. "

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