Sunday, March 7, 2010

The March 6 "Town Hall Meeting"

Likely, most readers of this blog are aware that TRAINS magazine sponsored a conference this past Saturday which was led by senior Amtrak officials, including CEO Joseph Boardman. The conference was held at the Merchandise Mart Conference Center in Chicago. Attendance was limited to 275 participants mostly drawn from the rail hobbyist (railfan) community; pre-approved questions were accepted by the Amtrak panel.

I did not attend; I'm simply not that much of a railfan anymore, and my personal views regarding the role of 21st century intercioty passenger service likely would be in conflict with the majority of attendees. However, I have reviewed postings made at discussion forums by members who have represented to be in attendance. Here are two "Brief passages" from such postings:

Emmett Fremaux [VP Marketing/Product Management] is up.

LD trains are a fundamental part of Amtrak's mission, and are not going away any time soon. However there are zero plans for any new trains. Zero. Not happening. In the past few years, LD service has been improving with all time highs in ridership, revenue, OTP, and customer satisfaction.

I think that the candor (safe assumption such was carefully scripted) of an Amtrak senior manager in front of an audience at which all too many would love to have shouted out 'when will we get our ----- (fill in the blank; Pioneer, Sunset East, whatever)...?' was indeed refreshing. It represented public admission of what I have contended since A-Day (anyone with grounding in railroad industry affairs knew all that "for profit; no funding' bluster was just that) that the LD system simply represents political expediency from a Federal agency that needs a legislative majority in order to ensure its continued funding. However, it is pleasing to note that it is management's position that we will give as good a travel experience as can be reasonably expected within our budgetary constraints. Very simply, this immediately translates to that any further cutbacks in the quality of the on-board Dining experience appear unlikely.

Another attendee reporting at a different site made the following observation on the same remark;

Amtrak is basically saying it won't launch any new trains / services outside NEC without state funding in place, which could lead to fairness discussions later on where some areas, like California provide the bulk of train funding, but NEC states get essentially a free ride.

There is no question that there is unfairness noted within this quotation. California, however "broke' they may be, first established and now continues to Locally fund a comprehensive and well planned system, i.e. they have held the 'where's our train' interests in Portola and Oroville in check, that enjoys reasonable public acceptance. Same of course applies to lesser extents with other localities. Yet, the nine states comprising the NECorridor as well as New York's Empire Service and Michigan's Wolverine Service all get free rides compliments of the Feddytill.

While Michigan is obviously a "Debit State', all Corridor states save Rhode Island and Maryland (Pennsylvania a virtual "break even'), are "Donor States", i.e. they put more in the the Feddytill from taxes paid by persons, live and fictitious, residing within those states than is taken out in the form of Federally funded programs (including Amtrak) benefiting those residents.

"Life isn't fair', but didn't you learn that, uh say, about when you were five years old?


  1. To bad you did not attend --
    The questions were NOT pre-approved.

  2. Then, if that be the case, Messrs. Boardman and party were indeed brave men.

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