Amtrak CEO pick Anderson draws cautious optimism from observers

Former CEO Gunn says railroaders can be won over by an operating plan not driven by politics
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WASHINGTON — Amid warm welcomes from rail association leaders for incoming Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson, there's an undercurrent of skepticism about Amtrak's pick to replace current CEO Wick Moorman and whether Anderson can lead the passenger railroad to a more stable footing.

Among the most pointed comments come from former Amtrak President and CEO David Gunn.

“If he can’t coax people at Amtrak who know how to run a railroad out of their fox holes, he’s doomed,” Gunn says. “And you have to convince them you have a plan that makes sense operationally and is not driven by politics.”

Trains News Wire reached Gunn by phone at his Canadian residence for reaction to Monday’s announcement of former Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson’s appointment to be Amtrak’s new president effective July 12. Gunn says that when he accepted the same position in 2002, “I was blessed because there were good people in the track, signal, engineering, and operations departments. They knew how everything works best and weren’t afraid to express their views.
“The best hope is that this guy has some knowledge of railroad operations.”

The American Short Line and Regional Rail Road Association's President Linda Bauer Darr gave Anderson an unqualified welcome, as did the Association of American Railroad's President Ed Hamberger. Anderson becomes a member of AAR board of directors with his appointment to Amtrak.

Hamberger also thanked Moorman for his service since September 2016, calling him the "right man" for Amtrak's top job.

Outright criticism of the new pick comes from two travel groups: Travelers United and the Rail Users Network.

Charles Leocha, Travelers United's chairman and long-time airline consumer advocate, called Anderson “a real charger” who "has not been a friend of consumers, but ran an efficient airline as consolidation was completed...."

Rail Users Network President Richard Rudolph offered additional unvarnished comments.

"There’s really a need [for] someone who knows about railroads, knows how to run a company, and can stand up against Congress and the President,” Rudolph says.

For its part, the National Association of Rail Passengers' CEO Jim Mathews, welcomed Anderson and praised him as a transportation executive with experience in a difficult environment — airlines. Matthews also praised outgoing CEO Moorman and the fact that he'll be on board for six more months to guide Anderson's transition.

"NARP is very pleased Amtrak is making the sensible move of bringing in an executive with strong management experience in a customer-service oriented transportation company,” Mathews says.

Other respected passenger rail observers see mostly positives from the appointment. Ross Capon, a consultant and former NARP president says the fact that Moorman will stay as co-CEO through December shows the two men likely have a good working relationship and that Anderson can learn from Moorman, a four-decade veteran of railroading.

Atlanta-based rail historian and passenger rail advocate Jackson McQuigg also has high hopes for Anderson, after observing him in action as Delta's CEO. The airline is also based in Atlanta.

"He has a demeanor not unlike Graham Claytor. He is a Texan, a lawyer and a former prosecutor among many other things. He had a stellar reputation in Atlanta and cared about the city and its history," McQuigg says.

The historian notes that Anderson, as a Fortune 500 CEO, has a reputation as a tough guy who tangled with unions at both Northwest Airlines and Delta. He also followed in the footsteps of Gerald Grinstein at Delta. Grinstein remains revered in railroad circles as the CEO who led Burlington Northern and its combination with the Santa Fe to create BNSF Railway.

"Maybe that bunch in the White House will listen to him," McQuigg says of Anderson. "It will be interesting to see if that happens, or if Anderson presides over a dismemberment instead. All I know is that the long distance trains had better be preserved or the whole thing will go up in political flames."

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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