Amtrak CEO says passenger railroad faces three threats

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Amtrak Co-CEO Richard Anderson speaks before the National Association of Railroad Passenger's annual meeting in Chicago on Thursday, Nov. 2.
Bob Johnston
CHICAGO — Amtrak’s Co-CEO Richard Anderson says the passenger railroad company faces three “risk points” in its future.

Anderson was speaking in one of his first public appearances Thursday before the National Association of Railroad Passengers’ 50th anniversary meeting in Chicago.

Specifically, the Amtrak leader says the railroad faces several threats: That either a future President or Congress will cut funding; the fact that U.S. passenger railroading remains underfunded; and the reality of extensive delays on host railroads.

Anderson says that Amtrak’s ever-improving cost recovery and complementary legislative support to allocate about $1.4 billion in fiscal 2018 has helped deflect criticism from political forces that seek to dismantle the system. Greater operating efficiencies are helping to reduce what he terms the “capital deficit.”

He also spoke about delays and that the 1971 creation of Amtrak was a “deal that was cut” to relieve railroads of common carrier obligations in exchange for preference over freight trains. The CEO says about 75 percent of delays to long-distance and state-supported trains are from the freight railroad side and quoted a Class I railroad executive saying that Amtrak trains were “an annoyance.”

“In 1971 they cut a deal. And I have a rule in life: always keep your deals,” Anderson says. “That’s the policy decision our Congress and President made long ago and have kept in place.”

Anderson’s own journey on the Capitol Limited from Washington, D.C., arrived into Chicago 1 hour and 25 minutes late over Norfolk Southern rails after departing Cleveland, only16 minutes behind schedule.

He says the three challenges must be overcome, because the Amtrak network, “plays a critical role in the national urban infrastructure, and I hope our long-term policy makers figure that out, as they’re doing now in the states.”

Asked about a possible challenge from Hyperloop technology, Anderson reminded the audience that the tunnels Amtrak uses in Baltimore debuted when Ulysses S. Grant was president.

“You have a $30-billion infrastructure backlog on the Northeast Corridor,” he says. “And the Hyperloop people want a big government grant to get that done. But we need to fix the assets we have that millions of Americans rely on everyday — we should get in the right priority and fix those first.”
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