Moorman leaving Amtrak better than he found it

Outgoing co-CEO says he enjoyed his time at the railroad
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Workers show Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman the extent of damage and the progress of repairs at New York' Penn Station in April. Moorman apologized to commuters for the inconvenience bad tracks have caused.
Amtrak President and Co-CEO Wick Moorman
Joseph M. Calisi
NEW YORK — Wick Moorman, the outgoing co-CEO of Amtrak, says the national passenger railroad is making progress in several key areas, including safety, maintenance, and customer service.

Moorman, whose short-term tenure at the helm of Amtrak involved finding a permanent successor, says he’s thrilled that former Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson agreed to lead Amtrak.

“We really hit a home run in that Richard Anderson agreed to come on board,” Moorman told the RailTrends 2017 conference last week.

Moorman praised Anderson’s leadership skills and says his aggressive nature is just what Amtrak needs.

Moorman reorganized Amtrak’s management structure and made key new hires since joining the company in September 2016.

New Chief Financial Officer William Feidt has brought discipline that was lacking. And Chief Marketing Officer Tim Griffin came from the airline industry and understands marketing a passenger service, as well as revenue and yield management.

“We have a first-rate management team now,” Moorman says.

Amtrak is developing a better culture of safety but it lags Class I railroads and remains a work in progress, Moorman says.

Amtrak had a spotty record delivering on capital projects, Moorman says, but is improving. He singled out completing the complex track improvement program at New York Penn Station as an example.

After a pair of track-caused derailments at Penn Station in the spring, Moorman descended to track level and conducted an inspection in the wee hours of the morning, after train traffic drops off for the night.

“I started walking. I was surprised. I think that’s a good word. I’ll use that in lieu of ‘horrified’ with what I saw,” Moorman quipped.

Moorman emerged from the inspection determined to fix the track problems. The repair plans forced Amtrak to curtail to service for its own trains, as well as those of Penn Station tenants NJ Transit and the Long Island Rail Road.

New York media dubbed the curtailments the “Summer of Hell.”

“It turned out to be the summer of inconvenience,” Moorman says, as the job was completed on time and on budget.

“Penn Station is an incredible place,” Moorman says. “It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen in terms of degree of difficulty in doing anything.”
The Penn Station repair project experience convinced Moorman and Amtrak management that the railroad had to be a better steward of its assets, including Northeast Corridor trackage and the passenger car fleet.

“Shabby chic can be fashionable, but not on a passenger train or in a train station,” Moorman says, noting the worn-out feel of much of Amtrak’s equipment.

When Moorman learned it’s relatively inexpensive to refurbish the interior of Amfleet I cars, he ordered the renewal of the Northeast Regional coach fleet, a program that will then move on to long-distance equipment.

“You don’t want to know how many 40-year-old airplanes you’ve flown,” Moorman says Anderson told him. “But you never knew they were 40 years old,” Moorman says, because the airlines consistently update the cabins of old aircraft.

Moorman conceded that the Acela Express ride quality is not up to par due to track conditions on the Northeast Corridor. “It’s a bumpy ride. It shouldn’t be a bumpy ride, and we’re going to fix that,” Moorman says.

“We’re going to improve ride quality,” Moorman says. “We’re going to get slow orders off.”

Amtrak narrowed its operating loss to just under $200 million, which covers 95 percent of its expenses. The goal, Moorman says, is to reduce the operating loss to zero.

One way to do that is boosting ridership and revenue. On-time performance leaves a lot to be desired, Moorman says, and Amtrak can’t grow if its service is unreliable.

A two- or three-hour delay for a freight train is not necessarily a big deal, Moorman says, but it’s not acceptable for a passenger train.

Amtrak and its host freight railroads need to work more closely together to reduce delays, Moorman says. And the freight railroads need to realize that to a certain extent the public’s perception of American railroading as a whole is shaped by Amtrak and the level of service it provides, he says.

“We have to be obsessed with our customer service,” Moorman says.

Moorman, who steps down at the end of this month, says he has loved the time he has spent at Amtrak. “It’s been a blast. I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had,” he says.

But he did have to take a pay cut.

Moorman’s $1 salary, it turns out, ran afoul of Railroad Retirement Board rules. Moorman couldn’t collect his Railroad Retirement benefits from his years of service Norfolk Southern if he was drawing a salary from another railroad. “And that was a lot more than a dollar,” he jokes.

So Moorman worked for free.

Moorman spoke last week at the two-day RailTrends 2017 conference, sponsored by analyst Anthony Hatch of ABH Consulting and industry trade publication Progressive Railroading.
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