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Joe Boardman questions current Amtrak's managements motives

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Can one of you that calling Anderson a liar point out exactly where he lied?

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The only thing that seems like pretty close to an outright lie was the "steadily declining" fact that he used in his letter regarding the SWC. The RPA rebuts that it was not steadily declining, at least based on the timescale they look at. (They state that it's down 1% from FY 2015, and up 14% from eight years ago.)

 

The rest simply are complaints about him using certain metrics to make the SWC look worse than RPA believes it should. Which is probably a fair complaint. However, I don't think the end goal of Anderson's actions are necessarily wrong; he's asking for a plan to make the infrastructure the SWC solely uses fully funded so that Amtrak isn't stuck with a huge bill for tracks they use twice a day and no one else uses. As long as his determination, if that plan doesn't come through or adequately fund the needs of that stretch of track, is that the SWC would reroute onto the southern transcon instead of using the existing track (and thus stations would be built along that line) I don't see this as a sky is falling determination. If his end goal is to kill the SWC entirely (or cut it back to short segments) then there's a problem.

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Would someone please explain to me why Anderson took this job?

 

I don't see any passion for anything except cutting, and he could have done that anywhere. He doesn't need the salary.

 

Why on earth did he want to take on Amtrak when he obviously has no interest in passenger rail? Frankly, many people on here have a better understanding of how it works, and the rest of us are open to learning and discussion, which he doesn't seem to be.

 

He's a disruptor: a manager who comes into an organization and questions everything and accepts nothing from the past unless it is proven to his or her satisfaction - and that's not easy. His intent is to make a comfortable organization uncomfortable, and change the way things are done. People can either play ball or get out. I've been through that kind of management, and while it was very unsettling when it happened, we came out much, much better in the end.

 

 

The one impression I get from Anderson is he thinks along the lines of economic philosophy, how do certain trains or decisions affect dollars and cents. While I may not agree with every opinion or "decision" he has in mind, I do have a very economic mindset when it comes to Amtrak and that does run counter to many people at AU.

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The only thing that seems like pretty close to an outright lie was the "steadily declining" fact that he used in his letter regarding the SWC. The RPA rebuts that it was not steadily declining, at least based on the timescale they look at. (They state that it's down 1% from FY 2015, and up 14% from eight years ago.)

If something peaked in 2015, and it's now the middle of 2018, I wouldn't call "steadily declining" a lie.

 

As you say, it all depends on the time scale you look at.

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Would someone please explain to me why Anderson took this job? I don't see any passion for anything except cutting, and he could have done that anywhere. He doesn't need the salary. Why on earth did he want to take on Amtrak when he obviously has no interest in passenger rail? Frankly, many people on here have a better understanding of how it works, and the rest of us are open to learning and discussion, which he doesn't seem to be.

He's a disruptor: a manager who comes into an organization and questions everything and accepts nothing from the past unless it is proven to his or her satisfaction - and that's not easy. His intent is to make a comfortable organization uncomfortable, and change the way things are done. People can either play ball or get out. I've been through that kind of management, and while it was very unsettling when it happened, we came out much, much better in the end.

 

If you believe that Anderson is trying to make Amtrak stronger and more efficient then getting rid of the long distance network is a great way to accomplish that. I mean, does anyone really doubt the books would look a lot better with no long distance network to worry about or hundreds of old locomotives and passenger cars to replace? If Anderson's primary purpose is to disrupt the status quo and reimagine the future then why would he feel compelled to keep the LD network? I can easily understand those who believe we're likely to lose one or possibly several routes during Anderson's term. Amtrak's history is littered with discontinued routes that are long since forgotten. I've seen no rational counterargument for how maintaining the LD network makes Amtrak stronger or more efficient from the perspective of a emotionally indifferent and fundamentally disruptive influence like Anderson.

Edited by Devil's Advocate

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The only thing that seems like pretty close to an outright lie was the "steadily declining" fact that he used in his letter regarding the SWC. The RPA rebuts that it was not steadily declining, at least based on the timescale they look at. (They state that it's down 1% from FY 2015, and up 14% from eight years ago.)

If something peaked in 2015, and it's now the middle of 2018, I wouldn't call "steadily declining" a lie.

 

As you say, it all depends on the time scale you look at.

 

Yeah, I have not noticed any outright lie. There are many things I would consider to be questionable opinion, and many others that I would consider to be so ridiculously ambiguous handwaving that it is hard to make anything of it. What is good about the RPA document is that it is precise and states what the facts are as opposed to manufacturing a story line using vague nonsensical statements at times. It helps ground the discussion in facts.

 

If one has made up ones mind about the imputed motive of someone else then just nonsense might appear firmly to be part of a bigger scheme that may or may not actually be there. Human beings are generally prone to fit things into patterns and which pattern they will attempt to fit something into depends on where their own mind is at. And if someone coming from a different place does not agree with ones convictions then the other may be characterized as dumb. But that is neither here nor there in an adult discussion.

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Thank you, you said it far more eloquently than I have been able to.

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Would someone please explain to me why Anderson took this job?

 

I don't see any passion for anything except cutting, and he could have done that anywhere. He doesn't need the salary.

 

Why on earth did he want to take on Amtrak when he obviously has no interest in passenger rail? Frankly, many people on here have a better understanding of how it works, and the rest of us are open to learning and discussion, which he doesn't seem to be.

 

He's a disruptor: a manager who comes into an organization and questions everything and accepts nothing from the past unless it is proven to his or her satisfaction - and that's not easy. His intent is to make a comfortable organization uncomfortable, and change the way things are done. People can either play ball or get out. I've been through that kind of management, and while it was very unsettling when it happened, we came out much, much better in the end.

 

 

 

There's a difference in where this can work. Amtrak has had enough disruptors over the years. What it needs is a BUILDER that serves as LEADER. It needs a LEADER with a vision and a BUILDER that can work to BRIDGE the gaps between the various stakeholders and achieve a common goal of providing service where desired.

 

Why "disrupt" the long term bridges that are need to provide service ad what makes you think that a corporation that is routinely starved of capital funds, operations funds and must beg for its existence every year is "comfortable?

 

Additionally, if you believe Amtrak, it covered almost 95% of its operational expenses from ticket sales and other revenues in FY 17. It has climbed every year, along with ridership. That has increased year after year after by working together with stakeholders (states, feds, Congress, employees etc), not "disrupting" the network and alienating your potential partners (private car owners, states, host railroads, etc) . All that does it make the NEXT CEO, waste valuable time and capital on mending fences, restoring bridges and reestablishing the network.

 

Change for the sake of change means little. Change for the better is...and the best Mr. Anderson can do is finish closing the 5% gap and hopefully, preparing the network for growth by starting the ball rolling with equipment.

 

Disrupting the progress that was made (which helped secure record funding..for the national network btw) would be a huge step backwards.

Edited by Thirdrail7

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It has seemed to me for a while that Amtrak needs an outward facing CxO and an inward facing CxO. Often these roles are played by CEO and COO respectively if the CEO can curb his or her ego enough to have a COO who is given enough rope to play with undisrupted by the politics of dealing with the various external stakeholders (other than the actual service consumers.

 

As for Anderson, he will either learn fast or will implode spectacularly taking half the house down with him. Just because he was good at Delta is no guarantee that he will do equally well in an unfamiliar environment. But there is no way of telling based on the shooting from the hip hand waving that he has been indulging in so far. I eagerly await July or whenever he has to propose something concrete that can actually be evaluated based on concrete stuff.

 

I completely agree with this assessment of Thirdrail's:

 


Change for the sake of change means little. Change for the better is...and the best Mr. Anderson can do is finish closing the 5% gap and hopefully, preparing the network for growth by starting the ball rolling with equipment.

Unfortunately what damage is done in closing the 5% gap may leave an indelible mark. That is where the F&B mayhem probably comes in. But we shall see....

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Can one of you that calling Anderson a liar point out exactly where he lied?

 

Amtrak is our National Railroad Passenger Corporation (says so right on Amtrak's website). Its current network of trains is already so skeletal as to barely quality as "national." For anyone to take the job of running Amtrak without at minimum an ironclad commitment to keeping the existing, bare-bones network intact seems to me to be fundamentally dishonest. From what we've seen so far, Anderson lacks that commitment. Speaking only for myself, that's what I meant in post #50, just prior to your post quoted here.

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The root cause of the problem is that Amtrak has conflicting requirements spelled out in its charter. Anderson is but the latest symptom of it.

 

Amtrak is supposed to be both a national system and a for profit corporation. Are all those past CEOs who blithely ignored the "for profit" part of it any less "dishonest" than Anderson? That is why I try to stay away from such derogatory characterizations.

 

Frankly I am a bit baffled by the fact that what is essentially an Obama appointed Board has set such goals for Anderson for him to earn his substantial bonus, which is his only income from this thankless job, that is leading him to go in this direction. Which raises the question what exact direction is he actually going anyway? Why is the Board not amazingly more upset with him already if what some allege he is doing is true? Quite puzzling really.

Edited by jis

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Can one of you that calling Anderson a liar point out exactly where he lied?

Amtrak is our National Railroad Passenger Corporation (says so right on Amtrak's website). Its current network of trains is already so skeletal as to barely quality as "national." For anyone to take the job of running Amtrak without at minimum an ironclad commitment to keeping the existing, bare-bones network intact seems to me to be fundamentally dishonest. From what we've seen so far, Anderson lacks that commitment. Speaking only for myself, that's what I meant in post #50, just prior to your post quoted here.

 

In other words, no, you can't articulate anywhere that he's actually lied.

 

Thanks for clearing that up.

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The only thing that seems like pretty close to an outright lie was the "steadily declining" fact that he used in his letter regarding the SWC. The RPA rebuts that it was not steadily declining, at least based on the timescale they look at. (They state that it's down 1% from FY 2015, and up 14% from eight years ago.)

 

The rest simply are complaints about him using certain metrics to make the SWC look worse than RPA believes it should. Which is probably a fair complaint. However, I don't think the end goal of Anderson's actions are necessarily wrong; he's asking for a plan to make the infrastructure the SWC solely uses fully funded so that Amtrak isn't stuck with a huge bill for tracks they use twice a day and no one else uses. As long as his determination, if that plan doesn't come through or adequately fund the needs of that stretch of track, is that the SWC would reroute onto the southern transcon instead of using the existing track (and thus stations would be built along that line) I don't see this as a sky is falling determination. If his end goal is to kill the SWC entirely (or cut it back to short segments) then there's a problem.

From a business perspective, Anderson is not wrong to ask the states to come up with a business plan for the tracks. He does not want to through good money after bad, and judging by his (rumored) relationships with the class 1s, he certainly doesn't want to be subsidizing BNSF. Unlike past Amtrak CEO's Anderson is viewing this money not as a government grant, but as a business would, so he wants to see a plan. Again this all comes down to is Amtrak a business or a government agency? Truth be told, Anderson really needs to find better PR people. He's not making horrible decisions, but the PR Amtrak puts out really doesn't make the case very well for the decisions, so it's not helping.

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Maybe this is all just a big bait and switch trick.

 

Spread false rumors that the entire LD system is at stake. Fear and doom mongering spreads and people start fighting for their own train and become prepared to sacrifice other trains for it. Then finally it's just one or two trains that are axed, and everybody else is relieved that the rest of the system is still there and think that somehow a good thing just happened.

 

Divide and conquer. It's an old trick but it always works.

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Can one of you that calling Anderson a liar point out exactly where he lied?

Amtrak is our National Railroad Passenger Corporation (says so right on Amtrak's website). Its current network of trains is already so skeletal as to barely quality as "national." For anyone to take the job of running Amtrak without at minimum an ironclad commitment to keeping the existing, bare-bones network intact seems to me to be fundamentally dishonest. From what we've seen so far, Anderson lacks that commitment. Speaking only for myself, that's what I meant in post #50, just prior to your post quoted here.

 

In other words, no, you can't articulate anywhere that he's actually lied.

 

Thanks for clearing that up.

 

 

I don't break down costs like Neroden or Affigatt, so I will ask. Does the Long Distance service lose $750 million per year? I've heard Mr. Anderson say it does on more than one occasion. If that figure is based on 'fuzzy math" or voodoo economics" (I'm showing my age with that one) as many suspect, that would be spreading false information and perpetuating the same tired rhetoric....if that is true.

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I’m not sure any of us without access to the real data can evaluate that claim. Even with all of the data, I’m sure it comes down to how costs are allocated, and you can have a robust argument about the right way to do that.

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Can one of you that calling Anderson a liar point out exactly where he lied?

Amtrak is our National Railroad Passenger Corporation (says so right on Amtrak's website). Its current network of trains is already so skeletal as to barely quality as "national." For anyone to take the job of running Amtrak without at minimum an ironclad commitment to keeping the existing, bare-bones network intact seems to me to be fundamentally dishonest. From what we've seen so far, Anderson lacks that commitment. Speaking only for myself, that's what I meant in post #50, just prior to your post quoted here.

 

In other words, no, you can't articulate anywhere that he's actually lied.

 

Thanks for clearing that up.

 

 

I haven't called him a liar--that's your choice of words, not mine. I do think he's not being quite honest or truthful.

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Actually “liar” was Neroden’s choice of words not mine. Your choice of words it was “more truthful” yet you cannot point to anything he has said that is not true.

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Actually “liar” was Neroden’s choice of words not mine. Your choice of words it was “more truthful” yet you cannot point to anything he has said that is not true.

 

Perhaps if you actually read my post, instead of simply assuming it verifies your own position, you'll see that we're talking about different things. It's possible to be dishonest without saying anything as explicit as 2 + 2 = 5.

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I've read all your posts repeatedly, thanks.

 

If you can provide an example of that dishonesty you're complaining about, I'm all ears.

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I am not sure that if the LD network was dropped, that Amtrak would be profitable since the overhead would be divided out over just a few trains. Actually, if you eliminate the LD network, it opens the door to push the corridor trains totally on to the states, thus Amtrak could be dissolved. This not what any of us wants. Problems is how you see Amtrak. Previous CEO's saw Amtrak providing a "SERVICE" to the public, but had Congress asking the impossible for Amtrak to be a service to the public in both rural and urban locations and making business acceptable profit (like all other rail systems around the world do - in the minds of Congress). In other words, it is a lose/lose situation. With Anderson, we get someone who doesn't care about service to the public, instead the system must sacrifice everything possible until it shows repeated profitable performances.

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With Anderson, we get someone who doesn't care about service to the public

[Citation needed]

 

I would agree with the statement that he is prioritizing the "for profit" part of Amtrak's mandate over the "public service" part. As Jishnu mentioned, that's been a structural problem for all of AMtrak's existance.

 

Saying that he "doesn't care" takes knowledge that we don't have.

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My mistake about salary--I did not realize he does not have one but may get a bonus. He doesn't need that, either--it's only (well, "only" to him--I wouldn't mind it! :P) $500,000 according to a Bloomberg article I just came across.

 

I get the disruptor part, although I personally think that is a terrible way to manage something that is already fragile. I just don't understand the attraction for him of choosing Amtrak specifically to disrupt--there are plenty of other government agencies and perhaps even private companies where he could have gone to wreak havoc or perhaps even done some good (disrupting some social network companies and making them more responsible, for example, seems like a great idea to me).

Edited by Mystic River Dragon

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To provide some context on where Anderson may be coming from:

 

1. Amtrak Five Year Service Line Plans 2019-23

 

2. Amtrak Fiscal 2019 Fiscal Report and Grant Request

 

Just as a reminder, I neither come to bury Caesar, nor to praise him. Just information....

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Can one of you that calling Anderson a liar point out exactly where he lied?

Amtrak is our National Railroad Passenger Corporation (says so right on Amtrak's website). Its current network of trains is already so skeletal as to barely quality as "national." For anyone to take the job of running Amtrak without at minimum an ironclad commitment to keeping the existing, bare-bones network intact seems to me to be fundamentally dishonest. From what we've seen so far, Anderson lacks that commitment. Speaking only for myself, that's what I meant in post #50, just prior to your post quoted here.

 

In other words, no, you can't articulate anywhere that he's actually lied.

 

Thanks for clearing that up.

 

I don't break down costs like Neroden or Affigatt, so I will ask. Does the Long Distance service lose $750 million per year? I've heard Mr. Anderson say it does on more than one occasion. If that figure is based on 'fuzzy math" or voodoo economics" (I'm showing my age with that one) as many suspect, that would be spreading false information and perpetuating the same tired rhetoric....if that is true.

 

 

Anderson is lying flat out about that number. RPA and AARPCO have already explained this. He's lying in two different ways.

 

(1) That's a fully allocated cost number, and fully allocated costs are ****. Basically, if you cancelled all the long-distance trains, *nearly all of that cost would remain* -- it would just be reallocated to the NEC or to the state corridors. There is no sense in which this number is correct. Amtrak has been required by law since at least 2009 to report avoidable costs (estimated by outsiders to be about $50 million), but Amtrak is shirking its legal requirements and has not done so; until Anderson starts complying with this longstanding legal requirement, he cannot reasonable point to "the law" as a justification for anything else he does.

 

(2) That isn't even the official fully allocated costs number reported by Amtrak, as AARPCO explained in their letter; the official number is more like $500 million, NOT $750 million.

 

So Anderson's using an essentially fake number to start with -- and he's exaggerating that number for effect, to make the long-distance trainst look bad. That makes him a liar.

 

He also lied about the ridership profile of the Southwest Chief (which has been increasing -- he claimed it was continuously decreasing). RPA pointed that lie out in their letter.

 

It is now indisuptable that Mr. Anderson is lying to Congress.

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