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Joe Boardman questions current Amtrak's managements motives

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Yeah, I’m not going to put a lot of trust in anonymous “reports” in the midst of RPA breaking their elbow to pat themselves on the back for avoiding an apocalypse that only they foretold.

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Yeah, I’m not going to put a lot of trust in anonymous “reports” in the midst of RPA breaking their elbow to pat themselves on the back for avoiding an apocalypse that only they foretold.

 

What's it like to break your elbow telling everyone there's nothing to worry about? You've made it very clear that the only people you trust are from AU's echo chamber clique. Your loyalty was never in doubt, or in play for that matter.

Edited by Devil's Advocate

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I wouldn’t know, since I’ve not said that there is nothing to worry about.

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If you criticize, ignore, or write off virtually any concern over Amtrak then it's clear where you stand. I guess you're so busy holding every concern up to a microscope you don't seem to notice or care about all the equally irrational and unfounded defenses against said concerns. If nobody can speak up before a given route/frequency/amenity/service is already lost to the ages, then I guess nobody should bother speaking up about anything. Or at least that's the message that the AU echo chamber seems to be intent on sending. I honestly cannot remember another hobbyist forum that was so proudly critical and dismissive of anyone who showed concern for the future.

Edited by Devil's Advocate

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I find it somewhat amusing to be told what I think by some stranger on the internet, based solely on a handful of words on the screen.

 

Suffice to say, you've got it just about completely wrong. The fact that I don't chime in on the criticisms that I find valid, doesn't mean that I've written them off. It means that I find no value whatsoever in adding a #metoo to a complaint. For things that are problematic, I would much prefer to spend my efforts doing something to help change it, and that almost never involves shouting into a message board that will have no impact on Amtrak.

 

Similarly, there is a small army of people here that is quite adept at shouting down the "irrational and unfounded defenses" that vex you. Adding another voice to those corrections in this forum also brings no value to the table. In other venues where those defenses are aired without rebuttal, I'm not shy about stepping in and correcting the record. I know for you that doesn't matter, since it happens outside the hallowed walls of this forum, but whatever.

 

I've said or done nothing to indicate that people can't speak up until a route is already gone. Perhaps you have me confused with other members of your fantasy echo chamber clique. If there are routes to be fought for, rest assured I'll be there (where "there" equates to doings something actually useful, not raging about it on an Internet forum).

 

You've constructed an elegant strawman here, and done an exemplary job of beating it to death. I hope that you're more successful in actually being accurate the next time you try to climb inside a stranger's head and tell them what they think.

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I find it somewhat amusing to be told what I think by some stranger on the internet, based solely on a handful of words on the screen.

It's not a handful of words. It's novel's worth of condescending snark written over the course of several years. I've yet to see anyone shouting or raging or claiming the sky is falling or that the apocalypse is near. But those are the dismissive discussion-ending terms you've used to repeatedly attack anyone who blows off too much steam or shows too much emotion or doesn't meet your bizarrely narrow expectations of acceptable criticism. It's clear that our forum hosts a clique of vocal insiders who routinely interject themselves into critical threads and tag-team/dogpile on general members who speak up too forcefully or too often or don't pay enough deference to the core of the hive mind. Your inability or unwillingness to admit this rather obvious truth exposes more bias than anything I could say on my own.

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Kids,kids! Time out! 😄

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I am sure Mr. Boardman is feeling a bit ignored at this point :D

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I've yet to see anyone shouting or raging or claiming the sky is falling or that the apocalypse is near.

 

Isn't there a 17-plus page thread that started out with someone saying "Amtrak will no longer do special charters or moves anymore EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY"?

 

Turned out not to be true, but it sure got everyone all worked up and set the Anderson hate-train into high gear.

 

There's another thread about LD trains where the OP's opening line is "train offs may be coming" even though there was nothing in the actual quoted comments from RA that said so.

 

It doesn't take much to find these examples.

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I've yet to see anyone shouting or raging or claiming the sky is falling or that the apocalypse is near.

Isn't there a 17-plus page thread that started out with someone saying "Amtrak will no longer do special charters or moves anymore EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY"?

 

Turned out not to be true, but it sure got everyone all worked up and set the Anderson hate-train into high gear.

 

So far as I'm aware the original concern is based on an actual goal of Anderson, which then generated a lot of news and attention, which in turn spawned a lot of phone calls and in-person meetings, which may have softened the blow and left us with the middle ground we're currently navigating. I wasn't aware anyone was still disputing that Anderson wants to substantially remove/restrict the movement of private rolling stock. If that's enough to be called a hate train then is your dogpile apologist clique some sort of Anderson love train?

 

 

There's another thread about LD trains where the OP's opening line is "train offs may be coming" even though there was nothing in the actual quoted comments from RA that said so.

 

It doesn't take much to find these examples.

What is a train off? Do you mean layoff? If the dining car eventually becomes an unstaffed lounge for sleeper class passengers then it's not that hard to imagine layoffs may actually be coming. The dining car staff can bid on other positions but if they get the job by outranking someone else then at some point someone below them will be at risk of falling off the payroll totem pole. Seems like a reasonable concern to me.

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So far as I'm aware the original concern is based on an actual goal of Anderson

What is that "knowledge" based on?

 

What is a train off? Do you mean layoff?

No, he means train off, which is the statutorily (49 U.S. Code § 24706) required 180 day notification before Amtrak discontinues service over a route. That would be the time for the pitchfork and torches brigade.

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I am curious now... what is the actual goal of Anderson? According to whom?

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So far as I'm aware the original concern is based on an actual goal of Anderson

What is that "knowledge" based on?

 

What exactly are you disputing - that Amtrak is substantially restricting private charter movements or that Richard Anderson personally supports these restrictions?

 

 

No, he means train off, which is the statutorily (49 U.S. Code § 24706) required 180 day notification before Amtrak discontinues service over a route. That would be the time for the pitchfork and torches brigade.

Was there any 180 day notice before the Sunset East was discontinued? I personally think waiting for a formal notice is a bit late in the process to start speaking up. In my experience when it comes to meaningful activism you generally want to get your foot in the door and your name on the schedule as soon as there is any sign of wavering.

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doesn't meet your bizarrely narrow expectations of acceptable criticism.

I'm not sure that "based in reality" is bizarrely narrow, but maybe I'm just crazy.

 

Ironically, you're serving as a shining example of what I do have a problem with - criticizing people for positions that they haven't taken.

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What exactly are you disputing - that Amtrak is substantially restricting private charter movements or that Richard Anderson personally supports these restrictions?

Neither. I'm disputing the claim that we know what Anderson's goal is, and that the end of all charters and PVs was a reasonable concern given that goal.

 

I do agree that the current "suspension" of the Sunset East nearly 13 years later is an embarrassing fiction that needs to be rectified. I'm not sure that a one-off example from 13 years ago really supports you point, though.

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doesn't meet your bizarrely narrow expectations of acceptable criticism.

I'm not sure that "based in reality" is bizarrely narrow, but maybe I'm just crazy. Ironically, you're serving as a shining example of what I do have a problem with - criticizing people for positions that they haven't taken.

You only seem to accept criticism that can link to irrefutable first person evidence. Unfortunately that's not how the real world works. Opaque executives don't generally give much forewarning about future service restrictions/reductions or cost increases or loss of protections. In many cases you have to read between the lines to see what's coming in time to react to it. Not that long ago there was genuine concern that the current SWC route was in danger and instead of waiting to see what happened people reached out to the various stakeholders and managed to protect the status quo. If they had waited for a formal notice of abandonment there may not have been enough time to save the entire route.

 

 

 

What exactly are you disputing - that Amtrak is substantially restricting private charter movements or that Richard Anderson personally supports these restrictions?

Neither. I'm disputing the claim that we know what Anderson's goal is, and that the end of all charters and PVs was a reasonable concern given that goal. I do agree that the current "suspension" of the Sunset East nearly 13 years later is an embarrassing fiction that needs to be rectified. I'm not sure that a one-off example from 13 years ago really supports you point, though.

 

The earliest posts generally come from the earliest bits of information. Back then it wasn't entirely clear what Amtrak intended and it was possible to interpret what had been said to mean that all third party movements might now be disqualified. From what I've read the vast majority of third party charters are indeed affected. Even those third party charters that will continue to run in the future are apparently allowed to do so only in the form of a per-instance waiver that further limits and complicates a convoluted process that was already extremely tedious and time consuming. From a practical standpoint this is a huge change. But I guess so long as even one single charter is allowed to run somewhere on the network you've made your point about challenging anyone who dares to overstep or oversimplify. Regarding the Sunset East the route still existing is the fiction while route's abandonment is the reality. Trying to bring back a route that exists in name only is far harder than protecting a route that still hosts actual trains today. Better to be ahead of the curve than chasing after it.

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without getting into a disagreement I think it should be plain that part of the current Amtrak strategy is to not release clear information to the public on purpose. If you are going to cut something or not maintain stuff, it looks bad to spell that out in writing, so they keep it vague and close to the vest.That is why Boardman went public with his knowledge of the attempt to cut the Southwest Chief to alert the public. Even with the uproar, I am concerned that Amtraks primary means of reducing or eliminating interest in long distance trains has been to raise fares on average substantially which will be difficult for legislators and even advocates to understand and counter. I took the Southwest Chief from L.A. Chicago this year in March and fares for sleepers were astronomilicaly high and there was only 2 coaches and two sleepers available. And the trains were far from full.I could only conclude that the high prices and artificially short consists were designed to discourage ridership. Do you ever see a sale on sleeper fares or a last minute upgrade available to coach passengers made available at a discount to fill up the trains? I have traveled Amtrak extensively the last few years and while you still can find a occasional good deal the price buckets go way up long before the train sells out these days.Even with that ridership has been ok, but I fear that will change if prices continue to rise out of reach for many travelers

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doesn't meet your bizarrely narrow expectations of acceptable criticism.

I'm not sure that "based in reality" is bizarrely narrow, but maybe I'm just crazy. Ironically, you're serving as a shining example of what I do have a problem with - criticizing people for positions that they haven't taken.

You only seem to accept criticism that can link to irrefutable first person evidence. Unfortunately that's not how the real world works. Opaque executives don't generally give much forewarning about future service restrictions/reductions or cost increases or loss of protections. In many cases you have to read between the lines to see what's coming in time to react to it. Not that long ago there was genuine concern that the current SWC route was in danger and instead of waiting to see what happened people reached out to the various stakeholders and managed to protect the status quo. If they had waited for a formal notice of abandonment there may not have been enough time to save the entire route.

 

 

 

What exactly are you disputing - that Amtrak is substantially restricting private charter movements or that Richard Anderson personally supports these restrictions?

Neither. I'm disputing the claim that we know what Anderson's goal is, and that the end of all charters and PVs was a reasonable concern given that goal. I do agree that the current "suspension" of the Sunset East nearly 13 years later is an embarrassing fiction that needs to be rectified. I'm not sure that a one-off example from 13 years ago really supports you point, though.

 

The earliest posts generally come from the earliest bits of information. Back then it wasn't entirely clear what Amtrak intended and it was possible to interpret what had been said to mean that all third party movements might now be disqualified. From what I've read the vast majority of third party charters are indeed affected. Even those third party charters that will continue to run in the future are apparently allowed to do so only in the form of a per-instance waiver that further limits and complicates a convoluted process that was already extremely tedious and time consuming. From a practical standpoint this is a huge change. But I guess so long as even one single charter is allowed to run somewhere on the network you've made your point about challenging anyone who dares to overstep or oversimplify. Regarding the Sunset East the route still existing is the fiction while route's abandonment is the reality. Trying to bring back a route that exists in name only is far harder than protecting a route that still hosts actual trains today. Better to be ahead of the curve than chasing after it.

 

 

Devil's Advocate,

 

I love your spirit and I totally agree with your bottom line: Better to be ahead of the curve than chasing after it. I also completely agree that you often have to read between the lines to see what is coming so you have time to act. it is better to be proactive than reactive. However, I would caution you to not play into the hysteria that some people are painting.

 

Not everything is a plot. What can YOU honestly say about the private car or charter car plans? I suspect that you wouldn't since it is not your operation. Some people would love to say that there was a rallying call to action to attempt to force Amtrak to reassess its position and it worked.

 

The reality of the situation is most people didn't have a LICK of understanding of the plans for private cars or charters/special movements.. However, that didn't stop the posts or whining. What I find entertaining is the plan that was initially authorized and explained to the employees is pretty much EXACTLY what occurred. The problem is you're mostly hearing about the issue from disgruntled people who feel they are getting the short end of the stick instead hearing about it from a detailed, business point of view.

 

That being said, private cars are still operating. Charters, specials and extras are still operating. There have been restrictions but the per instance waivers were always be there and will be required to be there, particularly if you're operating over a host railroad. The main thing that has been eliminated is the "tripping over your feet, scorched earth policy of placating the whims of the private car owners that ultimately impact your main base." If it is not out of the way and won't impact significantly impact your base operation, they're still running.

 

 

As I keep saying, a lot of the plans you are seeing PREDATE Richard Anderson. Assigned seating, the Acela overhaul, the coach overhaul (which was actually downgraded due to budget issues), the boxed lunches, the restrictions on charters/private cars and and YES eliminating certain trains were all in various stages of planning and implementation by the time Mr. Anderson came around. As the PTC mandate loomed, I mentioned trains were in jeopardy quite some time ago since the hosts want the passenger operators to foot the bill for the upgrades. It is possible that some trains may be sacrificed for the greater good.

 

Can Mr. Anderson stop some of this stuff? Probably. Mr. Boardman did. However,the leadership has changed and Mr. Anderson has said he plans to follow PRIIA. Despite all of the talk, most people would be hard pressed to spell out exactly how Mr. Anderson plans to achieve this goal.

 

We should remain cautious while remembering the story about the boy who cried wolf.

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It is worth noting a lot of the pre Anderson management team is still in place, Anderson is not making/continuing these decisions in a vacuum.

Why do I not find that consoling?

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The reality of the situation is most people didn't have a LICK of understanding of the plans for private cars or charters/special movements.. However, that didn't stop the posts or whining. What I find entertaining is the plan that was initially authorized and explained to the employees is pretty much EXACTLY what occurred. The problem is you're mostly hearing about the issue from disgruntled people who feel they are getting the short end of the stick instead hearing about it from a detailed, business point of view.

I'm not sure if you realize it or not but what you're describing here seems to have been a large part of the problem. Lack of timely communication and explanation lead to heightened concerns and confusion. When I was looking for verifiable specifics on my own it became clear that 99% of the available information was secondhand reporting by third parties. When people who need critical information are confronted with an information vacuum you can't blame them for succumbing to personal assumptions and group think. Regardless of how you feel about PV operators Amtrak is the entity making these changes and it's reasonable to hold the current CEO responsible for recognizing conflicts and managing concerns in a professional and productive manner.

 

 

We should remain cautious while remembering the story about the boy who cried wolf.

This seems to be a huge concern among a handful of very vocal members here on AU. Which begs the question, which previous Amtrak route/frequency/service/amenity has suffered from too much consumer activism voiced too early and/or too aggressively? I cannot name even one single example and that makes it hard to explain all this nervous hand wringing. We already live in a culture that is loath to support or reward consumer activism and instead of nurturing what little we do have we gleefully hammer anyone who makes a mistake or misstatement. With supporters like this who needs enemies?

Edited by Devil's Advocate

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I'm not sure if you realize it or not but what you're describing here seems to have been a large part of the problem. Lack of timely communication and explanation lead to heightened concerns and confusion. When I was looking for verifiable specifics on my own it became clear that 99% of the available information was secondhand reporting by third parties. When people who need critical information are confronted with an information vacuum you can't blame them for succumbing to personal assumptions and group think. Regardless of how you feel about PV operators Amtrak is the entity making these changes and it's reasonable to hold the current CEO responsible for recognizing conflicts and managing concerns in a professional and productive manner.

I'm curious as to how you arrive at the conclusion that there was a lack of timely communication. Someone basically posted an internal briefing regarding a policy change that wasn't officially approved or released. When it WAS indeed ready, it was released with an explanation....to those affected.

 

Have you or the others attempted to charter a train? Do you own a private car? If you did, you probably received the proper notification once everything was set up. A similar example exists with the .Chefs being removed off Capitol Limited thread. Of course there wasn't "timely communication or explanation" which can lead to heightened concerns and confusion. That is because this thread was formed while things were still being solidified and wasn't publicly released since there were a few plans under review. A 20 day, 154 post thread ensued prior to an official word being released. That release was made roughly 45 days prior to the scheduled change.

 

While I can agree that Amtrak is often slow to post updates and release information, it certainly doesn't help when people are running with plans that aren't even finalized or confirmed. It is hard to compete for the attention of those looking for instant answers and immediate comments.

 

 

 

We should remain cautious while remembering the story about the boy who cried wolf.

This seems to be a huge concern among a handful of very vocal members here on AU. Which begs the question, which previous Amtrak route/frequency/service/amenity has suffered from too much consumer activism voiced too early and/or too aggressively? I cannot name even one single example and that makes it hard to explain all this nervous hand wringing. We already live in a culture that is loath to support or reward consumer activism and instead of nurturing what little we do have we gleefully hammer anyone who makes a mistake or misstatement. With supporters like this who needs enemies?

 

 

Let's see. I remember years when Amtrak, states and the NARP used to routinely appear in front of Congress and explain why Amtrak needs more money. Amtrak would receive its minuscule appropriation and limp through most of the year until it had to return and beg for more funds....or cut service. Eventually, Congress would get sick of seeing people from Amtrak in front of them. It was clearly an annoyance. As such, they started making more demands and basically refused to fund services and expansions. Routes were cut and service were cut even as the leaders and lobbyists appeared before Congress asking for funds or equipment. The lobbying, hand wringing and threats accomplished little.

 

Whether you agreed with or or not, The Boardman-Stadtler team took a different approach. Like it or not (and I didn't because I believe the infrastructure and training was sacrificed), they took whatever Congress gave them and never bothered them again for the fiscal year. Instead of carrying on as if another appropriation was forthcoming by threatening to cut service, they did their best to stay out of sight and out of mind. Among other things, they cut, scrimped, altered service, raised prices to the point that I'm surprised people even ride the train and worked to find partners within the states to keep the train and infrastructure improvements rolling but largely stayed away from asking money from Congress prior to the next fiscal year.

 

In my opinion, it worked. Cost recovery and ridership grew (so they say) and the fight to receive funding grew less dramatic even to the point that a damn near record amount of funding was proposed. A certain degree of credibility seems to have been restored.

 

The point I'm trying to make is if you keep sounding alarms about personal pet peeves, when the system really needs help, it might not be forthcoming. The very nature of Amtrak's existence requires a steady vigilance and a steady focus...not a panic. Even in the best of times, supporters should support.

Edited by Thirdrail7

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Have you or the others attempted to charter a train? Do you own a private car?

No, I don't charter trains with my own private cars. If Amtrak felt their ability to clear the record with charter operations, rail sector news media, and sympathetic politicians was being overwhelmed by a internal memo thread on a hobbyist forum then perhaps they need a new public relations team. A single candid phone call to a trusted industry journalist could have cleared everything up with minimal effort. In the future it would behoove Amtrak to be more careful with sending premature and easily leaked memos about undecided changes without having established a fallback plan in case the circle jerk happens to spin in the wrong direction.

 

 

 

 

We should remain cautious while remembering the story about the boy who cried wolf.

This seems to be a huge concern among a handful of very vocal members here on AU. Which begs the question, which previous Amtrak route/frequency/service/amenity has suffered from too much consumer activism voiced too early and/or too aggressively?

 

I remember years when Amtrak, states and the NARP used to routinely appear in front of Congress and explain why Amtrak needs more money. Amtrak would receive its minuscule appropriation and limp through most of the year until it had to return and beg for more funds....or cut service. Eventually, Congress would get sick of seeing people from Amtrak in front of them. It was clearly an annoyance. As such, they started making more demands and basically refused to fund services and expansions. Routes were cut and service were cut even as the leaders and lobbyists appeared before Congress asking for funds or equipment. The lobbying, hand wringing and threats accomplished little.

 

I didn't ask about industry leaders or lobbyists or executives. I asked about consumer activism. In other words grassroots initiatives. The thing about grassroots activism is that it is not born of a desire to engage in soul numbing bureaucracy but from an emotional need to fight against a fundamental imbalance of power. This type of activism is like a tiny sprout in a vast desert. If it's not nurtured and protected it quickly dies and drifts away never to be seen again. Guiding and educating those who are willing to act can be extremely helpful but endlessly faulting and criticizing every misstep and misstatement only serves to crush the sprout and salt the earth from where it came. That is the point I am trying to make.

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Report from RPA (Jim Mathews) on Congressional Hearing on Amtrak including a first look at the 2019 THUD proposed numbers for Amtrak:

 

https://www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/news/blog/congress-presses-amtrak-on-national-network-and-amtrak-leadership-gives-the-right-answers/

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