New Senators Letter to Anderson

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by DSS&A, Apr 16, 2019.

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  1. Apr 16, 2019 #1

    DSS&A

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  2. Apr 16, 2019 #2

    Amtrakfflyer

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    He still hasn’t responded to the Houses letter yet. I think his agenda is pretty clear at this point.
     
  3. Apr 16, 2019 #3

    tricia

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    Since it's a public document, not copyright protected, I assume it's OK to post the full text here:

    Dear Mr. Anderson:

    We are writing in strong support of Amtrak’s national network, including the long-distance and state-supported routes. These routes serve small, midsize, and rural communities in our states and provide essential connections to jobs, tourism, and family that are critical to the people and places we represent. As you develop Amtrak’s plan for the long-term viability of the company, we urge you to recognize the critical importance of the entire national network, which includes the long-distance and state-supported routes. Once again, we seek your firm commitment that Amtrak will abide by its statutory purpose – maintaining a truly national network for our rail system.

    Amtrak’ recent appropriation clearly demonstrates Congress’ strong, bipartisan support for the network. In making this investment, Congress chose to ensure the continued viability of Amtrak’s entire system, including the National Network’s long-distance and state-supported routes. These funds should be used to operate the entire existing system and, where possible, expand the system to grow both revenue and ridership.

    Congress purposely created a national network of long-distance and state-supported train service throughout the nation, in recognition of the importance of a transportation system that reaches every community – regardless of how rural it may be. Amtrak is more than a collection of individual train routes; it is a web of essential connections that bind our country together and link rural communities with major markets and economic opportunities. It provides residents of these communities with transportation options on which families, seniors, and businesses rely to access jobs, create economic opportunities, see our beautiful country, and visit family. The federal investment in Amtrak ensures the small, midsize, and rural communities served by Amtrak’s long-distance and state-supported routes continue to receive this essential service. The long-distance and state-supported routes of the national system are no less important than the Northeast Corridor (NEC), another critical aspect of Amtrak service.

    The long distance and state supported trains generate more ridership than the NEC and similar levels of revenue. Many long-distance sleeper cars are regularly sold out. The entire national network helps cover Amtrak’s fixed corporate costs such as police, facilities and capital expenditures, particularly when the route shares trackage with the NEC. Continuing and expanding the entire national system of long-distance and state-supported routes is both good for Amtrak’s business, and our national economy.

    We look forward to working with you and receiving assurances of your commitment to the national network. For these reasons, we request your response to the following questions by April 29, 2019.

    • Amtrak customers have already experienced a deterioration in service as Amtrak pursues efficiencies. A recent report in Trains Magazine[1]indicated that Amtrak utilizes accounting mechanisms to inflate costs associated with the national network, by charging long-distance and state-supported routes for costs which may be more appropriately charged to the Northeast Corridor. We are concerned that Amtrak’s accounting is intentionally obscure and is causing a false inflation of costs of lines outside of the Northeast Corridor. Please provide the accounting methods used to determine the costs referenced.
    • Does Amtrak plan to truncate or otherwise alter any of the long-distance train routes? If yes, then:
    • Which routes are under consideration for alteration?
    • Would any of these routes be altered in such a way that they would fall under the definition of State Supported routes, requiring states to find local operating funds for existing service? What discussions has Amtrak had with states, if any, that lead it to believe states would be willing to assume this financial obligation?



    • Amtrak says it wants to introduce new short distance routes with daytime service and multiple frequencies. What specific routes is Amtrak considering? What discussions—if any—has Amtrak had with host railroads, stakeholders, or government officials regarding these additional frequencies?
    • Amtrak claims that public demand for its long-distance interstate service is declining. Yet the number of passengers using the total long-distance network in FY 2017—the last year without major service interruptions—was 10.6% higher than it was eight years earlier in FY 2010. It was also higher than in all but three of the last eight years. This growth occurred in spite of worsening on time performance, capacity reductions and other changes to service levels. On what basis does Amtrak claim that demand is declining for long-distance trains?
    • Amtrak has made a number of changes impacting long-distance routes in 2018 that may reduce revenues and services, such as the removal of ticket agents at a number of stations across the country. Why did Amtrak calculate ridership totals based on weekly boardings on routes that do not run daily? When will Amtrak restore or otherwise alter assistance it provides passengers at stations based on Congressional directives in the Fiscal Year 2019 Appropriations Act?
    • Amtrak has expressed concern at how the dispatching practices of some host railroads has led to deteriorating on-time performance (OTP). Does Amtrak have a strategy to improve OTP and better interface with the host railroads? Are there policies that would assist Amtrak in this endeavor?
    • Sleeper cars provide approximately 40-50% of the revenue on many long-distance trains. Please provide us with an update on the 25 sleeper cars that were scheduled to be delivered in 2015 and 2016. Please provide a timeline for completing this order and putting the new cars into service?
    Our constituents – in both large and small communities rely on Amtrak service. We look forward to continue to work with you to preserve and expand the long-distance and state-supported routes, and to reviewing your response to our questions.
     
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  4. Apr 16, 2019 #4

    dgvrengineer

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    Nice! Glad to see the Senate putting pressure on Amtrak to keep the National Network and explain their motives.
     
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  5. Apr 16, 2019 #5

    GBNorman

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    What I think is concerning about such letters promoting expansion of the LD system is that someone in Hays, KS will start saying "they got one up in Hastings, where's ours? It could be a return to the later 70's and into the 80's when every legislator had to get "his train". Starting with the Carter Cuts, continuing with the Clinton, and then finally the Bush "prunings", things are now less than the RPSA70 "Basic System".

    Imagine the effect upon railroad operations if there had to be a train running through Hays, Grand Island, and wherever else the advocacy community deems such "essential"? Is the disruption it would cause "worth it" running over lines that last saw a passenger train on A-Day and causing considerable interference with operations over the investor-owned Class I system?
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2019
  6. Apr 16, 2019 #6

    Philly Amtrak Fan

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    If you leave Senators in charge of the Amtrak system, you'll get more "Byrd Crap" rather than trains where people actually live and/or want to go to. If they want to expand to Las Vegas, Nashville, or Columbus, go right ahead. But I have no interest traveling to Hays, Kansas (wherever that is) or paying more taxes just so there can be trains to go there.
     
  7. Apr 17, 2019 #7

    Dakota 400

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    I understand your reference to the influence of the late Senator Byrd had in directing Federal dollars to his home State. But, it was needed. He represented his State far better than most of our current Senators do for their home States. Much to disagree with concerning "pork barrel" spending, but such does benefit some communities that otherwise probably would be overlooked when it came time to dole out some dollars.
     
  8. Apr 17, 2019 #8

    Dakota 400

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    I appreciate the OP's post. Such information provides me, as an Ohio citizen, a reason to inquire from my two Senators as to why they did not join Senator Moran and the other Senators in signing this letter. Particularly as the thrust of the letter applies to small communities such as Oxford, Ohio.

    Efforts have been made for some time to convince Amtrak to make a stop--maybe a flag stop--in Oxford, Ohio which is on the Cardinal's route. Miami University is located in Oxford and many out-of-state students attend the university. A simple, logical, and ought to be cost effective way of increasing ridership/revenue at times when the students are in transit. Yet, it has yet to happen.
     
  9. Apr 17, 2019 #9

    PaTrainFan

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    The letter expresses the sentiments we all agree on, but it is disappointing there are not more signees and only three Republicans, all from states affected by one train, the Southwest Chief. Okay, Colorado is affected by the Zephyr as well. But you get my drift. It's going to take a lot more than this to have an appreciable impact on the powers that be at Amtrak, not to mention the Department of Transportation. Where are senators from Montana, North Dakota, Utah, et al. Long way to go on this front.
     
  10. Apr 17, 2019 #10

    Ryan

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    We know this for a fact?
     
  11. Apr 17, 2019 #11

    WICT106

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    Also, I think it good to read of the Members of Congress calling out Amtrak’s nebulous accounting formula.
     
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  12. Apr 17, 2019 #12

    cocojacoby

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    Someone who signed that letter may actually be a "railfan"?
     
  13. Apr 17, 2019 #13

    jis

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    Well, they have had almost fifty years to fix the accounting and have done nothing, and indeed at each possible step made it worse, including foisting the Volpe/FRA created idiocy at the behest of Congress in the first place, and then refusing to monitor its effect and legislating to fix it. I have low expectations that Congress will actually do anything beyond shedding some crocodile tears, and perhaps doing the minimal needed to keep service alive in their district if the specific member so care. Fixing the bigger overall problem is not in their DNA (unless it involves a large chunk of the freight railroads collapsing in a heap) and they have way larger other fish to fry anyway. Cynical? Moi? o_O
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2019
  14. Apr 17, 2019 #14

    Mystic River Dragon

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    I was impressed with the details in the letter and the amount of topics it covered--it looks like the writers took the time to ask for input from rail experts and to write a thorough, detailed letter.

    I am as cynical as jis, though, and think this will probably go no farther. They will not consider it worthwhile to take the gloves off and have a real fistfight with Amtrak's management. (How strange is it that these Senate members are on the side of the trains, but the train management itself is not?:confused:)

    I am also thoroughly disgusted that my liberal Democrat senators did not sign the letter. Cory Booker has some clout, and so does Bob Menendez (in spite of the cloud over his head), and they should have both signed it as a matter of national interest, even if it doesn't directly affect NJ.
     
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  15. Apr 17, 2019 #15

    Amtrakfflyer

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    Yes I do from weekly calls with my House reps office who was a co signer. I last talked to the my contact there yesterday morning.

    It’s hard to fathom how some people still are wanting to give Anderson and Gardner the benefit of the doubt at this point. I’ll leave it at that.
     
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  16. Apr 17, 2019 #16

    jis

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    It is just making sure we have the facts. Insinuating that merely verifying facts is giving benefit of the doubt seems a bit unbecoming.
     
  17. Apr 17, 2019 #17

    Amtrakfflyer

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    I apologize if that came off a bit rough. Not my intention. It was more a generalized statement, Anderson at this point doesn’t deserve any benefit of the doubt nor does Gardner in my opinion.
    As far as the response when and if he does respond I think we’ll know within 24 hours. 500 plus people will see it if you count the House menbers, their staffers, the RPA, etc. It will leak that day.
     
  18. Apr 17, 2019 #18

    jis

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    Personally I think it is a good idea to not give anyone benefit of the doubt. Hence the continuous verification of statements made by all sides. Now this might appear to be giving benefit of the doubt to some side or the other, but at least in my case that is certainly not the case. I simply do not believe any side without verifying statements to some degree. Admittedly, that is a lonely place to be in sometimes. Unfortunately there is plenty of BS emanating from all sides more often than is desirable, so there is good reason to be skeptical.

    Specifically about this letter though, what I find interesting is that from a corporate governance perspective, it is mostly of marketing value as far as Anderson is concerned, absent any directive from the Board, and apparently he does not care two hoots about that. The governance structure is Congress helps populate the Board, which hires President and CEO. The acts of the President and CEO are primarily governed and controlled by the Board. So if the Board feels sufficiently concerned about these letters they can direct the CEO to respond, and if the CEO refuses he will be subject to disciplinary action due to insubordination. What is curious is that the Board has so far not seen it fit to do anything about it.

    The Congress has it in its powers to haul up anybody in front of a Committee and under oath have them answer questions. Eventually they might do that. That is the mechanism that has been successfully used to extract specific promises under oath from Gardner regarding LD trains, and that is the mechanism that RPA has been pursuing with various Congress people. That is how you tie down executives to action with a specific personal risk attached. Perjury or suborning perjury is not a winning formula for anyone, though these days who knows?
     
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  19. Apr 18, 2019 #19

    Rover

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  20. Apr 18, 2019 #20

    jis

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  21. Apr 19, 2019 #21

    neroden

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    Oooooh, Amtrak's dishonest accounting has finally come to the attention of the Senators. This is really excellent. If the Senators are aware of Amtrak's accounting shenanigans, Anderson's hands are tied. He will be totally unable to cut any service without providing real accounting, and he can't provide real accounting until he fixes the accounting system... which will take at least a year. If he actually fixes it, he'll notice that the long-distance trains are mostly profitable.



    This is a "you're lying to us, stop lying" statement. Mr. Anderson may not be long for this job.

    "Why aren't you doing what we ordered you to? When are you going to?" That's a precursor to firing, frankly.

    And a friendly overture, just to make it clear that the Senators are on Amtrak's side... if Anderson supports the long-distance routes.

    This says very clearly that cuts to long-distance routes are unacceptable to the Senators. If we look forward to working with you to preserve and expand the long-distance and state-supported routes, this means if you won't do that, we look forward to working with someone else.
     
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  22. Apr 19, 2019 #22

    Ryan

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    Thanks for the clarification. My mindset is 100% aligned with Jishnu's comments below - there is more than enough malfeasance on both sides, and the fact that you're actually engaging and getting the facts puts you far on the fringe (in a good way!) of the pitchforks and torches crowd.

     
  23. Apr 19, 2019 #23

    neroden

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    Congress controls Amtrak flat out. They can replace the entire governing *structure* of Amtrak if they want to (they have already made some pretty invasive changes over time, including removing all powers from the common stockholders). Takes 1 law to reconstitute the Board of Amtrak and replace everyone on it. Takes 1 law to mandate flat out that Amtrak run a particular service with particular service standards as their top budgetary priority, including ordering Amtrak to borrow money if necessary.

    Contempt of Congress isn't pretty and nobody at Amtrak is crazy enough to risk it (people in certain other parts of the government are, but not at Amtrak). The Board can't insulate Anderson from Congress; previous Amtrak CEOs got fired through direct Congressional pressure, frankly.

    My personal view is that Anderson is a dupe -- he's been fed bogus, false accounting by other people at Amtrak (possibly including Gardner) and because he's from an airline background, he doesn't realize it. There are a lot of ways to do misleading accounting at a railroad. The Class Is mostly use it to make their bottom lines look better. Amtrak uses it, for inexplicable non-reasons, to make their profitable trains look worse. While disguising overhead problems (Beech Grove is NOT an efficient operation, for example, and there's been something seriously wrong at Chicago maintenance since the Pennsy days.) (I think this must be a matter of brainlessness, history, and habit, much like the double-counting of costs at the Milwaukee Road which caused them to shut down their profitable routes and keep their unprofitable routes, going promptly into bankruptcy.) If you haven't spent some time on railroad accounting, you might not recognize the scams.

    Gardner has no such excuse.
     
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  24. Apr 19, 2019 #24

    bretton88

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    At some point Amtrak management has to directly ask these Congress critters this question: "Are we to be run as a business or a government service?" Technically Amtrak is under a mandate to be run like a business, but every time they do something that a for profit business would do, Congress goes up in arms about it. So which is it? Amtrak is finally saying it can't be both ways.
     
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  25. Apr 19, 2019 #25

    neroden

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    Contacted both Schumer and Gillibrand by email asking them to support the letter, and pointing them to the RPA study on Amtrak's fraudulent accounting. I should really contact the staffers directly but I am super super busy
     

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