The Lackawanna Coalition has voted "no confidence" in the leadership of Richard Anderson, President of Amtrak.

Anderson, who spent much of his career in the airline industry, came to Amtrak at the beginning of 2018, and has drawn strong criticism for eliminating food and other amenities on certain trains, eliminating or reducing discounts for such traditionally-rail-friendly groups as students and seniors, and attempting to kill long-distance trains, particularly the Southwest Chief between Chicago and Los Angeles.

The letter sent by the Coalition along with the resolution stated: "New Jersey and the riders on New Jersey Transit's trains have strong reason to be deeply concerned about the future of Amtrak. Most of the riders on the portion of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor line (NEC) through our state and into Penn Station, New York, use New Jersey Transit's trains; many more riders than use Amtrak's trains over the same stretch of track. This applies to commuters, regular riders, and occasional riders alike."

 

While the Coalition's purview is regional and not national, our letter expressed concern that Anderson's plans to shrink the national rail network could have negative consequences for us in New Jersey, saying: "We are especially concerned that, if Anderson succeeds in shrinking the Amtrak network, the result will be a loss of Congressional support for Amtrak, especially among members whose constituents stand to lose their Amtrak train. This scenario would have a detrimental effect on funding for projects that are vital to our region, including new tunnels into Penn Station and necessary 'state of good repair' projects." 

 

Preserving the national Amtrak network may take on even stronger significance for us when the new Congress convenes.  Democrats, who will control the House, are generally more favorable to Amtrak and to local transit than Republicans.  Republicans have expanded their majority in the Senate, and they (like Democrats) are sensitive to the possibility of their constituents losing Amtrak service in their state.  If Amtrak kills a train in their state, they could vote against money for Amtrak, which could adversely affect Amtrak projects in our region.

 

The Coalition is not the only rider-advocacy organization that has declared its opposition to Anderson.  The New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) has urged the Amtrak Board of Directors to fire and replace Anderson.  Nationally, the Rail Users' Network (RUN) has also passed a "no confidence" resolution against Anderson.  It can be found on the RUN web site, www.railusers.net.  One of the options on the site is "About/Join" and it will have a further option of "Testimony & Statements."  The cover letter and Bill of Particulars complaining about Anderson and his policies can be found there.  This writer, who is also a member of the RUN Board of Directors, drafted the original Bill of Particulars, which the Board modified and approved.

 

It began as follows: "Since becoming President of the National Railroad Passenger Corp. (Amtrak), Richard Anderson has made decisions and implemented policies to the detriment of the Corporation and its customers. These acts have threatened to destroy the existing Amtrak network, alienated constituencies whose support is vital to Amtrak, and severely reduced the sort of amenities and services that have attracted the public to rail travel."  RUN went on to criticize him for threatening to destroy its national passenger-rail network, eliminating services and amenities, alienating rail-friendly constituencies and jeopardizing state-supported trains, among other allegations.

 

Both RUN and the Coalition called for Congressional action.  The Coalition sent its letter and resolution to New Jersey's Congressional delegation.  RUN called for the House Transportation Committee to hold hearings about Anderson.  RUN's request was: "Because of the many detrimental actions, in-actions and recommendations which are stated above as well as the other items listed in the attached Bill of Particulars, we respectfully request that Mr. Anderson’s competency be evaluated by the House Transportation Committee before the national rail passenger system further deteriorates and current ridership as well as future growth is destroyed."

 

With action by the Coalition and NJ-ARP, New Jersey advocates have taken the lead in calling for new leadership at Amtrak.  Advocates here and elsewhere in the nation want improvements in Amtrak management that will keep the trains running and improve the customer experience.  It's not only for Amtrak's customers; projects along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor (NEC), like new tunnels into Penn Station, may depend on improved leadership at Amtrak, too.