Amtrak management issues

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Good articles.

 

SteveSFL

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We complain about how Amtrak has been mismanaged by former Airline Execs — well check out the linked article that chronicles what’s been happening at the once-proud Australian air-carrier Qantas. It sounds like they are suffering a perfect storm of personnel and equipment shortages, maintenance issues, and low morale.

Much of the blame is being laid on the CEO, who continues to rake in a $104 million salary while the company loses hundreds of millions of dollars.

It’s interesting to see some parallels in how Qantas and Amtrak misread the pandemic—apparently Qantas was not expecting travel to return to normal until mid 2023.

 

zephyr17

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Amtrak's management cannot be expected to have a roster of serviceable equipment and planned maintenance and inspection under the current labor shortage. That would be asking far too much of them. Any competent management team elsewhere would be similarly unable to plan under these intolerable conditions, wouldn't they?[/sarcasm]
 
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John Santos

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Amtrak's management cannot be expected to have a roster of serviceable equipment and planned maintenance and inspection under the current labor shortage. That would be asking far too much of them. Any competent management team elsewhere would be similarly unable to plan under these intolerable conditions, wouldn't they?
Yes, but what created the labor shortage in the first place? Amtrak management laid off large numbers of employees (including maintenance people) and then couldn't hire them back because they retired or got other jobs. If they had them (especially the maintenance people) instead working on the backlog of deferred work, they wouldn't have the car shortage they have now. (I don't know about OBS, train crew and dispatchers, but I suspect they would be easier to train than the mechanics, electricians and plumbers by hiring experienced people from hotel and cruise ships for OBS and from freight and commuter rails, which ALSO laid off lots of train drivers and dispatchers.)

This all comes down to less than competent management.
 
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Yes, but what created the labor shortage in the first place? Amtrak management laid off large numbers of employees (including maintenance people) and then couldn't hire them back because they retired or got other jobs.
Well in fairness that is not SOLELY responsible for the labor shortage. They would still have a labor shortage, perhaps not as bad, even if they had avoided layoffs due to the general state of things - tons of people retired during the pandemic and that was a worldwide phenomenon and the surplus of jobs and labor shortages across the economy is a recipe for a lot of turnover - they've lost a lot of people since and there continues to be turnover. If you have a bad day and you're in the service sector you can get a new job almost instantly. Having said that those furlough and equipment storage decisions certainly didn't help matters ESPECIALLY on the mechanical side (Where they should have tried to hold on to as many people as possible.) One can also blame Congress for that along with management as the management at least did offer a legislative "out" which Congress declined to take.
 

zephyr17

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Well in fairness that is not SOLELY responsible for the labor shortage. They would still have a labor shortage, perhaps not as bad, even if they had avoided layoffs due to the general state of things - tons of people retired during the pandemic and that was a worldwide phenomenon and the surplus of jobs and labor shortages across the economy is a recipe for a lot of turnover - they've lost a lot of people since and there continues to be turnover. If you have a bad day and you're in the service sector you can get a new job almost instantly. Having said that those furlough and equipment storage decisions certainly didn't help matters ESPECIALLY on the mechanical side (Where they should have tried to hold on to as many people as possible.) One can also blame Congress for that along with management as the management at least did offer a legislative "out" which Congress declined to take.
Of course they cannot be expected to keep a roster of serviceable equipment and assign it based on maintenance schedules that take into account current staffing levels. So they could at least say that, say, the SW Chief will only provide checked baggage service on Thursday and Sunday Chicago departures, or baggage service is withdrawn on the SW Chief, but will continue on the Zephyr.
Heavens, planning and providing any level of certainty to customers would be far too difficult for any management team under these conditions.
 
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Of course they cannot be expected to keep a roster of serviceable equipment and assign it based on maintenance schedules that take into account current staffing levels. So they could at least say that, say, the SW Chief will only provide checked baggage service on Thursday and Sunday Chicago departures, of baggage service is withdrawn on the SW Chief, but will continue on the Zephyr.
Heavens, planning and providing any level of certainty to customers would be far too difficult for any management team under these conditions.
If the sarcasm is directed at me it isn't really necessary I'm not in disagreement. While yes we are where we are on the operational/labor situation at this point they certainly could be better about how they handle it with customers if there truly is an insurmountable situation. I am not in disagreement on that. Those examples you mentioned would both be better approaches then what they are doing.
 

rs9

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Not to derail (pun?) this thread, but my take on Amtrak laying off employees in the pandemic is that this is a societal-wide issue, not just Amtrak. When we as a country face economic downturns, we expect labor to take the brunt of it, not capital. Sure, it would be nice if Amtrak had been bold enough to be different - but I'm not going to necessarily blame our country's attitude toward workers solely on Amtrak.

The Nov. 17 resumption date is a bit confusing - Amtrak's website for the Southwest Chief reflects 11/19 as the first date for a booking from Chicago without the alert appearing. I guess it's a positive that Amtrak anticipates having service back soon.
 

zephyr17

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Not to derail (pun?) this thread, but my take on Amtrak laying off employees in the pandemic is that this is a societal-wide issue, not just Amtrak. When we as a country face economic downturns, we expect labor to take the brunt of it, not capital. Sure, it would be nice if Amtrak had been bold enough to be different - but I'm not going to necessarily blame our country's attitude toward workers solely on Amtrak.

The Nov. 17 resumption date is a bit confusing - Amtrak's website for the Southwest Chief reflects 11/19 as the first date for a booking from Chicago without the alert appearing. I guess it's a positive that Amtrak anticipates having service back soon.
Well, that assumes some competent planning. That doesn't appear to be in current Amtrak management's skillset.
 

rs9

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Managements hearts just aren’t in the game. They’re inept, they may or may not be sabotaging the long distance trains but it’s obvious either way they just don’t seem to care.
At this point, there is a stated end to the lack of availability of baggage cars. That does suggest that Amtrak isn't trying to sabotage these routes but rather the staffing issues are still a major issue.
 

west point

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This is just a suspicion. FRA rules are that the brake systems of cars have a hard overhaul time of 5 years 0 months or less. That can be noted on the brake cylinders stensiled COT&S . ( Clean oil test and stensil ). Unfortunally that usually means replacement of many parts that have shrunk to or will shrink below minimum specifications. V=2 Baggage cars appear to beat the 5 year limit.

Now is it possible that for whatever reason replacement parts for the system is not available. Mayb class 1s proactively bought up all parts delivery positions. Someone with more knowledge ????
 

AmtrakFlyer

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I’m of the view towards incompetence mixed with legitimate operational challenges rather than conspiracy/malicious intent.
How far does incompetence have to go before we seriously start talking about needing new management? I ask that with all due respect because you have great level headed posts but at the same time give the benefit of the doubt most of the time. Obviously it’s not going to happen anytime soon but at least we can talk about it.
 
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How far does incompetence have to go before we seriously start talking about needing new management? I ask that with all due respect because you have great level headed posts but at the same time give the benefit of the doubt most of the time. Obviously it’s not going to happen anytime soon but at least we can talk about it.
People talk about that and say that on here all the time and I understand - it's a frustrating time right now and there have been some bone headed moves over the last few years. It's just not really my thing - I'm not really a very judgmental a person I'm more pragmatic perhaps to a fault. Why? I try to look at all the perspectives and put myself into others' shoes. I don't have all the information on what Amtrak's challenges and limitations are and I feel it would be presumptuous for me to say this or that person deserves to be fired with the information I have - I'm not on the Amtrak board and I don't work there in a position where I'd have access to that information to determine who is to blame for this or that. Do I think there's incompetence at Amtrak? Absolutely - it's kind of a strange beast stuck between public and private sector with limited accountability and as such has all the issues facing both private and public entities. It's an organization ripe for bureaucracy, politics, and yes a degree of incompetence. But it's tough to gauge right now what can be blamed on decision making and what is the result of workforce and supply chain limitations or both and what degree of either. Most of my current management criticism would be on the reservation and IT side of things and on how they communicate with customers. I am very supportive of advocacy efforts for a more representative board, more accountability and transparency in the organization, and more oversight from policy makers and the Amtrak OIG. But it's up to those people to judge whether Amtrak managers need to be fired or replaced - my opinion is irrelevant and futile so I just don't really go there.

I also try to be somewhat realistic as to what to expect from a potential management change. Amtrak as that hybrid beast cannot pay what the private sector does and doesn't have stock options to offer and as a result is at a competitive disadvantage searching for big executive talent. The pay is more in line with the public sector and as such is more likely to attract people largely from that realm, and as we know DC is disfunction junction right now, or from lower level private industry managers (as they don't pay enough to attract the big dogs). I think the most likely result of a big purge at 1 Mass Ave would be more of the same or possibly worse - I think expecting a Claytor to come in and save the day is unrealistic. All one has to do is look at where the Class I railroads are right now - would we really want any of those clowns? I think it's easy to say fire them all - but then you have to hire someone. That's why I think the best thing advocates can do is push for accountability and oversight and push the issue of the board.
 
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But it's up to those people [policy makers and the Amtrak OIG] to judge whether Amtrak managers need to be fired or replaced - my opinion is irrelevant and futile so I just don't really go there.
Sigma, when have the policy makers and Amtrak OIG ever intervened and shaken up management in any productive way? I'm gonna guess the answer is "very rarely."

I think that your thoughtful opinions, and those of other regular folks who care about passenger rail, are the only opinions that have ever made a difference.
They key here is that our opinions must be expressed to our elected officials.

If we wrote our elected officials half as often as we complain on message boards it might be whole a different ballgame (and I'm looking at myself in the mirror with that comment).

TLDR: "Go there" LordSigma! :)
 
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My main concern is if they do a horrible job with the financials after the current situation is fixed we could see Congress agree to train offs. Right now Covid can be used as cover by RPA and Amtrak to excuse what is bound to be horrible long distance numbers. Two years down the road probably not so much. With Gardner and as of now the entire BOD NEC centric I have no doubt they would throw the long distance trains under the bus even if exaggerated losses were in part caused by their leadership. That’s the dilemma I see.
 
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My main concern is if they do a horrible job with the financials after the current situation is fixed we could see Congress agree to train offs. Right now Covid can be used as cover by RPA and Amtrak to excuse what is bound to be horrible long distance numbers. Two years down the road probably not so much. With Gardner and as of now the entire BOD NEC centric I have no doubt they would throw the long distance trains under the bus even if exaggerated losses were in part caused by their leadership. That’s the dilemma I see.

RPA is not going to accept train offs and certainly not going to make excuses for them. Amtrak has publicly acknowledged via news articles that they have not been able to run as many cars due to staffing. So they wouldn’t be able to turn it around and say people aren’t riding.
 
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This plays right into the discussion. Wonder if he is willing to serve on the board again? Mississippi is as a red a state as they come and there’s 3 red seats open still.


“Ride the trains unannounced and individually. See the same service your customer does. Ride lines other than the Northeast Corridor, and more than once. Leaders like myself and David Gunn knew what the company’s workforce and riders needed to thrive because we used the service we were providing nationwide. We moved our monthly board meetings out of Washington two or three times per year and traveled there on our trains.Talk to the crews. Ask what they need. Ask them what it’s like to work an entire train alone. Talk to coach passengers who are not allowed to purchase meals from the diner if they don’t carry cash or if delays cause passengers to board after food service has ended. Many of them, especially along lower-income, more rural sections of the national network, do not own a credit card. Eat the food on the trains, which is often unhealthy and undesirable. Focus on long-distance service. We’re seeing an increase in remote work, so business and commuter passengers might not come back to riding Amtrak. But long-distance passengers have proven their desire for more frequent trips.”

- John Robert Smith, former Amtrak Board Chair
 
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toddinde

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Amtrak's management cannot be expected to have a roster of serviceable equipment and planned maintenance and inspection under the current labor shortage. That would be asking far too much of them. Any competent management team elsewhere would be similarly unable to plan under these intolerable conditions, wouldn't they?[/sarcasm]
I take it your comment is tongue and cheek. Maybe I spent too many years in the Army, where you can rarely expect perfect conditions, but you still have to accomplish the mission. Of course you can organize your equipment, maintenance and inspection under any personnel issue. You set your priorities, and you do what's possible. All companies in the US have faced the same situation. I fly often, and while I know there have been problems, I have had none. If the airlines can do it, so can Amtrak. Also, we know that Amtrak did not listen to advice given during the pandemic, and did nearly everything wrong. Despite having money, they still furloughed their skilled workforce, and gave buyouts to their entire human resources department. They did everything they could to bust organized labor and privatize their workforce where they could leading to poor service in their reservation center and privatizing the commissaries as part of the whole silly dining car fiasco. There is no excuse for Amtrak's decisionmaking during the pandemic, and continuing now.
 
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