NARP: Just Another Audience to Amtrak President.
The first two days of the annual Spring meeting of the National Association of Railroad Passengers are almost over and, with something like 120 attendees, it is the most successful in NARP’s history. Yesterday was spent with meetings, panel discussions, and preparation for today, when we all disbursed on Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress as advocates for more and better and faster trains.
The guest speaker at lunch yesterday was Joseph Boardman, president and CEO of Amtrak and there had been a great deal of speculation about what we might expect from his speech. Hopefully, we would get some real insights into the difficulties he has faced trying to run a national passenger rail system with 535 members of Congress and a politically appointed board of directors all telling him what to do.
It was not to be.
Boardman began by telling us this would be the third time he has delivered this particular speech. More than a few of us were taken aback by that comment because it meant we were essentially being blown off as just another audience. Once he got into his speech–which he read from rumpled sheets of paper–it was clear his remarks were indeed intended for audiences that don’t know a helluva lot about passenger rail.
He was, however, speaking to people who are very well-informed on this subject . . . members of a 50-year-old organization who came here from all over the country at their own personal expense and are spending the entire day today meeting with their senators and representatives urging more support for Amtrak, the chronically underfunded railroad of which Boardman is the president.
Joe Boardman has announced that he will be retiring in September. Clearly, it’s time.
Given your recent report re the inconsistencies of on-board services and the continuing inconsistency re the non-GAAP claim re the “profitability” of the Northeast Corridor, it is easy to understand the inconsistent culture of safety that regrettably defines Amtrak today.
If NARP is so good, then why is it that I have had a long running issue with the NARP staff concerning unprofessional treatment that I received from the thankfully outgoing Board Chairman Rob Stewart.
I got absolutely nowhere with the staff members that I was in contact with, especially the useless Abe Zumwalt who talked to me in a patronizing manner. All I wanted was a personal apology from Mr. Stewart, both in writing and in the NARP Newsletter, but instead all I got was bureaucratic white noise of a condescending nature. Also, I received in the mail solicitations from NARP for donations and “be a NARP Leader”. What unmitigated chutzpah!
I have no knowledge of whatever incidents you’re talking about and can only say that over the past several years I have found both Bob and Abe to be competent professional and very decent people. Having run the Complaint Department for the City of Honolulu for nine years, I can say that sometimes people just have to agree to disagree . . . and move on.
A commentary by a passenger railroad management professional about Unsafe Joe’s speech before the wide-eyed (and many naïve) at the NARP meeting:
“(This was) almost the exact speech he gave last Thursday at a railway-association meeting in New York (Metropolitan Railway Club, your stock-standard get-together of railroaders, engineers (civil, mechanical, etc) contractors and lobbyists). Very low-key, not especially well-received, and pretty much the same speech.”
Those at NARP who paid $50 a head to hear Unsafe Joe speak were also disappointed that he did not address the biggest issues facing Amtrak now: the budget shortfall that is causing a cash flow problem, first estimated at $100 million for the fiscal year and then escalated to $130 million and climbing…and SAFETY, SAFETY, SAFETY.
Perhaps if Amtrak had not spent $70 million on their outside-contractor “Safe-2-Safer” program (under which Amtrak’s death/injury rate has CLIMBED from the very year of implementation), they’d have that much less a money shortage, and cash flow problem?
Whoa! First, I think I made it crystal clear that Boardman began his speech by specifically stating he had delivered it twice before. Furthermore, on two or three occasions during the speech he departed from his text to expand on several of the points, including Amtrak’s pending financial difficulties.
Second, I have no idea where you got the idea that NARP members or anyone else paid $50 to hear Boardman speak. That is simply not true.
Third, your characterization of NARP members as “wide-eyed” and “naïve” is both inaccurate and insulting. NARP has been revitalized by a competent active and involved board of directors and our talented and dynamic president and CEO, Jim Mathews.
Finally, while I welcome comments to this blog, I reserve the right to edit or simply trash those that are inaccurate, disrespectful, too long, or just badly written.
I got that $50 number from a member of the NARP Council (he actually said that was for advance sales; walk-up would be $60. If he was in error, then I am, too. My apologies if so, but it rang true, because for a reception to honor Bob Stewart, outgoing NARP Chair, he quoted “$55.00 per person – Includes Hors d’oeuves, Select Beverages, Entertainment and Cash Bar.”
NARP *has* come a ways since the termination of its former and longtime CEO. But NARP has not seriously challenged Amtrak on the SIlver Starvation No Dining Car policy, for one thing. I do hope NARP can be a more prominent force in passenger rail advocacy and not just a “partner” of Amtrak. But with the significant number of state Council seats unfilled, can it, really?
There was a $50 contribution asked of those who wished to attend a reception in honor of Bob Stewart, who’s terms as board chairman are up. It was entirely voluntary, of course. The fifty bucks covered an open bar, some light snacks and a gift for Bob. To quote a famous punch line from a TV commercial of yore: Where’s the beef?