Retiring Amtrak chief foresees 'more robust' US rail system

Retiring Amtrak chief foresees 'more robust' US rail system

Retiring Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman foresees a "more robust" U.S. rail system after his tenure at the national passenger railway comes to an end later this year. 

“What I see for the future of Amtrak is a much more robust national network system. That’s where Amtrak really started," he said in an interview with NPR's "Here & Now" show. 

"It started back in 1971 because the freight railroads, which were just plain railroads at that time, by the way, they had freight traffic and passenger traffic," he continued. "At that point in time, they weren’t making any money on passenger rail — we’re not making money on passenger rail today either. So that’s a common issue around the world." 

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Boardman said Amtrak has grown a lot in four decades, and he predicted the company would continue to grow in the future as rail travel becomes more popular in the U.S.  

"I could think of myself as the mayor of Amtrak," he said. "The mayor of a pretty big city every day. With 84- or 85,000 people in the city. And we’re moving that many people every day up and down the corridor. We have to do that and provide food, drinking water, sewage, police service. 

"We are a very different railroad than anybody else you could really think of," Boardman continued. "And the communities around where we operate really depend on us. They see it as absolutely necessary across the country. That’s something that Amtrak is going to continue to do in the future.”

Boardman announced his plans to retire in a letter to the agency's employees in December.

"At the meeting of the Amtrak Board of Directors this week, I informed them of my intention to retire from Amtrak in September 2016," he wrote then. 

"At that time, I will have served nearly eight years as the president and CEO of our company," Boardman continued in the letter. "When I look back at this time, I see so many accomplishments and so many changes we made to make America’s Railroad a stronger, safer and a more important part of our nation’s transportation system." 

He said in the interview this week that Amtrak still has a lot of work to do, especially in its heavily traveled Northeast Corridor. 

“If you’re just looking at the Northeast Corridor — and if you’re really just thinking about the infrastructure — it’s getting to be 100 years old, whether it’s tunnels or whether it’s some of our bridges," Boardman said in the interview. "We have a new funding bill. We’re seeing very positive opportunities to make real improvement and real investment for the future in the specific infrastructure of the Northeast Corridor.”

Boardman said he is confident in the safety of the nation's railways, despite a pair of accidents that occurred in 2015, including a high-profile crash in Philadelphia that killed eight people. 

“The safety exists whether it’s with Metro North or whether it’s with Long Island Railroad or Amtrak," he said. "And I think that’s important for people to understand.”

Boardman predicted the next Amtrak chief would have to have a business background in addition to having experience running railroads.  

“Amtrak is changing a bit, in terms of its development and business acumen," he said. "There has to be a CEO who understands that, who sees the kinds of investments that are going to be necessary for the future, the different business models."

He cautioned that any Amtrak chief would have to remain focused on safety, however. 

"That CEO can’t forget that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing," Boardman said. "And that is to run these trains safely with good customer service and keep the national network together. It doesn’t work any other way, it needs to be connected.”