Sunday, November 16, 2008

Turning Point

Passenger Rail, like a train poised at the switch ready to take one track or the other, will be rolling onto a different track as a result of the events of this month.

First, the pundits say that the administration of President-Elect Obama is likely to be much more pro-Passenger Rail than several of its predecessors. This is based in part on Joe Biden, who is seen as pro-passenger in part based on his voting record, but mostly because he likes to ride the trains himself. It is also based on the undisputable fact that Mr. Obama came up during the campaign as more knowledgeable as to the potential of Passenger Rail in general and HSR in particular.

Today, it appears that Rep. James Oberstar is the likely choice for Secretary of Transportation. Whether this is 'change' or a step forward is arguable. Mr. Oberstar's voting record in the House is to support Amtrak reauthorization, to vote against reductions in funding, but never, as far as my research can find, to take a positive forward move in sponsoring any legislation that would get Amtrak and Passenger Rail over the hump to where it should be in this century.

The next development is the resignation of Alex Kummant as CEO of Amtrak. This writer was thoroughly skeptical about Mr. Kummant when he came on board. I have been pleasantly proven wrong. But he also had the luck of the draw, with Amtrak ridership increasing as a result of high fuel prices, giving him extra revenue to work with. Now that gas prices are falling, will ridership stay at this level?

My guess is that Mr. Kummant has trained his executive team well, and the interim CEO William Crosbie will carry on some of the same policies. Also my guess: President-Elect Obama will likely appoint a new CEO from outside Amtrak.

That's not a bad thing. In the spirit of change that the recent election is supposed to have fostered, I am hoping that whoever it is will agree with Secretary-in-waiting Oberstar and with the new Congress on the direction Amtrak should take. I think we would all have to agree that the only 'change' that would be good for Amtrak and good for the country is increased funding for train frequency, equipment, on-time performance, service, and new routes - without the redundancy of Congress repeating over and over, year after long year, that it thinks Amtrak should make money.

Mr. Oberstar - if you are appointed as expected - and Mr. Obama . . . the train is running on your track now. Please don't derail it at the switch.

©2008 - C. A. Turek -
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