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By Angela Cotey, associate editor
In just one month, Amtrak had three different people leading the railroad.
On Nov. 14, Alex Kummant resigned after serving a little more than two years as president and chief executive officer. The national intercity passenger railroad then named Senior Vice President of Operations William Crosbie interim executive. Eleven days later, Amtrak appointed Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Boardman to serve a one-year term as CEO.
The one-year appointment is unusual, says Amtrak spokesperson Cliff Black, but board members believed Crosbie needs to continue focusing on the “nuts and bolts” of the railroad, while another executive focuses on Amtrak’s future direction.
“Bill Crosbie needs to keep the mechanical and transportation departments humming,” says Black. “We’re also working with the freight railroads and have seen some improvements in on-time performance, so those things need to have hands-on, continued attention.”
Meanwhile, the newly installed Boardman needs to concentrate on reauthorization-related responsibilities. The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 — which was signed by President Bush in October as part of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (H.R. 2095) — provides $13 billion for Amtrak over five years to bring the Northeast Corridor to a state of good repair, encourage the development of new and improved intercity passenger-rail services through a federal grant program, and plan and develop high-speed rail corridors. The bill also calls for improving Amtrak’s on-time performance by empowering the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to investigate if host freight railroads are giving Amtrak trains priority, reduce Amtrak’s debt so it can focus on capital and operational improvements, and mediating disputes between commuter and freight railroads through a STB forum.
“Individually, these are fairly small things, but as seen in the aggregate, it’s very significant and quite complex,” says Black. “It requires a strong understanding of Amtrak’s capabilities, it’s direction and how it all works, and who better to do that than Joe Boardman?”
President Bush appointed Boardman as FRA administrator in April 2005. During his FRA tenure, Boardman served as the U.S. Department of Transportation designee on the Amtrak board. He also served stints as chairman of the Executive Committee of the Transportation Research Board, and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ Standing Committee on Rail Transportation. Prior to joining the FRA, Boardman served as commissioner of the New State DOT for eight years.
Boardman’s one-year appointment is flexible. He could be considered as a candidate for the permanent CEO position, says Black. The Amtrak board will conduct a search in the coming months.