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Amtrak's New CEO Talks Transportation Under Trump

An Amtrak train passes through Elizabeth train station in March 2016, in Elizabeth, N.J., along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor. (Mel Evans/AP)
An Amtrak train passes through Elizabeth train station in March 2016, in Elizabeth, N.J., along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor. (Mel Evans/AP)

Charles “Wick” Moorman took over as president and CEO of Amtrak in September.

Moorman tells Here & Now‘s Meghna Chakrabarti about his plans to chart a course for Amtrak’s future growth, and what Donald Trump’s infrastructure spending plan might mean for improving and modernizing the railroad network.

Interview Highlights

On whether Amtrak could have a role in Trump’s infrastructure plan

“I certainly believe that Amtrak could be a part of it, and should be a part of it. As we move more and more into a world where there are more and more people who think that train travel is a desirable alternative, and I think the president-elect certainly understands the importance of Amtrak, coming from New York as he does. And I also believe that the critical Amtrak projects — and in particular the so-called ‘Gateway’ project, which involves access into New York City — is something that he understands the importance of.

“We have spoken with members of [Trump’s] transition team… Those conversations were really talking about the importance of Amtrak in general, but then the importance of investing in an infrastructure that’s absolutely critical to the economy of the northeast, and in many cases is 80 to 110 years old.”

On Amtrak’s top priorities

“Our top priorities in the Northeast Corridor are clearly the replacement of this critical infrastructure. If you look across the broader Amtrak network, we have an aging car fleet, and an aging diesel locomotive fleet, and they clearly need to be… not only kept in good repair, which we do, but ultimately replaced, and that’s significant capital funding. But while I talk about that, let me also just mention the very good news, and that is that Amtrak has secured funding for the next generations of high-speed trains on the corridor — the Acela replacements. And that contract has been let, and work is underway on those trains, and we will be getting delivery of those in about four to five years. We’ve also replaced our electric locomotive fleet on the corridor, which is a significant step forward in terms of reliability.”


On train travel vs. air travel

“You have a big price differential when you look at the cost of the ticket alone, but when you consider the fact that, instead of going to Boston South Station in the middle of town, you’ve got to make your way to Logan Airport. And then once you arrive in Washington you have to make your way in from National or Dulles. From a time standpoint, we’re very competitive, and from a cost standpoint, we’re much more competitive. And that’s why when you look at travel in the Northeast Corridor — be it Boston to New York, or Washington to New York — Amtrak has the dominant market share, we’re the convenient, comfortable way to go. And as we like to say, ‘You don’t have to take your shoes off, and there is no middle seat.'”

On differences between freight railroading and passenger train travel

“They’re very different in some ways, and they’re very much the same in others. Clearly, hauling people is a lot different than hauling containers, or automobiles, or coal. And the customer requirements are clearly different as well. But, at the end of the day, the things that it takes to run a good freight railroad are, by and large, the things that it takes to run a good passenger railroad. And so, as I’ve stepped into this role and looked around, I’ve been able to bring a lot of my experience, and actually have brought a few folks in to look and see where we can improve the railroading side of Amtrak.”

On why he’s optimistic despite a lack of funding for high-speed rail

“I’ll give you a great example. The new Acela replacements we have — which will be capable of higher speeds, and we will have incrementally shorter schedules on the corridor… but they’re also a better train. So I think we’ll be able to grow substantially just through offering this superior product on the Northeast Corridor. And as you look around, be it the states, be it the corridor, even in some instances with long-distance trains, it’s not necessarily that important that you have go fast, fast, fast everywhere, you just have to be reliable, you have to offer a great product, and you have to tell people something I think they’re inclined to believe anyway, which is that travel by train is a great way to go.”

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