By Noel T. Braymer
CFO stands for Chief Financial Officer. One of the first acts made by Wick Moorman when he came to Amtrak was hiring a new CFO. The CFO is a Vice-President level position. A major roll for the CFO at Amtrak is overseeing Amtrak’s accounting. There have been many questions about Amtrak accounting which doesn’t follow the norms of most accounting systems. Accounting is critical in measuring whether an organization is making or losing money and where it is making or losing money. Without this information it is impossible to know what actions are needed by management to reduce unneeded costs or to increase revenues. Mr. Moorman’s choice of a new CFO says a lot about the problems he found at Amtrak and that the CFO will be crucial to turning around Amtrak.
Wick Moorman chose as Amtrak’s CFO William Feidt. Besides both being from Mississippi, William Feidt also has a reputation for being able to clean up corrupt organizations. In 2013 Feidt was hired as CFO of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. There was evidence that this agency was riddled with corruption and he was hired to take care of it. Feidt’s work studying the books of this agency sent a Director of the Department of Marine Resources, Bill Walker as well as several people on his staff to court and finally to prison. Since this time William Feidt has recently recovered from cancer. It was at this time that Moorman approached Feidt. It appears that recruiting Feidt and Richard Anderson, former CEO of Delta Airlines as Amtrak’s next CEO are central to Moorman’s plans for turning around Amtrak before he steps down as a CEO at the end of the year. Central to turning around Amtrak will be controlling costs and increasing revenue.
One project that Feidt supports is extending Amtrak service along the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Florida, likely as an extension of of the City of New Orleans. Some of this interest in expanding service is it would serve the region he is from. But it also suggest that Feidt sees increasing service and ridership is needed to covering Amtrak’s costs. Amtrak is also looking at other service improvements such as extending the Heartland Flyer north of Oklahoma to Kansas and connections to the Southwest Chief. There are also plans to extend service on the Chief to Pueblo, Colorado.
It appears that the best hope for expanding service on Amtrak is with the BNSF. They are still a railroad, but within reason they are willing to cooperate with Amtrak to expand rail passenger service on their road. This is not true of all railroads. Three projects that should have priority at Amtrak are Gulf Coast service plus daily service on the Cardinal and Sunset. The problem here is Gulf Coast and daily Cardinal service depends on the cooperation of the CSX. With the new president of the CSX Hunter Harrison, the last thing he wants to deal with are passenger trains. His efforts to streamline the CSX for increased profits have so far left the CSX a mess. As for daily service on the Sunset that will depend on the cooperation of the UP. That is at best a slow process. It remains to be seen what the long term affects will be on the Sunset Route after Hurricane Harvey.
The choice of both Feidt as Amtrak CFO and Anderson hold promise of a stronger and better run Amtrak. This will depend on expanded and better service for more income. This will also require more and newer equipment. It will be interesting to see starting next year what the new team at Amtrak will attempt and be able to do.