(Understand What is Schemed at the Potomac Impacts California)
By Rail Provocateur/M.E. Singer
Although we can certainly rejoice that the incessant guest op-eds and editorials in RAILWAY AGE in recent months have finally served to smoke-out Amtrak from its closet; however, the synthetic response crafted for Amtrak’s numero 2 guy, Stephen Gardner, EVP, was far from offering a palpable rationale. His answers to the specific issues raised by Frank Wilner and William Vantuono of Railway Age, myself, and others, attempted to provide a calm perspective exclusively relying upon data. Frankly, this was more reminiscence of Robert McNamara’s total reliance upon the same such maligned data to send us into Vietnam; but could not ever acceptably explain why Ho Chi Minh would accept the loses; not buckle. As Max Hastings so interestingly surfaced in his detailed book recently analyzing the war, VIETNAM, Lyndon Johnson blindly approached Ho Chi Minh just like another politician, but was dumbfounded when his offer to finance a very important and expensive bridge for North Vietnam was rejected.
In respect to history, I am very concerned how our attention has been diverted and unfocused from the actual battle that lays ahead. Just as we cannot forget how General Giap succeeded to divert Westmoreland’s attention from the NVA build-up to launch the Tet Offensive (31 Jan 1968) by attacking Khe Sanh, its surrounding hills, and areas within Northern I Corps, serious rail advocacy (beyond the foamers and self-righteous hanger-ons in their blogs) may have been lulled into a similar situation. As much as I stand ready with my detailed pushback for RAILWAY AGE responding to Gardner’s tepid foray into the real world of media and criticism, my sense is that we have been ignoring the real issues beyond the false idols that are taking up positions to thwart us.
It should be apparent Amtrak’s CEO Anderson was not selected by Amtrak’s Board because he appreciated an equipoise in our transportation; or understood the role rail could play to enhance mobility and economic development; or, if he even had a sophisticated understanding of transport history in America. Instead, I believe Anderson was personally selected to fulfill the role of “Peter’s Principle” by ensuring Board Chair Coscia’s plans would be facilitated as Coscia worked in concert with New York’s Senator Schumer and other clout heavy Northeastern politicos to subvert the National Network of Amtrak. This scheme required to focus all Amtrak players on the sacred NEC; to divert federal funding intended for the National Network to shore-up and subsidize the deficit-ridden NEC. If this action was not merely an attempt to protect the free ride of the Northeastern states with bi-directional trains scheduled every 30 minutes, what else could it be in the minds of such noble political figures and their batman at Amtrak? In reality, given that the NEC is actually but one contiguous expanse of real estate development, as every local politician understands, and in particular Amtrak’s Chair, formerly the chairman of the Port Authority New York New Jersey, Coscia required a CEO to willingly be under his cape; pretenders to the CEO throne to act as a “Mitlaeufers” (German for “hangar on or follower”).
If Coscia, who motions with a hand gesture to open and close discussion, was really interested in carrying out his intended duties and committed to running a National Network, he had plenty of time to evidence such commitment since he took the Board chair in 2013. In essence, instead of calling for Anderson’s dismissal, we should be garnering evidence to throw out Coscia and disable his plans. As for Gardner, he is simply a “yes” man doing Coscia’s bidding; eager to finally move-up on the ladder, not realizing the ladder is sinking in quick sand. Although Gardner was quick to offer a “pill” to destroy the National Network, blindsiding Anderson to accept the foolish concept of bus substitution midway on the “Chief’s” route, Gardner serves at the Board’s behest to throttle Amtrak’s national mission.
Sadly, what is working in parallel to these agents of doom are the powers motivated far more than to embrace and save the Amtrak National Network. To ensure the political payoff for developing Hudson Yards and Sunnyside in New York, New York’s Governor Cuomo already initiated his move to assume Gateway without Amtrak’s involvement. Notice the growing parallels between Gateway and the Amazon HQ2 in New York–no auditing to verify target dates to be met and on budget; or to prevent “slippage” of funds to include outsiders to benefit from real estate deals.
However, lurking over these clout heavy politicians and their minions on Amtrak’s Board tearing at Amtrak like sharks attracted to chummed water, is the Congressional Budget Office on budgetary options released 13 December (https://www.cbo.gov/budget-options/2018/54773). I sense the persistent diversions indicated above succeeded to deplete our attention and energy from this “elephant in the tent.” Unlike past years when it was assumed how Congress would protect Amtrak, and even increase its budget, we could be in for an unexpected 180 turn in 2019. Just as we have witnessed this president suddenly change his mind; not accept the status quo or advisors opinions; turnout his senior experienced cabinet, we cannot forget what silently lays out there unnoticed. As the federal deficit continues to grow we should remember that back in late October, 2018, Trump had declared his war on federal waste, starting with every agency giving back 5%.
This CBO report gives credence to Trump’s war on federal waste to enact the decapitation of Amtrak. Yet, note the priorities of Congress which just passed a $5 Billion subsidy for sugar and a $862 Billion farm subsidy. Given how Amtrak is against the wall, do not be so quick to write-off this CBO report, now paralleling Trumps’ desire to cut federal costs, other than favored subsidies, given these facts not in Amtrak’s favor:
1) A Board loaded with political hacks with no apparent field of expertise to shepherd Amtrak, but approved by Coscia to not restrain his real estate development bidding. The last good Board member was Yvonne Brathwaite Burke from California, who refused to sell her soul to Coscia and left. What sits on Amtrak’s Board now like bumps on a log has been deliberately selected not to outshine Coscia; certainly unknowledgeable and incapable to defend Amtrak before Congress
2) The best managers were forced out with buy-outs or lay-offs, destroying the historical knowledge base and depth of the company; replaced by outsiders paid top dollar simply to learn the business.
3) Critically, the revolving door of management never learned from how Mr. Claytor successfully ran Amtrak, realizing higher revenues could not be achieved by cutting trains, but rather, by increasing the number of trains. Claytor’s formula for revenue gain was proven each time Amtrak chose to cut trains: revenues decreased; costs increased. If only Amtrak had enlightened stakeholders who would have objected to the stubborn actions of such an uninformed monopoly.
4) Today, management bonus is predicated on cost-cutting, which explains why the long distance trains have so severely suffered; no inducements to state-supported corridors to expand frequencies; routes.
Given this pathetic posture, how is any business deemed viable and sustainable in this receding economic environment when its sole objective is to cut costs; not build revenue and grow; a staid corporate culture, uninspired by a CEO planning his next move to be Secretary of Transportation under a Democrat administration elected in 2020? Imagine what Anderson would do to Amtrak as Secretary of DOT, if the CBO recommended cuts and Trump’s war on waste don’t swing the hatchet first? Wonder what the cancellation terms are in Amtrak’s contract with Siemens for those 75 Chargers..?
I do not mean to ‘curse the darkness and not light a candle;’ however, how do we paint a positive spin to the facts that Amtrak is being eviscerated by a Fifth Column on its Board. Such members who were trusted by the public are focused being in cahoots with the clout of Northeastern politicos they have worked with since all were singing on corners of Brooklyn, Bronx, and Queens? Accountability and transparency are simply words to use in Scrabble games at Amtrak HQ’s break-room. Sadly, so many older railfans and foamers have a limited focus to ridiculing the perception of others; further evidencing their inability to “think out of the box” by still complaining about the lack of shoeshines in sleepers.
To have faith in Amtrak, we have to be able to embrace its leadership, respect its competency, understand its vision. Currently, that’s a very long slog. Indeed, the mantra can be in respect to Pogo, who said: “We have met the enemy, and it is us!”
With my only family (my daughter) living in Spain, I hope each member/reader enjoys Christmas with their family!