New CEO Richard Anderson Outlines His Vision For Amtrak NPR's Robert Siegel interviews Richard Anderson, former head of Delta Airlines, who has been recruited to lead Amtrak during a period of major renovations.

New CEO Richard Anderson Outlines His Vision For Amtrak

New CEO Richard Anderson Outlines His Vision For Amtrak

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NPR's Robert Siegel interviews Richard Anderson, former head of Delta Airlines, who has been recruited to lead Amtrak during a period of major renovations.


When we heard here in the past from Richard Anderson, he was CEO of a venerable and very successful American company, Delta Airlines. His new employer is a little different. He is now co-CEO. And next year, he'll become the sole CEO of Amtrak, a company that is often modified by words like ailing and troubled. Richard Anderson joins us from, appropriately, Penn Station on Manhattan's West Side. Thanks for joining us once again.

RICHARD ANDERSON: Thank you, Robert. It's nice to speak with you again.

SIEGEL: When we say Amtrak is ailing, we mean the infrastructure is old. It doesn't have the high-speed rail lines that other industrialized countries have. Is Amtrak fixable at its current size and with a billion dollars of annual net loss?

ANDERSON: First it's not a completely fair characterization to say that Amtrak is broken because it's really not. It provides very reliable service to over 30 million people a year. Now, it is true we do not, except for Acela, to have high-speed rail. That's a choice we've made in the United States, a choice that's been different in some of the European countries and countries like Japan and China.

SIEGEL: Was that really a good decision, or was it just an inability to make a decision in favor of high-speed rail?

ANDERSON: Well, we have made the decision with respect to the Acela service between Washington, D.C., New York and Boston. And Amtrak is soon to operate 20 next-gen, high-speed trains in the corridor.

SIEGEL: Although, I think I can hear some listeners hearing you say, wait a minute. I've been on some fast trains in France or Japan. And the Acela might be able to go fast, but it only knocks about a quarter of an hour off the ride between Washington and New York. It just doesn't seem to be comparable to what other countries have done.

ANDERSON: Well, it isn't. But that doesn't mean we can't take the infrastructure that we have and improve our track speeds, where we offer a product that's competitive with cars and buses because that's really, in some sense, what we compete against.

SIEGEL: I'm curious about your transition from Delta to Amtrak. When you were at the airline, you were CEO of a company that did very well. You made some very interesting strategic decisions. Does being CEO of Amtrak provide an opportunity for executive decisions like those, or is it more about day-to-day management and persuading the government to do more to continue support of the system?

ANDERSON: It's really all of the above. It's the opportunity to make decisions that will improve the accessibility for urban areas around the U.S.

SIEGEL: You've spoken of serving cities and urban areas. I mean, are you saying, in effect - perhaps this is - the deed's been done already - that real, long-range intercity train travel is finished. We're talking about much shorter-range train trips.

ANDERSON: Well, when you say long range, Amtrak long range means over 750 miles. And where we see the most growth over the last couple of decades has been in routes under 750 miles, like Milwaukee to Chicago, Detroit to Chicago, San Francisco to Los Angeles down the coast. When you think about infrastructure in the U.S., we have become a very urbanized society - less reliance on automobiles, more reliance on public transportation. There's an important role for Amtrak to play. And that's actually been one of the fastest-growing parts of this business and represents over half of Amtrak's passenger traffic annually.

SIEGEL: You know, Mr. Anderson, finally, I realize I have the opportunity to put this to the CEO of Amtrak, which has been bugging me now for for years and years and years. When I take the train from Washington to New York and back, in Washington, it tells me what gate the train is leaving at. I go there. I sit. And then I get in line. And we board the train in an orderly fashion.

When I come back from New York, the track that the train will be on is only announced moments before boarding. And there's a mass scramble of dozens, if not hundreds of people, to get in front of the right stairs at Penn Station, where you're speaking to us. Can Amtrak fix the way people board their trains in Penn Station one of these days?

ANDERSON: I have my assignment from you, Robert.

SIEGEL: (Laughter). I'll hold you to it.


SIEGEL: Richard Anderson - for now, co-CEO of Amtrak. Thanks for talking with us.


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