“Let’s go back to the Japanese example again for a minute. What we need then is a high-speed rail going down the center [track,] so you have an express line that goes all the way [to your destination] or that it’s a skip-stop service or that it only stops at certain stops.
“Get those stations off the main line so that you can go very high speed to Philadelphia and stop, but somebody else wants to go to very high speed to Metro Park and stop and then the next stop for them would be Wilmington, Del., or something else. You would have to figure that out from the data that you had and the demand that you had from the public.”
Boardman says that high-speed rail will work, but it needs the density to make money for the railroad and makes sense for the riders.
As we discussed high-speed rail, the topic of being profitable came up again, this time in comparison to other modes of transportation. Boardman was quick to point out a few things about Amtrak, especially in comparison to the aviation industry, which he says isn’t held to the same standard as any other mode of transportation.
Boardman points out that of the U.S. DOT employees — about 60,000 people — 80 percent of them work for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
“50,000 of the 60,000 work for the FAA,” Boardman says. “Is that a subsidy to the airline?”
Boardman says the interstate highway system is similar because while there may be little more than 3,000 federal employees, each state has its own workers employed to take care of the interstate highways.
“The state highway department in New York was almost 12,000 people. And they all get paid for by some level of government or government assistance,” Boardman says.
And Amtrak? It has about 19,000 employees.
“But to be fair, and that number for Amtrak, you have to add the maintenance-of-way workers for the freight railroads. So it’s higher than the 19 when you look at the total number. And [freight companies] have to pay the cost to maintain that Class 4 track, that signal system, everything across this country and they’re not subsidized,” Boardman says.
“Now interstate highways I think [has to] continue, and aviation [has to continue,] but it has to be balanced differently for the future.
“I want to say this carefully because if today aviation decided to no longer fly between New York and Washington, we could not handle the crowd. Sixty-five percent of the crowd that moves between aviation and rail is on rail. And we hear from time to time, and we’re hearing it again now, that aviation is going to go after that market because they want it back again.
“Is that in the national interest? For aviation and rail to really compete on this corridor? For them to spend the dollars to get the customers when aviation shouldn’t be in the 225-mile business?”
Boardman says that in the end what Amtrak wants is to be the connector for America it was designed to be.
“We’re saying Amtrak is America’s railroad. We should be operating the intercity operations, and we’re going to be aggressive and compete for commuter operations if somebody goes out for bid for them and we’re going to connect them.”
And if Amtrak doesn’t get to run the system, then Boardman believes its people provide a valuable asset that can be of service.
“We’re thinking about what are the bundled services we should supply to others? Like the reservation systems and the training and the security and all the things that it really takes to run a railroad and to be a railroad. And those things, we could market those as well.”
Getting a Rail Line
That rail line that Boardman wanted to buy when he was in his 20s? At that time it had to be first offered to the state, then the county, and finally to the city before an individual could put in a bid on it. He didn’t have the patience for that. Since then he has learned to have patience when it comes to adding new rail lines, especially when it comes to working with the states, which we know all too well here in Wisconsin.
“We want to run a railroad. You are our partners if you want to be our partners,” Boardman says.