A makeover for Amtrak’s long-distance trains

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Good afternoon,

(At left, photo of Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson)

I did not have time to make the trek down to Washington, D.C. to check out the new Amtrak long-distance equipment. But the response from those in attendance appears to be positive.

The government-owned railroad is beginning to replace and refresh its ancient long-distance coach seats, sleeping and dining cars. It held a press event in the nation’s capital to mark the occasion. Earlier, reporters and others got a glimpse of Acela high-speed equipment at a Wilmington event

Dining and sleeping cars date back several decades and rail buffs say the food has never been the same since Amtrak took over money-losing passenger operations of the nation’s railroads.

The cars will make their way to long-distance routes along the nationwide rail system. A few of those trains stop in Wilmington on their way to points south.

The preview marks a long period of steady improvements to the Amtrak system. The government-owned carrier still struggles with shared routes with freight trains in much of the country and members of Congress who want more rail service in sparsely settled areas, but hem and haw over funding.

Put Amtrak on your Google Alerts page and you will see a grim assortment of news items of trains striking vehicles and trespassers – an outgrowth of the lack of dedicated trackage.

The biggest change at Amtrak in the past couple of years came with respected airline executive Richard Anderson taking the top post.

After being instrumental in the turnaround of Northwest and Delta Airlines, Anderson,the son of a railroad worker, could have settled into a comfortable retirement or a consulting gig. Instead, he chose to deal with the political and financial complexities of a rail system that will never make money. (Amtrak is close to making an operating profit, but no passenger railroad ever makes money once you add inthe cost of capital improvements).

Anderson has already ruffled some feathers in questioning money-losing long-distance routes that some blame for the lack of funding on the Northeast Corridor.

He is also taking a close look at the use of company office space. That decision is leading Amtrak to consolidate space in Wilmington and elsewhere.

Anderson says he wants to make Amtrak more responsive to changing markets and economic conditions, a necessity in the airline business

Screening and other hassles with air travel have left Amtrak with astrong business along heavily traveled routes like the Northeast Corridor.

Other opportunities involve attracting millennials as well as retirees who may be willing to spend the extra money required for sleeping cars and leisurely travel.

Anderson comes equipped with a track record of succeeding in a difficult industry. He faces his biggest challenge yet with Amtrak.

Here’s hoping you had a chance to get outside today as we try to get over the Eagles loss.

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