Amtrak taps another aviation executive to lead the railroad

Mar 2, 2020

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Amtrak seems to see some benefit in remodeling itself in the image of an airline.

William J. Flynn, the CEO of freight carrier Atlas Air, will take charge of the intercity railroad beginning April 15.

Amtrak has been led by former Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson since July 2017. He’ll stick around at Amtrak through the end of 2020 to ease Flynn’s transition.

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Under Anderson’s leadership, Amtrak has become more like an airline, bit-by-bit. Acela first class passengers have been able to select seats in advance since 2018, and the railroad said it plans to roll that option out to more routes and classes of service in the future. For the routes that don’t have assigned seating, Amtrak operates more like Southwest, in that passengers can take any seat on a first come, first served basis.

(Amtrak does not, however, employ Southwest’s grouped boarding procedure, which — at New York Penn Station, the company’s busiest — can lead to a mad dash to the platform when a train’s track is announced, as passengers race to their preferred seats.)

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 10: Commuters board a train at Pennsylvania Station on the first morning of a long planned track repairs at the station, one of the busiest in the nation on July 10, 2017 in New York City. Commuters throughout the New York area are preparing for long delays and the use of alternate forms of transportation as the number of trains into Manhattan is being drastically reduced for the summer work. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.)

Amtrak also introduced more restrictive policies on its cheapest tickets this month, making them non-refundable and unchangeable more than 24 hours after booking.

The railroad has also recently been cutting costs, including by changing its onboard catering practices and considering suspending some low-revenue routes. The New York Times reported that Amtrak will turn a profit this year for the first time in a number of decades.

Amtrak’s board seems confident that Flynn will keep the railroad on its current track.

“Bill is the right executive to lead us into the future,” Tony Coscia, Amtrak’s board chairman, said in a statement. “We’ve never been stronger as a company than we are today. We are modernizing the customer experience and delivering our service to more people. Bill has a consistent track record of growing and improving complex transportation businesses. We are confident he will build upon the strong foundation of record-setting growth and improvement set by the Board, Richard and the entire Amtrak team.”

Flynn also said he’s excited to keep improving the railroad and the customer experience.

“Amtrak’s future is incredibly bright and I’m excited to join the team,” he added in the release. “Amtrak service is vital to millions of Americans across the nation and by improving the customer experience, driving safety, and strengthening our partnership with states and other stakeholders, we can do much more for the American people.”

Among those improvements, the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington will see new Acela train sets introduced into service next year. The updated Acela trains will be more energy efficient and have a higher top speed than the current rolling stock.

Featured photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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