tv Washington Journal Stephen Gardner CSPAN November 25, 2021 2:06am-2:40am EST
trains, planes and automobiles discussion, we are joined by stephen gardner, appointed president of amtrak just about a year ago and first stepped aboard the railroad passenger corporation back in 2009. what does rail ridership look like in thanksgiving 2021? what are you expecting this holiday compared to last? guest: good morning. we are at about 80% of our pre-pandemic volume for this thanksgiving week. it is obviously the busiest week of the year.
it is busier than it has been over the proceed -- over the preceding months. we've been averaging about 60% of our travel demands up to this point, so an increase for this week. host: what are your expectations through the rest of the holiday season? how soon until you get back to 100%? guest: it looks pretty strong for the remainder of the year and through the holidays in december, and probably still around that 80% mark. we hope that over the next two years or so, we can get back to our pre-pandemic levels. obviously a lot will depend on what happens with covid and how things progress, but we do see this year, steady increase and we are hopeful that with the increase in vaccination rates and vaccines for children, that more folks will be able to travel in the new year. host: this year, amtrak is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and also in the
coming year and years to come, you will see a major infusion of cash from that infrastructure law that was signed just last week. the top line number, $66 billion for passenger and freight rail. explain what that means specifically for you at amtrak. guest: it is incredibly exciting for amtrak. it is the launch of a new era of modernization and improvement across the company and across the passenger rail network for the nation. out of that $66 billion you mentioned, about $22 billion is coming directly to amtrak and those funds are for both our national networks all over the country and entering into canada and $16 billion is for that portion of the network, and it
is primarily to modernize our assets. that is equipment, passenger cars, locomotives, our stations, and our facilities, or mechanical shops where we maintain trains -- our mechanical shops will remain chain -- where we maintain trains. around $6 billion is going to the northeast corridor for similar activities in the northeast. that is the main line between washington and boston, where amtrak owns the railroad and we have a lot of big pieces of infrastructure. bridges, tunnels and stations that need to be updated and replaced. the bulk of the remainder is for grants that come through the department of transportation and amtrak and our state partners and commuter partners around the
country will work together to seek funds to both improve assets like those big bridges and tunnels and to expand and improve service, because we've got a bold vision for where rail can do more for the nation and we are excited about the opportunity to work with the department of transportation to get those dollars invested. host: let me give the viewers some phone numbers. we want to get the phone lines to join the conversation. if you are in the eastern or central time zones, (202)-737-0001. if you are in the mountain or pacific time zones, (202)-737-0002. a special line set aside for amtrak writers -- riders. to give you a chance to talk to the president of amtrak,
(202)-628-0205. not everyone is a fan of the funding that went to amtrak. i want to play a clip from michael burgess who was on this program last week. he specifically called out the amtrak dollars in that bill. i want to give you a chance to respond. [video clip] >> if you live in the northeast core door -- corridor and you take amtrak a lot, is going to do really good from this bill but when amtrak was greeted back in the 1970's, it was supposed to be self-supporting but now you have billions more dollars going into the maintenance of amtrak and this is something that they were supposed to be taking care of, themselves by this time. host: mr. gardner, to that point, can you respond and explain how amtrak is funded? guest: sure. we occasionally hear this. it reflects a misunderstanding
about what amtrak is and what we do today. from our original creation back in 1971, it was quite clear even then, that what amtrak was and is, is a federally chartered corporation, created to operate service and initially only operate service merrily over the freight railroads. then we inherited the northeast corridor in 1976. it was always understood that the company was going to need capital investments to modernize its equipment, to take the initial inherited investment and turn it into a modern operation. we work hard over 50 years to achieve that vision. much of what has kept amtrak from achieving broader success
and broader relevance across the country is the lack of investment from congress and the federal government. over all of these years, typically amtrak has requested more than double what it has received in terms of those capital investments, to be able to upgrade and modernize facilities. as congress started to realize, and i think the american people all solve that passenger rail -- all saw that passenger rail was going to become a major part of the tree's rotation system, and the new century and with the rise of congestion and concerns about climate, we started to see more investment at amtrak and as that investment increased, our capital side to upgrade our assets, our output performance got much better. in 2019, we had our best year
ever and in 2020, we were headed towards operating at breakeven. we were looking to maybe make a small profit, and terms of the overall balance between revenue and expenses. of course march of 2020 happened and we lost 96% of our business in one month, and the covid pandemic has defined the travel since. we have made real strides as a company, increasing our ridership and making great investments for the future of the country. but like all transportation modes, public investment is essential. you saw infrastructure bill investments across all modes of transportation because they all require public investment. at amtrak, you see it all in one place, as a crows to -- as opposed to across the aviation or highway system where investments are spread out across different branches of government and different levels.
everything requires investment to support the mobility needs of the nation, and this infrastructure deal for the first time, creates a level of investment necessary for us to achieve the kind of system that america deserves, and that we at amtrak and folks who support rail have long advocated for. host: what is the most important thing to you, to make amtrak the most profitable corporation it can be, or to connect as many parts of america as possible? guest: i think the real reason we exist is to create those trips, to create an alternative to driving and flying in places that rail makes sense across the united states. the federal government did not create amtrak to create a dividend for the treasury. we are here to provide a service and create value. that is our fundamental mission, to connect america, and really make a difference in
communities, whether that is through creating opportunities for economic develop and end jobs, whether it is supporting people's mobility and quality of life. our goal is to fulfill this unique mission to connect people, but to do it with the lowest taxpayer investment we can. we are an entity that is aiming to try and create good economics and deliver service sufficiently, but fundamentally, it is that mission of connectivity that we are here for. host: let me get some callers, including plenty of amtrak riders. thomas is first out of houston for that line for amtrak riders. caller: i've been writing -- riding since the 1960's. but i have to tell you, i ride from houston to california a
lot, and it takes three days. apollo took three days to get to the moon. i think the problem is the tracks you guys use, the freight trains have right-of-way. amtrak has to get off the track and let the freight go through. you need to build a dedicated high-speed rail. that would stop all of that, and it would solve a lot of problems. but it is a great ride. thank you. host: mr. gardner? guest: thank you, great question and great point. we relied, for about 90% of our network, over railroads, other railroads, primarily freight and we are a tenant on those roads. this is an issue and we have a long history of good cooperation with these various railroads, but performance has been a real struggle for many decades now. amtrak by law is supposed to have that right-of-way over
freight trains, but in actuality, that has not often happened in many cases, and today we do suffer from a lot of delays. additionally we have struggles with our various railroads about adding more service, operating on that route you just mentioned, the sunset, seven days a week instead of three days a week. we are working hard with our freight railroad counterparts to create an environment where we can grow together. we think rail needs to do a lot more for america, both passenger and freight. for 150 years, we managed this system together. in normal times, 2200 trains a day in the northeast corridor, including passenger trains and freight trains. it can be done. we have the best railroaders in the world, so i know we can do it, but we need the help of those other railroads and the
federal government to ensure amtrak it's the preference we need, to be able to operate trains on time and speed up that trip. host: on the issue of high-speed rail, china has some 22,000 miles of high-speed rail planned to possibly double by 2035. how many miles of high-speed rail do we have in the united states? guest: in the northeast corridor , we have high-speed rail service of 150 miles per hour and we will be upgrading that to 160 in various locations. that corridor is a little less than 400 miles. certainly not all of it is operating at speeds like that. but with the investment we are getting from the bipartisan infrastructure law, we are going to be upgrading portions of that route. we have new trains coming soon, which will allow us to operate at 160 miles per our and even faster if we upgrade the infrastructure. it is important for folks to
understand that high-speed rail is a mature great technology used all over the world. we absolutely should have it here. california is building a system. we strongly support high-speed rail around the united states but it takes a long time to make these investments. the average system, from construction to completion in europe is about 15 or 16 years to get into revenue service. what we are advocating for is high-speed rail in those corridors where it makes sense but to start with what we've got. america has the largest rail network in the world, but we use it mostly for freight movement. we don't use much of it for passenger. we want to start by adding trains in those markets, where there needs to be more train service. today, with good reliable service, operating at the typical conventional speeds we have, 8200 mile-per-hour and
then we should build out -- 80 to 100 miles per hour and then we should build out. we need to be operating trains in more places right now, if we are going to address climate change, create more opportunity for people. we really believe in this hybrid approach, and that is how it works all over the world. you go nowhere where there is not a great conventional railway system with high-speed that is integrated and works together as a system so that you can accommodate all of those different types of trips. host: we will take you to kentucky. this is bernie, and amtrak rider -- an amtrak rider. caller: big fan of amtrak. we use it for vacation. we've been around the country, even chicago and new mexico, up through california, all the way to oregon. you know the route. we are in kentucky and i understand we will be receiving some funds to upgrade our
system. we have a union station that is kind of in the middle, between union station and chicago and i believe the next railway sit -- railway station is in tennessee. so you have to drive or get to indianapolis to get to the station and once you get to chicago, it is the most beautiful station ever. i'm a big fan. i hope you get to see more trains around here. we could certainly use them. keep up the good work. host: thanks for the call. mr. gardner, do we get more trains out of lavelle? guest: louisville is on our map as a place we would like to serve. we used to surf with the kentucky cardinal, and we would love to come back to louisville -- serve with the kentucky cardinal and we would love to come back to louisville. today, there is no service. similarly in cincinnati, we have no service.
we are not serving phoenix or las vegas. these are all incredibly vibrant communities, growing and we think that they deserve train service because they've got the kind of population that makes sense, and you can connect rail lines to those nearby cities, where rail does its best. the thing that rail does well is those 300 mile or less trips, where we can be competitive with cars in terms of trip time and really provide that convenience and downtown to downtown connectivity. louisville is a great place we would love to serve. it is on our map for our 15 year vision, and we will be working with state all over the country to develop -- states all over the country to develop partnerships that could bring service to louisville and across the south. host: is a grin, ohio on your map -- is akron, ohio on your map? guest: on the map, we have a
real focus in ohio for what we call our three c and d corridor that would connect columbus, dayton and cincinnati and again, an incredible series of cities and obviously amtrak should be serving those cities that are alright in a line, connected with a huge integrated economy, but today we don't. we don't have any service to columbus or cincinnati and we only serve three times a week. host: let me get the bill out of akron, ohio who is an amtrak rider. caller: i am now retired, but i did use amtrak from washington to new york repeatedly, when i was in the business in washington. what i wanted to find out was every now and then, every few years, there is a proposal for
high-speed rail between cleveland, columbus and cincinnati, and they are very vague on how it would be financed. i wonder what role amtrak would play in such a scheme and where the money would come from. guest: thank you. great question. as i said, we have focus in ohio on several routes, because of the number of important cities there. none of which we serve all that frequently and some we don't serve at all. that cleveland, columbus cincinnati route, also looking at pittsburgh to cleveland and then cleveland east to buffalo and cleveland west to chicago, and also toledo and up to detroit. those are all corridors we believe deserve multifrequency
trains every day. today they are served by long-distance routes buttock place -- but a place like cleveland only gets trains in the middle of the night, not the kind of service you can use for these shorter distance trips. for high-speed, amtrak is looking for those opportunities, where high-speed rail makes sense. you've got to have the right level of population and the right level of investment to make a system like that happen. we typically work with states to be able to figure out what service makes sense and amtrak will work with the department of transportation to make this happen. right now our goals are set conventional service in ohio and we can pursue high-speed overtime. -- speed over time. host: this is the amtrak network map, just so viewers understand. the red lines are amtrak service
and the green lines are through a connecting service. can you explain what that is as viewers look at these maps? guest: thruway services are connections with various operators around the country. we connect both with existing lines and amtrak has its own fleet of bus routes, the thruway routes that extend our trips to locations that we don't served by rail. so you can buy an amtrak ticket and travel by connecting bus from a place like louisville up to a city that has a real connection, get on the train and continue onwards. it is a way to extend our network. a lot of those cities that we served by bus, we would like to serve by train and that is an important part of our amtrak connect us vision. i would encourage listeners to take a look at our website,
amtrakconnectsus, and see what we have. host: all available at amtrak.com. we will head to maryland and the northeast corridor. this is rob, and amtrak rider -- and amtrak rider. caller: i've been across country a number of times, from baltimore to portland. as a green minded person, i'm glad that you can bring us -- that you can bring your bicycle on the train. it used to be that you had to put it in a box and pay extra money. now they have a car where you can leave your bike and have it on the train. that is a great convenience for me. the last time we rode was right before covid, and i took my bike out through chicago out towards arizona and back.
it was really nice. if i could say one more thing about amtrak. i was on amtrak coming back from portland during 9/11, it was my second day of the journey. it was a very odd ride, to say it simply. amtrak kept rolling, when all the planes had been grounded. i remember coming through chicago around rush-hour and it was like a ghost town and we had to stay in the terminal, but my train made it on time. it took on a lot more people after that. i would like to say that amtrak is a gem and it is important for our country. thank you. host: mr. gardner? guest: thank you. what a nice remembrance of that
trip during that very tragic time in american history, but it is true, amtrak brings a level of connectivity and transportation options that is different from aviation and the highways. we certainly need all of these, but it is good to have a mix so that people have choices, so that whether it is some of the incredibly significant weather events we've had over the last years, when these things happen, we have more than one option and as we look toward the future and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, which is a huge piece of the problem globally, we've got to find a way to move people in more efficiently with less carbon emissions. amtrak is a great way to do that. across our national network, we are about to percent less emissions than driving -- 50%
less emissions than driving. in the northeast, it is about 80% more efficient. we think passenger rail is a green solution for travel in many corridors going forward. we will need all the different modes, but we appreciate your patronage, and we are glad to have you out on the railroad. host: a trains, planes and automobiles theme on this morning and we are on the first leg of that journey. stephen gardner with amtrak. just about five minutes left. tim out of michigan, good morning. you are next. caller: i was wondering when you will change everything over to electricity. guest: great question. we are looking at electrification in a variety of settings. we have electrified railroads in the northeast, that we inherited
all the way from the 1930's and we have done a lot to upgrade and maintain over the years. we are looking already, at new locomotives and equipment that can use both batteries and diesel power so we have a very flexible fleet that can travel to different parts of the country and make use of different types of propulsion. electrification broadly comes with a lot of opportunity, but also a lot of challenges. we need to think about the routes we share with freight railroads and their infrastructure and how electrification can work in a way that supports their business as well as ours. there are other alternatives out there, as we look to the future for new alternative fuel and other opportunities that could help us electrify the locomotive fleet of our trains. it is top of mind.
we are already purchasing new diesel locomotives that are many times more efficient and cleaner than our current fleet of locomotives. we think about this as an intern platform of proposed -- interim platform of propulsion that as we advance with other technologies, whether it be hydrogen or different fuel-cell options, we are very interested and we are already having to order some at a re-vehicle's we will be able to test and find an even greener way to go. even today, amtrak is much cleaner, even with our diesel locomotives, then flying or driving -- than flying or driving. the best way to reduce greenhouse gases is to ride the train. host: one viewer on twitter wants to know your thoughts on maglev technology. is it possible to do something
like maglev nationwide? guest: mag live has been around for many decades -- maglev has been around for many decades as experiment of technology and from our view, conventional steel rail makes the most sense because it is more flexible. different trains can operate over it. you can certainly achieve very high speeds, 220, 250 miles per hour as the current design speed for high-speed rail. you can get a lot of performance, but the infrastructure and the technology is common so you can use existing infrastructure and stations in major cities. you don't have to build new dedicated cilla teas to enter cities for instance. we think high-speed rail is the more practical option, and there is a huge industry supporting it around the globe, which is important, and that is where we would focus in terms of high-speed.
but we are always open to new ideas. we need to continue to look. amtrak and the united states should be at the forefront of transportation, so we are interested in new technologies that can get those very fast speeds and minimize the impact on the environment. host: one last call. tim has been waiting in indianapolis. caller: i was stationed over in west germany in 1980. we are way behind. i didn't need a car. i walked in the city i was in, down to their train station and i was in stuttgart right on the market plaza. i think we are way behind. traveling that way, i had the time of my life. i think we should pick this up a little bit more. thanks a lot. host: thanks for the call. stephen gardner? guest: thanks tim.
jim -- germany is a great example of what could happen in the united states with this sustained investment. they are investing $14 billion a year in their network, for germany which is a nation of 80 million and obviously a huge piece of the eu, but relatively small compared to the geography and population of the united states. typically amtrak would be invested about 2 billion dollars versus that $14 billion. i lived in germany myself and i can attest to the ease and convenience of that network and the services that make it really easy to get around from small cities to little towns to big cities. we have a lot of places in the united states that have the density and population to do that. not everywhere, but we have hundred 20 million people.
we have not grown our network to meet the new population and the new demands. that is what animates us at amtrak is we want to serve more people, we want to serve more places with more trains and we think doing so can help the economy, create jobs, essential for the environment and does create a great quality of life. host: i know this is one of your busiest days of the year. thanks for starting it with us on "washington journal." stephen gardner, president of amtrak.