Amtrak’s Best President in Years Fired

Yesterday, Amtrak’s board of directors fired Amtrak president David Gunn.

Here’s something unusual about this firing. David Gunn actually was the best thing to happen to Amtrak in years. He improved the physical condition of the railroad’s equipment, raised ridership, cut costs, and even ended this year with a net surplus despite a crippling brake problem on Amtrak’s high-speed Acela equipment that took the entire fleet out of commision for most of the summer.

The Amtrak board knew this too, and even testified to that fact before Congress a few months ago.

The board, though, is made up of Bush appointees. You might remember that Bush’s budget proposal contained a plan to bankrupt Amtrak as a way of “reforming” it. That failed to pass Congress, and David Gunn failed to be incompetant.

So you have the odd case of firing David Gunn for improving things on the railroad.

Yikes. I will be so glad when this administration is gone.

32 thoughts on “Amtrak’s Best President in Years Fired

  1. Like most things at Amtrak, David Gunn was just a bunch of spin and hype created by Amtrak’s own Govt. Affairs Department.

    Raise ridership, yea on routes where they almost giving the tickets away.

    He did not “restructure” the company, he just shuffled the good old boy’s around and gave them raises.

    Amtrak’s management philosophy is “kingdom building”, not worry about running the company like a business.

    Mr. Gunn protected this age old good old boy structure in Amtrak without improving anything.

    Good bye to bad management. Hello to a BRAVE new effort by Mr. Mineta to finally address our Govts CASH COW!!!!!

    Reply

    jgoerzen Reply:

    You must not have been really paying attention.

    David Gunn *fired* many of the “good ole’ boy” people that Warrington and earlier presidents had appointed. He halved (or more) the number of vice presidents in Amtrak.

    Amtrak *eliminated* the routes that had the cheapest tickets and lowest ridership under David Gunn, including the Kentucky Cardinal. Amtrak ridership has been up so much on the northeast corridor that a steep fare increase has been implemented under Gunn.

    Why do you call Amtrak a “cash cow” when it gets an annual government subsidy of less than $2 billion, whereas highways and air get government subsidies much closer to $100 billion each year?

    If you want to cut all the federal subsidies for roadways and air transport as well, then you might have an argument to cut the small subsidy for Amtrak.

    Next time, please be an informed poster.

    Reply

    Anonymous Reply:

    I am an “informed poster”! He did NOT make management cuts they were/are just an illusion!! The same people that had the VP titles are STILL there!! Their salaries were inflated around $20,000 to $30,000, with their new titles of Supts. etc.

    CASH COW IS EXACTLEY WHAT IT IS, AND GUNN PERPETUATED THAT.

    Fact is, the current management structure cares less about running Amtrak like a GOOD, prudent,, business. They only care about protecting and growing their individual kingdoms.

    Examples,

    Jay McAruthur, Jacksonville Supt
    Travis Hinton Chicago, Supt.
    Don Saunders,-Chicago
    Kevin Scott,-Wilmington
    Joe Wall-Jacksonville
    Ed Walker-Washington et al.

    They all goT huge Raises, while continuing to abuse the system. under Gunns management/direction. NOTHING CHANGED, it only got worse!!!!!!!!!!

    It is an abuse of the taxpayers to have give our hard earned money to this CASH COW. It has continued for too long. Finally someone is trying to improve our National Rail system!!

    Reply

    Mark Turner Reply:

    A “cash cow” is defined as something that is profitable. Amtrak certainly is not. All non-toll highways and bridges the federal government has helped fund have proven equally profitable.

    Sounds to me like Gunn helped clean up Amtrak, counter to the wishes of the current Administration.

    Bush has already destroyed the airline industry. He’s now got his sights on passenger rail. I, too, can’t wait until this clown is out of office.

    Mark Turner

    Anonymous Reply:

    (This applies to the anonymous poster, not Mark Turner)

    You are uninformed, and posting anonymously at that, so you are not even willing to put a name to your comments.

    Let’s look at a few things.

    On this page, they mention that Gunn cut the number of vice presidents at Amtrak from 84 to 22. These figures are documented plenty of other places as well, and completely fly in the face of your entire argument.

    Here’s an article from Harvard Magazine about it.

    I have seen no information about raises for managers, nor any information about whether the managers you mention deserved a raise. It would be folly to assume that managers don’t deserve a raise simply because they’re managers.

    Quite simply, you do not have the facts on your side.

    Anonymous Reply:

    My understanding is that Gunn “cut” the number of vice presidents by simply changing their titles. This move was aimed at addressing “title inflation,” as Gunn called it. That incident does not refute the argument of the anonymous individual you are replying to.

    jgoerzen Reply:

    It’s true that not all of those people were fired. (Though there was quite a spate of “resignations” of senior Amtrak people a little while back.)

    But again remember too: nobody is perfect and I didn’t say Gunn is. But look at who came before: George Warrington, who lied to Congress about the financial state of Amtrak. At least Gunn has been a straight shooter.

    Anonymous Reply:

    With the help of Gunn and his program. The programs with disabilities are able to enjoy the excitement of travel. Many are not able to travel without the help of AMTRAK. Also some are incapable to use airlines because of their disability. AMTRAK is focusing on this program.

    BRE Reply:

    You left out Joe Deely, this guy got fired from the bus company that hired him after he left Amtrak. Then the bus company fired him and one of the good ole’ boys felt sorry for him and hired him back. Now he’s terrorizing the Pacific Div along with his boy-toy Steve Shelton. These two guys have ran the Pac Div into the ground.

    The other big time Amtrak loser is, Ron Robusto, he alone has cost this company millions and millions with his ridiculious do nothing programs. Those that say we don’t have are facts right need to do some research. The GAO has it exactly correct Amtrak management is inept and has failed. Amtrak neeeds someone that is an old time railroader who can work with the home roads, labor and the state agencies.

    jgoerzen Reply:

    That’s exactly what Gunn *is*.

    jgoerzen Reply:

    There are plenty of good — and bad — apples at Amtrak at all levels. I’ve seen that myself — wonderful and pleasant on-board staff to the occasional surly one.

    You can’t pin all that on Gunn, though. He doesn’t make every hiring decision for the railroad. Not only that, but much of Amtrak labor is unionized, making it very difficult for the railroad to fire them.

    I suppose there may be accurate findings in that GAO report somewhere. In general, it seemed to be an ill-informed hatchet job by an administration insider, though. Much of their suggested cost savings can be trivially shown to be not a saving at all, and plenty more of the “waste” they identify are things that you need to have in order to have a functioning long-distance passenger railroad. Yes, in any organization the size of Amtrak, there is waste, and yes, it should be fixed.

    But Amtrak has been saddled with mismanagement ever since Nixon created it and appointed someone who did his best to shut it down as the first president. Some incompenant, some malicious, and plenty of downright slimeballs at the top of Amtrak. It is a wonder that it has survived this long on its tiny subsidy at all, and more amazing still that Gunn managed to actually end the year with a small surplus despite all the hits to its bottom line Amtrak has had this year.

    I ride Amtrak enough to notice the effect of things Gunn has been doing, and while there are still plenty of things wrong with Amtrak, he has been making an improvement.

    Think about it: if you were brought in to lead an organization that has been mismanaged for 30 years, how do you find the bad managers and get rid of them quickly without causing harm to the organization itself? It’s not like you can just go ask someone if person y is a bad manager; everybody could have their own biases or their own reason to protect someone.

    jgoerzen Reply:

    There’s more on the GAO report here.

    Sampson Reply:

    Why was my comments edited?? Because I spoke of Gunn’s boy toy Crosbiee??

    Anonymous Reply:

    The post(er) wants to so badly blame anyone but Amtrak for it’s failure. Many of us are feed up with this administration, senate, congress, etc. Yes it is time for change, but it is also time for this abismal company (Amtrak) to be restuctured into something that works!!

    Amtrak is a “cash cow’, continually taking money without any responsiblity.

    Gunn spun bs just like most of the past so called leaders of Amtrak. They land in a govt. appointed position and protect themselves at all cost, screw running it like a company.

    Amtrak for decades had been about good old boy’s building kingdoms, not running a solid operation.

    Most of the upper management staff like, Ed Walker or Travis Hinton, or Lynn Beberian, or Bill Crosbiee, or Don Saunders, or Joe Wall, or Steve McClarty, could not hold a job at McDonalds flipping burgers!!

    Gunn ran off any competent managers and chose instead to recreate the old stovepipe Amtrak, run on testoterone and butt kissing.

    The GAO is on the money. Dismantle, privatize, maybe sell to the Ritz Carlton and get some real serivce leaders instead of butt kissin, brain dead drunks like Brian Rosenwald!!!

    Amtrak is known for retaining its loser workforce and Gunn, in fact, perptuated that more than any other leader.

    Simply put, Amtrak is not run like a true business!

    Anonymous Reply:

    Job Reference #50214567
    Amtrak – Multiple Locations – Senior Director, Cust. Svc. Eff. 11/8/05

    Position Title: Senior Director, Customer Service Field Operations
    Department: Customer Service
    Location: TBD
    Posting #: 50214567

    INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL APPLICANTS

    SUMMARY OF DUTIES: The Senior Director oversees and directs the
    field implementation of policies, procedures, and service elements
    defined within the Department and the Corporation as strategies,
    goals, and objectives for Customer Service. The incumbent works
    directly with Transportation department senior management and
    through frontline Station and Onboard employees to advance a
    comprehensive program to instill quality and consistency of customer
    service in all aspects of Station and Onboard Service operations.
    The incumbent works closely with departmental corporate staff to
    integrate and coordinate strategic initiatives, service standards,
    training programs and policy development with day-to-day field
    operations across the Customer Service and Transportation department
    field organizations. The incumbent will develop and implement the
    Customer Service department service delivery program elements,
    including monitoring, coaching, mentoring and disciplining of
    frontline employees delivering customer service. He/she will serve
    as liaison to operating department field personnel and stakeholders
    to communicate the vision, strategic mission and goals of the
    Customer Service Department.

    EDUCATION: Must have a Bachelors degree in Business
    Administration, Transportation, Management or an equivalent
    combination of education, training, and work experience.

    Advanced degree in Business Administration, Human Resources,
    Management or related field preferred.

    WORK EXPRIENCE: Must have extensive experience in customer service
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    Demonstrated leadership skills.

    PREFERRED WORK EXPERIENCE: Experience in employee development
    and/or training logistics. Experience in customer service
    management within an organization delivering transportation service,
    ideally in Amtrak.

    OTHER REQUIREMENTS: Incumbent will be required to present
    programmatic material to large, cross-functional work groups in
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    COMMUNICATION AND INTERPERSONAL SKILLS: Excellent communication
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    SUPERVISORY RESPONSIBILITIES: 2 direct and 20-30 indirect.

    TRAVEL: 50%

    Salary Range: $70,400.00 – $160,000.00 / Annually
    Salary Band: D2
    Last Date to Apply: 2005-11-15
    Years of Experience: 10 – 20
    Specialty: Customer Services
    Employment Type: Direct Hire, Full Time
    Travel Requirements: High
    Relocation Benefits may Apply: Yes
    Classification: Non-Agreement
    Referral Bonus: 1800 pts

    Anonymous Reply:

    Mr. Gunn only reshuffled the good old boy’s into new tiles with higher pay. The rest of his stick is spin!!

    Mike Reply:

    Anonymous, I can see why your posts are such.

    You sit here and rant and rave about Amtrak being a “cash cow”…There is no greater “cash cow” than the administration (Bush) that is trying to dismantle Amtrak.

    Gunn was NOT fired for incompetence, but rather for actually trying to make gains for Amtrak where past presidents have failed…and he had done so well.

    Your whining over Amtrak’s pittance of a subsidy should be applied to the HUNDREDS of billions being p***ed away on this stupid occupation of Iraq.

    Let’s be real here;
    The REAL reason Gunn was fired because he was not cooperative with board chairman David Laney’s and the Bush Administration’s goal to kill Amtrak’s unions and privatize Amtrak’s on-board service.

    It is true that Amtrak is way too top-heavy with butt-kissing inefficient managers and because of this, the loyal and dedicated on-board staff suffer…THEY are the first ones to be cut when “reform” is spoken of.

    Amtrak is just a microcosm of what is happening to this entire country…a government subsidized program benefitting the public that is targeted by corporations that neither care about service nor about this nation as a whole.

    If these crooks in the White House and Congress are not voted out of their un-checked power come November 7, 2006, “God BLESS America!” will be replaced with “God HELP America!”

    jgoerzen Reply:

    Amtrak is not a business and when Warriongton attempted to run it like one, he very nearly destroyed it. The fact that businesses could not run passenger rail service speaks volumes about this. Attempting to run Amtrak like a business is folly, and those in the administration that think it can be run like a business seem to have succeeded in convincing you that it is possible. It is no more possible than running the U.S. State Department like a business or running the GAO like a business.

    Amtrak is continually beholden to the shifting whims and lack of long-term thinking of Congress and the administration, and in the unique noose of being a cross between a government division and a private corporation. Not only that, but for some reason, rhetoric seems to think that Amtrak should be able to turn a profit for the federal government, whereas the vastly larger sums that are spent on air and road travel aren’t expected to earn a return for the government.

    No business in the country operates like that.

    Now then, you assert that Amtrak has been a good old boy’s network for “decades”. You also blame this on David Gunn. David Gunn came out of retirement in *Canada* in 2002 to take over Amtrak. I find it extremely implausible to think that all these people that have been at Amtrak for decades are Gunn’s cronies.

    jgoerzen Reply:

    I should add this:

    Considering what Amtrak does, it is not possible for it to turn a profit.

    If you shoved costs of the FAA, airport construction, and other infrastructure onto the airlines, it wouldn’t be possible for them to turn a profit either. The airline industry as we know it wouldn’t exist, for that matter.

    “Run it like a business” is so nebulous that, considering that it’s not possible for Amtrak to make a profit, seems like nothing but a rhetorical device to me.

    What, specifically, are you asserting was within David Gunn’s power to do, that he failed to do?

    Also, I never said that Amtrak was a sterling corporation. In fact, if you had read my other comments, you would have seen how I highlighted management problems at the top of the corporation back to Nixon, and if you had searched this blog for other Amtrak posts, you would have seen me highlight other management issues.

    What I did say was that David Gunn is one of the best presidents Amtrak has ever had, and that it was a politically-motivated mistake to fire him, and I stand by that.

    Bernice Reply:

    Jgoerzen, By your logic we should just continue to give 1.2 BILLION a year to a group of people who have NO accountability.

    mmmmmmmmmmLet the good old boys build some more kingdoms.

    The majority of person/people running this disfunctional corporation could not hold a real job in the real world.

    The GAO is finally correct!!!

    jgoerzen Reply:

    No comments on this site have ever been edited.

    I do not appreciate such ad hominem attacks and will not tolerate them.

    Bill Duggan Reply:

    You are soooo on the money, what is Robusto up to now??? You have seen the complete abuse of the American system. Big bubba’s playing railroad and politics.

    Who/was is the biggest butt kisser in Amtrak?? Al Edelston kissing Lee Bullocks butt??? Jay McCarthur and Danny Abboud racing to see who copuld kiss Al Edelstrons butt the quickest?? Kevin Scott (too much drama , and lawsuits there), Brian Rosenwald kissin Don Saunders butt???? Travis Hintons kissin whatever butt of poewr passes??? No it must be Jon Tainow kissin Bagleys butt??? Poor good old boys…………………………

    Anonymous Reply:

    Clearly, the individual making the comments about Mr. Gunn being a “good old boy” has virtually no understanding of Gunn’s background and skills. Ask the employees of TTC, MTA and SEPT about Mr. Gunn’s Harvard Business school skills. Verses Mr. Mineta who is owned and operated by his old private sector employers, the airline industry, and wants to end all public support of passenger rail. Look for Hailberton to become a rail operator of what is left of Amtrak, so that Bush can give more public funds back to his contributor buddies. Bigger airports is what we really need, right Mr. Mineta…you crook.

    Reply

    BlindBrian Reply:

    hmmm,
    how dumb is rosenwald. he promotes a troubled woman from fla. she writes numerous anonymous letters to the president of amtrak about him. she trashed him at every chance, tries to get him terminated, let see, but she kisses butt, and he promotes.

    brian only wants yes people around him, too bad, that is why amtrak is such a failure. more wine please, tax payers expense….

    Reply

  2. Who are you Amtrak-hating people?!?

    Reply

    Anonymous Reply:

    No one hates Amtrak myrtl, just calling the company for what it is.

    btw: The GAO report is not “politically motivated”. And that is why Gunn was so deservedly fired!

    Reply

  3. I am an Amtrak union employee. I have not had a raise in 7 years. By law, we are not allowed to strike. I work in the transportation dept. and I can tell you there has been much discussion in the past and present concerning a “mark-off” day. That is, when all of the employees call off sick on one day in particular to shut down Amtrak for a day. Thus costing the company millions and stranding our passengers. Fortunately, we employees care about the passengers and know they depend on us, so we have not made this drastic move as of yet. However, the day is approaching. Unless something changes, May 17th 2007 will be the first day this occurs this year. We need to pay our mortgages, the high cost of gasoline and keep food on our tables too. Amtrak management has received 3 raises of 3% or more over the past 2 years. On top of that, Amtrak management allows for up to 10% of thier 401k contributions to be matched by the company while the union employees get nothing. As far as a reduction in management goes… It’s a laugh. All they do is put a new label on the postion and move people around. As a matter of fact, they (Amtrak Management) prefers “restructuring” – they get a new title and a RAISE! The union employees are the only ones that care about this railroad and its passengers. You want this railroad to work better? Please help the agreement employees get a fair wage! We are payed up to 30% less than most other passenger railroads!

    Reply

    Anonymous Reply:

    New Asst Conductors: $15.55 per hour
    After 1 year (80%): $16.60 per hour
    After 2 years (85%): $17.64 per hour
    After 3 years (90%): $18.67 per hour
    After 4 years (95%): $19.70 per hour
    After 5 years: (100%) $20.75 per hour

    Who in their right mind would enter this kind of poverty unless they were independently wealthy or actually enjoyed helping passengers and running a railroad?
    Get it over with and make it a government entity with federal oversight – the Inspector General is the only “real” oversight due to ticket sales, but the good old boys/girls hiring process continues without reproach from anyone but AMTRAK “management”.
    Vicious circle, indeed!!!
    Can anyone else respond with some AMTRAK HRO examples? I know it’s not just the east coast that hires/promotes based on “other than” qualifications.

    Reply

    BlindBrian Reply:

    how dumb is rosenwald. he promotes a troubled woman from fla. she writes numerous anonymous letters to the president of amtrak about him. she trashed him at every chance, tries to get him terminated, let see, but she kisses butt, and he promotes.

    brian only wants yes people around him, too bad, that is why amtrak is such a failure. more wine please, tax payers expense….

    Reply

    Amtrak Reply:

    Frank Lapp
    Dan Small
    Nancy Clark
    Don Saunders

  4. What is your point about Lapp, Small, Clark and Sauders? They are all former managers, but other than that the circumstances of their departure are different.

    Reply

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