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New Amtrak CEO has Texas ties, but can he save state’s Eagle route?

Amtrak’s incoming boss has Texas ties, but can he save long-distance passenger rail service in the state?

Richard Anderson, 62, a veteran airline executive who most recently ran Delta Air Lines, will take the helm of Amtrak — the nation’s only coast-to-coast passenger rail service — on July 12. He arrives at a time when its long-distance trains are once again on the proverbial chopping block.

This spring, the Trump administration unveiled a proposed budget that boasted a $1 trillion infrastructure investment, but also $2.4 billion in cuts to aviation, rail, transit and other mobility projects. The rail cuts would include elimination of Amtrak long-distance routes such as the Texas Eagle, which serves Fort Worth daily with trains running north to Chicago and south to San Antonio.

Anderson was born in Galveston, where his father worked for the old Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (now part of Fort Worth-based BNSF Railway). He also graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law.

Outgoing Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman said that it’s too early to say whether Amtrak’s long-distance routes can be saved, but that if anyone can make the case in Washington it’s Anderson.

“What Richard Anderson brings to the table is deep knowledge of passenger markets and an understanding of the transportation marketplace,” Moorman told the Star-Telegram in a phone interview. “That’s going to be critical as Amtrak moves forward.”

Amtrak serves more than 500 train stations in 46 states.

Amtrak officials are already making the case that cutting routes such as the Texas Eagle won’t save as much money as some critics might think, because of the ongoing costs of employee labor, rail car fleet maintenance and other expenditures.

“When you get into long-distance trains, there are big losses but it’s because of allocated costs — and those costs don’t go away if you do away with the trains,” Moorman said.

Diverse experience

Anderson was CEO of Delta Air Lines from 2007 to 2016. He was executive vice president at United Healthcare from 2004 to 2007 and CEO of Northwest Airlines from 2001 to 2004.

“It is an honor to join Amtrak at a time when passenger rail service is growing in importance in America. I look forward to working alongside Amtrak’s dedicated employees to continue the improvements begun by Wick,” Anderson said in a statement. Moorman and Anderson will serve as co-CEOs through Dec. 31, according to a news release.

Moorman, former CEO of Norfolk Southern, took the helm at Amtrak about a year ago — with the intention of staying only long enough to put the nation’s only coast-to-coast passenger rail line into more permanent, capable hands. He will stay on with Amtrak as an adviser.

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