Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman announced this week that he will retire from the passenger railroad in September 2016.
Boardman has led Amtrak for eight years and has overseen record growth in passengers. The railroad replaced its fleet of electric locomotives on the Northeast Corridor and made plans to replace aging tunnels and bridges on the busy route between Washington and New York.
However, Amtrak experienced its worst accident in decades in May, when a train going twice the appropriate speed jumped a curve in Philadelphia, killing eight passengers.
Boardman has had a long career in transportation. He led the Federal Railroad Administration from 2005 to 2008 under President George W. Bush. Prior to that, he served as transportation commissioner in New York state.
“For those of you who know me, you know a decision like this is something that I spent a lot of time considering,” he wrote in a letter to Amtrak employees this week. “Yet, I think in the railroad business, all of us know when it’s time to retire.”
In the letter, Boardman wrote that he decided to stay on well into the next year to give the board of directors time to select his successor. He also said he wanted to oversee the completion of ongoing projects, including the installation of positive train control, a collision-avoidance system Congress required in 2008.
“As I have said, there is no greater contribution that my generation of railroaders can make to the safety of our industry than full implementation of PTC,” he wrote.
31.6 million Amtrak ridership record, set in 2013.
The system was not installed on the track used by a New York-bound train on May 12. The train entered a 50 mph curve at 106 mph, and derailed. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause, but positive train control is designed to prevent overspeed events. The accident was Amtrak’s worst on the Northeast Corridor since 1987.
Amtrak was planning to complete installation of the system on the Northeast Corridor, which it owns, by the original deadline of Dec. 31. In October, Congress gave Amtrak, freight and commuter railroads until the end of 2018 to finish it.
Other major infrastructure needs loom on the Northeast Corridor. The 1910-era twin tunnels under the Hudson River between New Jersey and Manhattan were damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and will need to be replaced sooner than expected.
Under a plan announced last month, New York, New Jersey and the federal government will share the project’s $20 billion cost. The Northeast Corridor has other needs, including century-old bridges and tunnels that will cost billions more to replace.
Amtrak, created in 1971, has never had a dedicated source of funding and relies on annual operating subsidies from Congress. In the five-year transportation bill Congress passed last week, Amtrak will receive nearly $1.5 billion in 2016, increasing to $1.8 billion in 2018.
In spite of those challenges, Amtrak’s ridership grew under Boardman. It set a record of 31.6 million passengers in 2013.
“Amtrak is a remarkable story,” Boardman wrote, “and it is so because of the people who work here.”