Ask Richard Anderson CEO of Amtrak
Since his tenure as CEO, Anderson has made it a priority to allow a open line of communication amongst employees and management. On the internal portal, are a few of the questions and answers from town hall meeting and submitted questions.
On workplace safety (Stephen Gardner):
“Preliminarily in FY18, some of the improvements we have achieved are a 15% reduction in FRA-reportable injuries; a 5% reduction in grade crossing and trespasser incidents; and about a 35% reduction in rule violations. Those are all good trends and trends we need to continue. The Safety team thinks that much of these improvements are attributable to the greater focus all of you have shown around safety, including improved processes for injury reporting and investigation; more communication, both between employees and between managers and employees; a new root-cause analysis process; and greater focus on safety briefings and additional road foremen in the field.”
On our financial performance (Bill Feidt, EVP, Chief Financial Officer):
“We had record earnings this year. Our operating loss is going to come in slightly under $150 million, which beats our target by over $15 million, and represents an improvement of $30 million year-over-year. I thank everyone for their hard work and for staying focused on delivering results.”
On implementation of our safety management system (Stephen Gardner):
“We are set to deliver to the FRA our system safety program plan on November 1. This is a plan that will lay out and describe our SMS program and our efforts to improve safety. We’re the first railroad to deliver this plan. We're doing this so that we can drive both improvement here in the company and also begin collaborative efforts with the FRA to move our system forward.”
On the status of positive train control (Stephen Gardner):
“We have over 10,000 miles of PTC in service as of this week, a major accomplishment. BNSF, UP, Metrolink and CSX are all interoperable at this point. And BNSF and Metrolink are 100% rolled out across their networks. We plan on rolling out another 2,000 miles this week, which will essentially finish the West Coast. We’ll turn to working with Norfolk Southern and North County Coastal Service and continue to roll out CSX with the hope of having CSX and NS lines completed by this Thanksgiving. We’re also working toward having our ITCS system in the east portion of the Michigan corridor turned on this Thanksgiving. This will give us PTC, but also set the stage for our 110-mile-an-hour operation for that portion of the route. We’ve also begun operating the Midwestern Charger locomotives with PTC installed. Scot Naparstek and his team are working diligently to move forward and get us prepared for January 1. We want PTC on all of our routes for all of our trains, and while this may take some time, our mitigations will help move us forward in that direction.”
On updating our fleet (Stephen Gardner):
“We are aggressively moving toward getting the locomotive contract in place. We intend to go to the Board in November with a recommendation and plan on signing the contract for new long-distance diesel locomotives by the end of the calendar year. We’re actually slightly ahead of schedule, and we’re comfortable that we’re going to get a great product for the next 30 years on the National Network. We have completed the RFI (Request for Information) for the trainsets for the passenger cars, and we’re reviewing that information now. We are aiming toward a goal of putting the RFP (Request for Proposals) out for those trainsets by the end of the calendar year. These are exciting projects that will really mold the future of our company.”
Are there any plans to design something that could interact with Google/Alexa to check train status, buy tickets, etc. with voice?
Tim Griffin, EVP, Chief Marketing Officer: We are deploying train status on Alexa in FY19 Q2. We will monitor and gather feedback to determine the value and effort of providing full booking functionality toward the end of the fiscal year.
Do you have any feedback or suggestions regarding how the new social media customer care team can best impact customer satisfaction?
Kerry McKelvey, VP, Marketing: The team has been doing a great job using our social media channels to communicate with our customers and provide timely and accurate service information. As we continue to see an increase in customers communicating with us through social media, we’ll rely on the team to effectively resolve customer inquiries through this channel. The more positive experiences we can create on social, the more we’ll see that reflected in our satisfaction scores.
What has been the public reaction to seat assignments on Acela First class?
Tim Griffin: Mixed, candidly. Generally positive as we're working through some of the operating issues. And it kind of breaks down as you would expect. Parties of two who board at intermediate stops are the biggest fans of seat assignments because they were the most vulnerable to not getting reasonable accommodations previously.
Why does it take so long to get a vacant job posted to start the hiring process? Are there any plans for streamlining this process?
DJ Stadtler: Posting a vacant job should not take a long time, and in fact we have made significant changes to streamline the process. Depending on the specific job and situation, there may be reasons why the process took longer than you may have expected. We continually look for opportunities to make the process more efficient. I recommend if there are particular issues you are having, please contact a Human Resources representative.
I have heard there will be another buyout package for management employees this year–is this true?
DJ Stadtler: There are no plans to offer another management buyout package.
This year my 401(k) started showing a Safe Harbor Contribution for the first time instead of the Employer Contribution. What exactly is a Safe Harbor Contribution and why did Amtrak change to it?
DJ Stadtler: “Safe Harbor Contribution” is a technical compliance term that certifies that our 401(k) plan satisfies the non-discrimination rules for elective deferrals and employer matching contributions. There were minor tweaks made to the plan (clarifying vesting schedules, and also providing better definition around the availability of hardship withdrawals) for 2018 that brought us into compliance. When we made those minor changes, the "title" that employees see on their 401(k) paperwork went from "Employer Match" to "Safe Harbor Contribution," but nothing has really changed from the employee's perspective.
Why was the Caremark CVS Pharmacy plan changed effective July 1? Maintenance prescriptions are no longer honored by independent pharmacies – only CVS, Target and via mail order. Our family has had seven prescriptions denied, and we are now forced to change pharmacies. This was done with absolutely no notice to us whatsoever. Is this to be expected behavior in the future?
Robin McDonough, VP, Human Resources: The implementation of the Mandatory Maintenance provisions under the Amtrak plans was communicated with the 2018 Annual Enrollment Communications in October and November of 2017. CVS was also scheduled to send out letter communications directly to plan participants. We are following up with CVS to address any gaps in their communication and any impacted members will be notified directly. As of April 1, 2018, medications for chronic diseases are subject to a limit of three 30-day fills at retail, after which time refills need to be moved to a CVS90-day refill which can be picked up at any CVS pharmacy or via CVS/Caremark mail order. Greater discounts apply when receiving maintenance refills via CVS90 and/or Caremark mail order channels, saving money for both you and the Amtrak plans. In addition, research shows that improved adherence to doctor’s treatment plans, including adherence to taking medications as prescribed, can result in better health outcomes. While the availability of a prescription is not a guarantee of improved adherence, studies show on average, efforts to promote availability can have a positive impact on adherence and overall health. As a reminder, in addition to the mandatory maintenance, Amtrak also implemented an evidence-based provision effective April 1, 2018 for certain chronic condition medications. Specifically, generic prescriptions for diabetes and hypertension are available at no cost and brand drugs for these conditions are available at half the applicable coinsurance or copay level.
Would Amtrak consider using more professional medical facilities for required company physicals and drug testing? Almost all the company approved facilities are poorly run, inefficient and frightening to say the least. There’s lost exam paperwork, long wait and exam times, and documentation or testing mistakes. It would be nice if employees could see their own primary doctors or had more/better options.
DJ Stadtler, EVP, Chief Administrative Officer: Amtrak relies upon professional occupational health facilities to conduct company-directed examinations. Clinics are required to have OSHA-compliant audiology equipment for hearing tests and to collect urine drug tests in compliance with federal DOT drug-testing regulations. These are two main functions that your primary care doctor’s office most likely cannot provide. We are currently evaluating the occupational clinic network. In some locations, there are more options than in others. If you have specific feedback on a clinic, please share with Medical Services (firstname.lastname@example.org). We may be able to address this with the clinic system or if necessary, change clinics.
Must the conductors have their radios up so loud in the coaches? I know they need to hear the communications, but it can be distracting and annoying for customers. What level should radios be set at?
Safety is always first. The radios should be loud enough for our conductors to hear clearly.
The current uniform shirt colors (white and blue) worn by conductors and assistant conductors do not hold up well fabric-wise and stain-wise due to the outdoor working conditions of throwing switches, riding sides of equipment, etc. A simple and cost effective solution would be a darker shirt color like a medium or dark gray, still paired with a red or blue tie. A new, sleek uniform would also boost confidence and morale.
We are going to design and purchase new employee uniforms in 2019. We will have employees involved