Photos from the Amtrak Historical Society 2000 Conference in Lorton, Virginia including photos of the Virginia Railway Express and of the Amtrak Auto Train facility.
Comments by Ray Burns on his perception of the Amtrak Historical Society 2000 Conference:
It was my first trip to Virginia, so I was pretty happy to be in Alexandria, Virginia, with the Amtrak Historical Society. We were at the train station to hear Steve Roberst, Director of Operations for the Virginia Railway Express that is owned by that state but is contracted out to Amtrak to run their trains. Of course we were also there to see the different trains going by the station. They do run a very tight ship as they are pretty well on time most of the time. Amtrak, on the other hand, travels across the nation and sometimes has problems with freight trains taking precedence over the train tracks because of circumstances warranted. Mr. Roberts gave a very informative talk, so if you like history and just plain good information on trains in general, you might want to think about joining the Amtrak Historical Society and hear some great train "stuff" and meet a very friendly buch of people, male and female.
When I was at the Amtrak Auto Train terminal in Lorton, Virginia, I was more than impressed with the staff who ran the operation. Their new station is a beauty. The terminal building itself is fairly complete, but construction still continues at the platform and tracks. Because of their explosive growth, it was necessary to replace their old facilities with these new expanded facilities. The Auto Train is still in desperate need for expansion at their southern terminal in Florida. Sharon Mahoney, the General Manager of Auto Train, has a hospitality background that has served Amtrak and their customers well. James Mead, the Service Manager, also has a hospitality background. I believe that he has something like 20 years in the hotel industry. I would say that pretty well gives him quality "hands on" experience with the general public.
The absolute entrepreneurial way they approach things will guarantee that division to succeed very well. They remind me of Brian Rosenwald who pretty well is responsible for the successful Amtrak Coast Starlight that runs between Los Angeles, California, and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Efficiency is their keyword and I hope that the other areas around the country that deal with food and the public in general will consider taking a look at the Auto Train operation to see how they handle themselves, not just their daily functions, but also how they handle their monthly and quarterly duties. I know a well run operation by individuals who really use their intelligence aggressively, when I see it! If other Amtrak Product Lines would pick the brains of the Auto Train people in regards to how well they handle the food operation as well as their other responsibilities, it would be that much better for those lines and their passengers. They have a lot of great ideas to share and other areas should check them out. This is not coming from them. This is coming from me!
One good example of ingenuity is when preacher Andre Davis of "Save the Seeds Ministry," in the Lorton, Virginia, area was talking with the Managers of the Auto Train in regards to members of his congregation working for Amtrak to drive the cars on and off of the train. They are on a trial basis now, but so far they are doing very good. It seems to be going like clockwork. These are people that all go to church together so their working relationship is probably going to be good for a long time amongst each other. Also, they not only want to watch their work ethics for themselves, but also because they are each representing their congregation. So, they will want to continually put their best foot forward. Amtrak benefits, the passengers benefit, and they, as a group, and each individual, benefits. When you have a "win/win" relationship, you have the best deal happening!
Donald Knapik, the Assistant Vice President of the Acela Product Line was good enough to take his own time to come over to the hotel where the Amtrak Historical Society 2000 Conference was being held to give us a presentation of the Acela line. Steve and I look forward to the day when we will travel on that train, just like we did on the Amtrak Cascades, in the state of Washington.
There are some individuals in the Amtrak Historical Society that believe there are problems in the way Amtrak analyzes the financial performance of various routes and who also disagree as to where Amtrak's limited financial resources should be spent to best serve the traveling public. Steve and I can be counted in that group. However, we do not believe that the Amtrak Historical Society Conference is the time or the place to take an adversarial position with the invited speakers. The AHS is not an advocacy group nor a political action group. AHS is a historical and education group interested in the history and future plans of Amtrak. The AHS does not take a political position on those plans. There are other groups such as the national and regional chapters of NARP and other advocacy groups that concern themselves with those aspects of Amtrak. Being an education group, the speakers that are invited to the AHS Annual Conferences should feel they are in a safe haven to give their presentations of Amtrak's past and present and not feel they will be challenged and have to defend Amtrak's decisions at our meetings. There are other organizations where those challenges and adversarial positions are appropriate. I am always appreciative of the time and effort that the speakers take to give these presentations, sometimes under difficult circumstances. I tip my hat to these sharing people.