Former Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman died Tuesday of an apparent stroke. The Taberg, N.Y., native was on vacation in Florida with his wife and family at the time of his passing. Boardman, Amtrak's second-longest-serving president and CEO, was 70.
Boardman visited La Junta several times and helped City Manager Rick Klein and officials from Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico organize the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recory, or TIGER, grants to save the Southwest Chief.
“Joe Boardman was a great American who cared," said Klein. "He always had the best for all of the nation in his heart. He made a difference in the lives of the people who knew him and what he did for all of us.
"He continued after he retired to make sure that Amtrak was the best that it could be and that the Amtrak’s National Network was not abandoned. We will always remember what he accomplished during his life.”
A U.S. Air Force Vietnam veteran who served as New York State Transportation Commissioner for eight years beginning in 1997, Boardman was named administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration in 2005. He became familiar with Amtrak operations while on its board of directors as the Department of Transportation’s representative, and was named in 2008 to succeed Alexander Kummant as the company’s ninth non-interim president.
Boardman's tenure was surpassed in duration only by W. Graham Clayton, Jr. (1982-1993).
Boardman championed Amtrak’s efforts to encourage state and local community grant applications to help pay for needed infrastructure improvements along the Southwest Chief’s route. Although he was criticized for not acting on efficiency and mobility improvement recommendations to other long-distance routes, such as converting the Sunset Limited and Cardinal to daily operation, Boardman told an industry publication that there was no way he could convince Amtrak’s board at the time to find and spend the necessary money on the national network.
Boardman was outspoken about the direction current Amtrak management was taking the company since his departure in September 2016. In retirement, he became sharply critical of his successors’ jettisoning of institutional knowledge with management buyouts, food service downgrades and attempts to weaken the performance of long-distance trains.
“He was very hands-on with employees and respected their expertise,” one current Amtrak employee said.
Recently-retired car attendant Lou Drummeter, a 32-year Amtrak veteran, traveled with Boardman on business car Beech Grove during dozens of inspection trips and facility visits.
“He believed in boots on the ground — getting out on the railroad to see the operation and listening to employees,” Drummeter says.
The car was always positioned on Superliner trains adjacent to a transition dorm; when passing through the train, Boardman encouraged employees to come back to tell him what was on their mind.
“With Joe, you could always speak freely,” recalls Drummeter. “And when he had tough decisions to make, you could see his angst.”
Boardman is survived by his wife, Joanne, three children and several grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.
(Some content for this story was obtained from the Trains Industry Newsletter.)