WASHINGTON -- Amtrak CEO Alex Kummant, age 47, with a history of job changes that rival the number of Amtrak station stops, resigned Nov. 14 after barely twoyears on the job.
There were indications Kummant ran afoul of the Amtrak board of directors, which names the Amtrak CEO without need of Senate confirmation, even though Amtrak is owned by the federal government and receives a nearly $1 billion annual taxpayer subsidy. No further details were provided regarding Kummant's sudden departure, which had been rumored for the past three weeks.
A source close to the Amtrak board, who asked not to be identified, speculated that Kummant "was not hands on. He didn't have a handle on finances or operations. His personality was often confrontational."
Kummant will be succeeded, on an interim basis, by Amtrak Chief Operating Officer William Crosbie, who is expected to run the national intercity rail passenger company until the Obama administration rejiggers the Amtrak board of directors. It will be the Amtrak board that will choose a permanent successor to Kummant.
Kummant was named Amtrak president in September 2006, after the Amtrak board dispatched David Gunn 10 months earlier. The railroad experience of Gunn's two predecessors, Tom Downs and George Warrington, was limited to Northeast Corridor commuter operations, but Gunn had extensive freight and passenger operating experience, dating to early management days on the Santa Fe.
Kummant had no railroad operating experience, but did have a short stint as a Union Pacific marketing officer.
Amtrak Workers Picket Kummant's House and neighborhood, tagging Alex as a Union Buster
To find a successor to Gunn, Amtrak's board hired the executive search firm of Heidrick & Struggles in 2006. According to a Washington transportation newsletter at the time, the search firm sought to identify airline executives to run Amtrak.
But no airline executive had any interest in taking the helm of an organization targeted for elimination by the Bush administration, suffering difficult labor relations and, by many accounts, having a management team demoralized over frequent managerial changes, freight railroad hostility toward Amtrak and non-stop budget woes.
The transportation newsletter reported that the search firm recommended, as possible Gunn successors, Conrail Shared Assets President Ron Batory, Association of American Railroads Vice President Robert Vanderclute, former New Jersey Transit Chairman John Haley, and former Conrail executive Tim O'Toole, who then was running the London subway system and is now a CSX board member. The Amtrak board showed no serious interest in any of those candidates.
Amtrak's board then hired Kummant, who was described as having a job history "tethered to a Pogo stick." In the eight years prior to his hiring by Amtrak, Kummant held seven separate jobs with seven different employers.
It was thought by Washington insiders that Kummant's candidacy was advanced by former CSX chairman and Bush confidant John Snow, as well as BNSF Chairman Matt Rose and then-UP Chairman Dick Davidson, both significant fund raisers for George W. Bush. Moreover, then Amtrak board Chairman David Laney, and then Amtrak board member Floyd Hall also were major fundraisers for George W. Bush.
Additionally, the search firm's senior partner, Les Csorba, was a former Bush adviser and fundraiser. Add to this that Kummant's wife, a former BNSF executive, was a contributor to the Bush campaign.
After the Amtrak board announced Kummant's hiring, Kummant declined to be interviewed, and has remained reticent about talking with the media. A major rail shipper was quoted by a Washington transportation newsletter, at the time of Kummant's hiring, that, "If you backed Alex into a corner and demanded he tell you everything he knows about railroads, he wouldn't be taking more than a couple of minutes."
Amtrak Board Chairman Donna McLean said little about Kummant's departure, other than, "We wish him well in his future endeavors."
Vice Chairman R. Hunter Biden said, "Our board is committed to keeping Amtrak on an aggressive path of performance improvement. Current economic conditions highlight the need for us to continue finding ways to drive quality and customer service across the system. We are moving forward with the development of an aggressive long-term plan for the company, based on the recent legislation passed by Congress."
Kummant ran afoul of a Republican majority board of directors.
The current board members include:
Chairman Donna McLean, a Republican and George W. Bush contributor, she is a transportation policy consultant, whose clients include Boeing Aircraft. Prior to forming her consulting practice, she served a Bush administration assistant DOT secretary for Budget and Programs and DOT's chief financial officer.
Vice Chairman R. Hunter Biden, a Democrat, who, in addition to being the son of Vice Preisdent-elect Joe Biden, has a background in financial services.
Thomas C. Carper, not the Delaware Senator but never the less a Democrat and former mayor of McComb, Ill., who long has been active in support of regional passenger rail service in Illinois.
Nancy Naples, a Republican, who lost a congressional race in western New York, was New York State's commissioner of motor vehicles, was an adviser to former New York Republican Gov. George Pataki, and had a short career on Wall Street.
Republican Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, who is represented on the Amtrak board by FRA Administrator Joe Boardman.
Kummant, is a non-voting member.
Amtrak has 19,000 employees, operates over 21,000 miles of track (mostly owned by freight railroads), serves some 500 stations in 46 states, and carries almost 29 million passengers annually.
Roger Lewis, 1971-1974
Paul Reistrup, 1974-1978
Alan Boyd, 1978-1982
W. Graham Claytor, 1982-1993
Thomas Downs, 1993-1998
George Warrington, 1998-2002
David Gunn, 2002-2005
David Hughes, 2005-2006 (interim)
Alexander Kummant, 2006-2008
View Amtrak's Nov.14, 2008 Special Employee Advisory RE: Kummant Resigns
View Amtrak's Nov. 17, 2008 Special Employee Advisory RE: Crosbie fills the vacancy