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Amtrak has selected insider Stephen Gardner as its next CEO. He takes over a railroad still recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic, but flush with cash for expansion from President Biden's infrastructure bill.

Amtrak has picked long-time staffer Stephen Gardner as its next CEO following the retirement of Bill Flynn in January.

Gardner’s promotion marks the third CEO in four years to helm the beleaguered national passenger railroad.

Gardner, who has worked for the railroad in various leadership roles since 2009 and is currently its president, takes over the top job on January 17, Amtrak said Wednesday. He is credited with sculpting the railroad’s expansive Connect U.S. expansion plan that Amtrak aims to implement with some of the $66 billion allocated to passenger rail under President Biden’s infrastructure bill.

Flynn, who joined Amtrak from cargo airline Atlas Air in 2020, will stay on as a senior advisor to Gardner through the end of the fiscal year in September 2022. Flynn was the second former aviation leader at Amtrak following on the heels of former Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson who led the railroad from 2017 to 2020.

The transition comes as Amtrak faces a slow recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, while also benefitting from one of the largest infusions of federal funds in its 50-year history. The railroad is the recipient of $22 billion in direct funding from the infrastructure bill, and it can apply for some of the $36 billion available through competitive grants.

Amtrak Chair Tony Coscia said Wednesday that Gardner has the “business skills, industry knowledge and vision to improve and modernize service” at the passenger railroad.

Speaking at a House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure hearing on December 10, Gardner spoke of Amtrak’s ambitious expansion plans, including long-needed upgrades to the Northeast Corridor connecting Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., and expanding regional corridors around the country but especially in area’s underserved by Amtrak in the south and west.

“Atlanta, whose metropolitan population is 5.6 million and should be the hub of a network of routes serving the Southeast, is served by a single daily long-distance train,” said Gardner at the hearing. Amtrak’s plan calls for new trains to Birmingham and Montgomery, Ala., Nashville, and Savannah in the next 15 years.

Amtrak ridership had recovered to roughly 70 percent of 2019 levels by the end of its fiscal year in September. However, the continued lack of many business travelers — especially on the the busy Northeast Corridor — has the railroad forecasting that ridership will only recover another 10 points to 80 percent of pre-pandemic levels during its 2022 fiscal year.

Gardner, speaking at the hearing, said Amtrak is focused on attracting new leisure travelers to its trains to make up some of the gap left by corporate road warriors.

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Tags: amtrak

Photo credit: Amtrak has named a new CEO to oversee its expansion. Jim Maurer / Flickr

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