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“Train Daddy” Andy Byford joins Amtrak

Daddy of the train is back.

Andy Byford, the former NYC subway chief who won praise from passengers and transit enthusiasts for improving an outdated system that had been plagued with breakdowns and delays, returns next month to the American rail as Amtrak’s senior vice president for high-speed rail development. , the rail service announced Thursday.

The new post comes three years after Mr Byford resigned as head of the country’s biggest metro system amid a rift with the then government. Andrew M. Cuomo, who had hired Mr. Byford after declaring the subway in a state of emergency. In September, Mr Byford resigned as London transport commissioner, where he had gone after leaving New York to oversee that city’s public transport system.

“I am thrilled and honored to join such an American icon,” Mr. Byford said in a text message to The New York Times on Thursday. “I’ve had a number of job offers, but Amtrak and high-speed rail is where I want to be.”

Mr Byford’s new position was reported on Thursday by Streetsblog.

In a city that doesn’t warm up easily to newcomers, Mr. Byford has become a beloved figure during his two years as chairman of New York City Transit, the branch of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that runs the metro and buses. A self-described British subway nerd, Mr Byford has spent his career working on public transport systems around the world. He led the network in Toronto and worked on systems in London and Sydney, Australia, before arriving in New York in 2017 with big plans for improvement.

When Mr Byford took over the Tube, only 58% of trains were on time. By the time he left, he had helped boost on-time performance to over 80% by repairing faulty switches and increasing train speeds, among other fixes.

New Yorkers were thrilled with the progress. Transit enthusiasts, who gave him the nickname “Train Daddy”, stickers pasted with Mr Byford’s face on street poles with the slogan “Train Daddy Loves You Very Much”. He regularly greeted commuters at stations with a big smile and once even helped clean up a flooded station.

But at least one influential New Yorker disagreed with New York’s new king, namely his boss.

When Mr. Byford resigned, he suggested it was partly because Mr. Cuomo had reduced his duties as part of an MTA reorganization, taking him away from bigger plans.

The subway system imagined by Mr. Byford for New York is far from being realized. Three months after he left, the metro was nearly abandoned as the coronavirus pandemic calmed the city. Ridership is finally on the rise, but crime and safety remain top concerns for many New Yorkers. The system is also facing a deficit and is considering fare increases for metro and bus users as well as service cuts. Governor Kathy Hochul of New York has asked the city to contribute $500 million a year.

Amtrak isn’t doing much better, and Mr. Byford, in a newly created position, will face some familiar challenges.

Amtrak ridership also plummeted during the pandemic and has yet to fully recover, and the rail service has never made a profit. President Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure package included $66 billion for rail when it was passed, and Amtrak is expected to receive $22 billion of that money, some of which will go to new trains. Next year, Amtrak will begin phasing in new Acela trains in the busy Northeast Corridor. The new trains will be able to go up to 160 miles per hour, slightly faster than those currently in service.


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