Train Daddy is back.
Andy Byford, the former New York City subway chief who earned praise from riders and transit enthusiasts for improving an antiquated system that had been plagued by breakdowns and delays, is returning to American rail next month as Amtrak’s senior vice president for high-speed rail development, the train service said Thursday.
The new position comes three years after Mr. Byford resigned from running the nation’s largest subway system amid a rift with then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who had hired Mr. Byford after declaring the subway to be in a state of emergency. In September, Mr. Byford stepped down as London’s commissioner of transport, where he had gone after leaving New York to oversee that city’s mass transit system.
“I am excited and humbled to be joining such an American icon,” Mr. Byford said in a text message to The New York Times on Thursday. “I 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 does not easily warm to newcomers, Mr. Byford became a beloved figure in his two years as president of New York City Transit, the arm of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that runs the subway and buses. A self-described subway nerd from Britain, Mr. Byford had spent his career with transit systems around the world. He ran the network in Toronto and working on systems in London and Sydney, Australia, before arriving in New York in 2017 with big improvement plans.
When Mr. Byford took over the subway, only 58 percent of trains were on-time. By the time he left, he had helped to push the on-time performance rate to over 80 percent 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,” plastered stickers with Mr. Byford’s face on street posts with the slogan, “Train Daddy Loves You Very Much.” He regularly greeted riders at stations with a big smile and once even helped to clean a flooded station.
But at least one influential New Yorker was not down with the new King of New York — namely, his boss.
When Mr. Byford stepped down, he suggested that it was, in part, because Mr. Cuomo had scaled back his duties as part of a reorganization of the M.T.A., taking him away from more ambitious projects.
The subway system Mr. Byford envisioned for New York is far from realized. Three months after his departure, the subway was nearly abandoned as the coronavirus pandemic quieted the city. Ridership numbers are finally are 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 hikes for subway and bus riders as well as service cuts. Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York has asked for the city to contribute $500 million annually.
Amtrak is not doing much better, and Mr. Byford, who is moving into a newly created role, will face familiar challenges.
Amtrak’s ridership also plummeted during the pandemic and has yet to fully recover, nor has the rail service ever turned a profit. President Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure package included $66 billion for rail when it passed, and Amtrak is set 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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