Taberg native and Rome resident Joe Boardman, a former administrator of the national passenger railroad Amtrak, has died, Amtrak announced today.
Boardman, 70, had a stroke while on vacation with his wife and family in Florida on Tuesday.
Boardman grew up on a dairy farm and later led Rome's transit service before working on the state level and as head of the Federal Railroad Administration.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Joe Boardman,” Amtrak board chair Tony Coscia and President and CEO Richard Anderson said in a statement.
“Joe, during his tenure as FRA Administrator, Amtrak board nember and Amtrak President & CEO, was a tireless advocate for passenger rail and the nation’s mobility. During his eight years at the helm, Joe helped the company make significant progress in reducing our debt, improving our infrastructure and raising our cost recovery performance.
“He leaves a lasting legacy that includes public service and making passenger rail transportation better for millions of people.”
In a 2014 interview with the Sentinel, Boardman credited growing up on a dairy farm in Taberg with instilling a sound work ethic. He joined the Air Force, leaving Rome by train, and served in Vietnam from 1968-69.
After discharge, Boardman earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics from Cornell University in Ithaca. He later credited his job driving buses at Cornell for starting his interest in the transportation industry. He went on to drive tractor-trailer trucks, delivering salt for highways and delivering LP gas. He then earned a master’s degree in management science from SUNY Binghamton, and became chief of Rome’s bus operation in 1975. He began managing the city’s Parking Authority four years later.
In 1997, he was named commissioner of the New York state Department of Transportation, and moved to the federal government in 2005 as administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration. He became president and chief executive officer of Amtrak in 2008, then announced in December 2015 he intended to retire the following year.
Boardman endured criticism from some members of Congress over the federal subsidy for Amtrak, which was formed to take over long-distance passenger service after private railroads left the business in the early 1970s. During his tenure, Amtrak’s deficit reached the lowest since it had been formed, and Boardman expressed belief in the importance of rail service and transportation infrastructure in general.
“We are here to do good things for others, to deliver a common good for our nation and for those who depend on public services,” he said in 2014.
Boardman was in charge at the time of one of Amtrak’s worst events, the May 2015 derailment in Philadelphia that killed eight people.
Boardman also worked as chief operating officer of Progressive Transportation Service, a transportation management company. He has served as chairman of the executive committee of the Transportation Research Board. And he was chair of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ Standing Committee on Rail Transportation.
In an interview with Railway Age magazine after being named Railroader of the Year, Boardman credited his upbringing near Rome with seeing the importance of transportation. He said he and his dad were on the farm along Route 69 and when a bus passed with few passengers, his father, who had grown up in Rome, told him many people don’t have cars to get around.
“In 1992, after I had been living all over the place and moved back to Rome, it really was because we had a canal, we had a railroad, we had a bus system, we had connectivity to the rest of the world,” he told the magazine.