Amtrak passenger service on track for rail service across Gulf Coast from New Orleans to Orlando _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD – An Amtrak train pulls into the train station in Slidell Thursday, April, 3, 2014. FILE PICTURE. 

The Gulf Coast gained an important ally in its push to regain passenger train service when Pascagoula native William Feidt was named chief financial officer of Amtrak earlier this year.

It is the second time the Pascagoula, Mississippi native has joined an agency or corporation in need of a shakeup. Mississippi Department of Marine Resources Executive Director Jamie Miller hired Feidt in 2013 as CFO to help him straighten out a scandal-riddled agency.

“The stuff we had to deal with was just insane,” Feidt said. Most of that insanity was caused by former Director Bill Walker who went to prison for crimes committed at DMR. Several members of his staff were convicted as well. “It’s such an important agency to the Gulf Coast. That was one of the things that attracted me to it. It was an opportunity to give back to the community because that agency had to be functioning well.”

At Amtrak, he said, “we had our own craziness here.”

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The 46-year-old Amtrak has been struggling with fatal crashes, a spotty on-time record, the need for major repairs and the threat of deep budget cuts by President Donald Trump.

And Feidt has been dealing with personal challenges as well. He left DMR in 2015 for Cable and Wireless Communications Inc. in Miami. While there, Feidt was dealt a devastating blow.

“I had been there a year and while we were getting bought out by a bigger company, I was diagnosed with lymphoma,” he said. “I decided having lost my dad to cancer, it was best to be close to friends and family for my treatment so I moved back to Pascagoula with my mother to do my six months of chemotherapy.

“It’s very frightening to be told you have a 70 percent chance of survival,” he said. “That’s good but that’s still a one-third chance of death. If you told me there was a one-third chance I would not make it home safely if I went to work, I probably wouldn’t go to work.”

But that illness, in a way, led him to Amtrak’s headquarters in Washington D.C.

“Near the end (of chemotherapy) when it was clear I was going to be healthy again and would want to work, a friend of mine introduced me to Wick Moorman,” he said. “The tie between Wick and I is Wick’s from Hattiesburg.

Amtrak had lured Moorman, former CEO of Norfolk Southern Railroad, out of retirement to turn things around.

“Talking to Wick as a fellow Mississippian, we just seemed to hit it off,” Feidt said. “The timing was perfect. Just as I finished chemo and was ready to get back to work, he had this opportunity to come here and help him do some great things.”

Amtrak, he said, seems poised for great things. For one, former Delta Airlines chief Richard Anderson was hired in July as co-CEO to Moorman who’ll leave the job in December but stay with Amtrak as an adviser.

Anderson, Feidt said, is heavily focused on customer safety, customer service and operating efficiently.

“Not only making sure our on-time performance is good but we have to be good stewards of the federal and state money we’re provided with,” he said. “We owe it to the taxpayers to make sure we’re spending that money efficiently and effectively.”

For the original story from The Sun Herald, click here.