John F. Tucker III, 57, transit chief

Posted: March 01, 2008

John Foster Tucker III, 57, a former vice president of Amtrak operations and a one-time chief of SEPTA's Regional Rail system, was found dead Sunday after suffering a heart attack in his Center City home.

"John was a key advocate for passengers' quality rail service, and was passionate about the city of Philadelphia," said David Gunn, a former head of SEPTA and Amtrak who worked with Mr. Tucker. "He fought for better service without its costing a lot of money. His efforts helped save SEPTA."

He had a lifelong fascination with railroads, and as a youngster tired of miniature train sets.

"He wanted the real thing," said his sister, Margaret Plotkin. "John went out and rode the trolleys, subways, trains  anything on rails, all over the region. He studied how the lights, switches and signals worked."

While attending Central High School (Class of 1967), Mr. Tucker worked for SEPTA as a traffic checker. He gathered data on the number of passengers, how long they waited and how long they stopped. He then was in a work-study program with SEPTA to earn a bachelor's degree in commerce and engineering at Drexel University in 1972.

SEPTA immediately hired him, and during his 25-year career he rose through the ranks to become chief of Regional Rails before taking a job in Dayton, Ohio, in 1992.

In 1997, Mr. Tucker became head of strategic planning for the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

He was a key player in getting the subway system and trains back in operation after 9/11.

"John was haunted by the deaths of many colleagues," his sister said. "He did not talk about that day. He believed the subways and trains were the heart and circulatory system of New York, and he desperately worked to get them running again."

When Gunn was head of Amtrak, he hired Mr. Tucker to run operations in Washington before returning to Philadelphia to become vice president. Mr. Tucker's health failed a couple of years ago, forcing him to retire.

Mr. Tucker also worked as a consultant for transit agencies in Chile, China and San Francisco.

Mr. Tucker had an encyclopedic mind for memorizing rail schedules that dated back decades. "John could recite details about the railroad that bored some people. We both loved that stuff and became great friends," Gunn said.

In addition to his sister, Mr. Tucker is survived by two nephews and a niece.

Friends may visit at 9 a.m. today at Bringhurst Funeral Home, Bala Cynwyd. A service will follow at 10 at the funeral home. Burial will be in West Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Contact staff writer Gayle Ronan Sims at 215-854-4185 or gsims@phillynews.com.

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