Amtrak’s CEO letter to Congress outlines top five priorities to improve rail
Bill Flynn, Amtrak CEO, has written to Congress outlining the national railroad’s top five priorities as it looks to improve and expand rail services across the U.S.
As Amtrak celebrates its 50th anniversary, its CEO has written an open letter to Congress detailing Amtrak’s top five priorities.
In the letter, Bill writes: “…I look forward to working with you during the 117th Congress to recover from the pandemic and improve and expand efficient and sustainable service to communities all across America.”
The top five priorities that the letter highlights are:
1. Sufficient funding
Amtrak requires additional COVID-19 relief funding to sustain and restore operations and recall employees through the remainder of FY21 and into FY22 and beyond. In the coming weeks, Amtrak will be requesting $1.541 billion in FY21 and will outline its FY22 needs in its annual Legislative and Grant Request.
2. Intercity Passenger Rail Trust Fund
Amtrak and intercity passenger rail are the only mode of surface transportation without a federal trust fund to provide reliable, multiyear program funding. Reliance solely on the annual appropriations process for funding inhibits Amtrak’s ability to pursue large, multi-year capital projects or procurements and service expansion across the nation. If Amtrak is to significantly improve and expand its network, Amtrak suggests that congress must create a predictable and long-term source of federal funding, like a trust fund, for both the Northeast Corridor and the National Network.
3. Access to railroads for new service and adding trains
Most rail routes used by Amtrak trains are owned and controlled by freight railroads. Prompt access to the nation’s rail network is essential for Amtrak to fulfill its mission and meet the needs of the travelling public. The letter states that Amtrak always attempts to work cooperatively with its host railroads to add new routes, modify existing routes, and add additional trains. More often than not, these efforts fail to provide reasonable access for Amtrak trains, leaving Congress constituents without the services they desire and deserve. Amtrak are seeking Congressional support and updates to statute to ensure the Amtrak network can grow and serve more constituents.
4. Preference enforcement
Host railroads are required by law to provide Amtrak trains dispatching preference over their own freight trains. In the letter, Bill states that unfortunately, this requirement is not consistently honoured and “freight train interference” is the largest source of delay to Amtrak trains on host railroads, inconveniencing passengers in violation of the law. Amtrak seeks the right to bring an action in U.S. District Court when its preference right is violated so that they can ensure their customers are not unnecessarily delayed by freight trains and arrive on-time.
5. New routes
Frequent and reliable “corridor” routes, typically less than 500 miles, represent the fastest-growing segment of Amtrak service. Population growth, changing demographics and travel preferences, and environmental concerns, all point to new opportunities for intercity passenger rail. In the letter, Bill states that Amtrak have developed a visionary plan to expand service across the nation, and that they ask Congress to authorise and fund Amtrak’s expansion in such corridors by allowing them to cover most of the initial capital and operating costs of new or expanded routes prior to requiring state partner cost-sharing under Sec. 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act.