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Amtrak’s CEO letter to Congress outlines top five priorities to improve rail

Posted: 27 January 2021 | | 11 comments

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.

Bill Flynn Amtrak

CEO, Bill Flynn. Credit: Amtrak

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.

11 responses to “Amtrak’s CEO letter to Congress outlines top five priorities to improve rail”

  1. David Hauer says:

    He hit it dead on .

  2. David says:

    Bring back the dining car and other amenities.

  3. Norman B Wilson says:

    ]Laurence Denney asks for what Amtrak had 25 years ago. With my 15 year old daughter. I took the California Zephyr west to California from Denver then went north with a sleeper cabin on the coast to take the Highline east to Glacier, camped, then continued on to Chicago and back to Denver. Linen service in the dining car with fabulous food. Historically, it was called the Grand Tour. My best vacation ever.

  4. Rodney M Brown says:

    Two things..I’d like to see the connection between New Orleans and Jacksonville restored for the Sunset Ltd. The freight line has been operational for quite a while. Also, how about adding at least one more east/west departure at a sensible hour for Cincinnati. You could start the Cardinal out of NYC or Chicago at a different time to add this service. Or, just create an entirely new train.

  5. Donald Schwartz says:

    It’s just not economically feasible for a family to travel Amtrak. If it was, many more people would be doing it. If I want to travel with my family of 4 and a relative, from Minnesota to Charlotte NCIS, the cost going Amtrak is ridiculous compared to car. That’s the comparison you guys need to make if you want passenger trains to be successful. There are ways to make it a success if you want to.

  6. Thomas Jerard finn says:

    So if the system had another rail by or next to the existing rails to accommodate extra train traffic in the mid west ,that would be great .I live in Omaha and if I want to go to Dallas I have to go to Chicago first then take Texas eagle in stead of direct route??the heartland express goes as far as o.K. city why. ,not N. S.lines

  7. Jerry Roane says:

    TriTrack should be built parallel to the rail network so people can travel at 180 mph on the railroad right of way. Heavy rail would not be slowed by Amtrak trains.

  8. Laughing atyou says:

    When you ride Amtrak, especially on vacations, you end up stuck in an empty train station at 3am with no ability to get anywhere. No rental cars, nothing.

    If Amtrak wants to work they need safe stations with personnel and rental cars at stations. They need rail tours not rail/bus tours. If they are only going to be a commuter rail system then all they need is preferential treatment in commuter rail development. For instance instead of the ridiculous electric train built in Seattle that is worthless.

  9. Laurence Denney says:

    The most important thing that Amtrak needs is to have full service dining cars on all long distance trains. Amtrak should be looked upon as a great way to travel and see the country. The dining car with food cooked to order and and wine and cocktail service and a rose on the table is part of the ambiance of rail travel. Save microwave meals for the shorter routes. Make the train the best it can be and new passengers will like it and return. It should not be about making a profit. The benefits to the country justify the cost, profit or no profit. It is worth it.

    • Thomas Denney says:

      As a frequent Amtrak long-distance rider, I wholeheartedly agree. Being treated with respect will bring travelers to Amtrak in droves. The staff already excels at this. It’s the food service (and too often the equipment) that leaves much to be desired. (BTW, no relation to Mr. Laurence that I’m aware of!)

    • Gary k.Davis says:

      You could not have said it better – provide service and customers will return.

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