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Flynn, Rail Passengers, Thank House Appropriators

July 10, 2020

by Jim Mathews / President & CEO

This week we asked all of you to thank House appropriators for outlining a Fiscal 2021 money bill that boosts Amtrak funding, sets aside $26 billion in additional rail-related infrastructure spending and ties funding to protecting long-distance routes and the workers who operate them.

Today, Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn wrote his own letter to the appropriators, thanking them and saying that the House’s historic Fiscal 2021 Amtrak funding levels – which will soon head to a markup by the full Appropriations Committee – will give the railroad the resources it needs so that management can avoid having to cut back long-distance service in the face of catastrophic revenue and ridership losses.

“This historic level of investment would allow Amtrak to address the short-term operating challenges we recently highlighted in our supplemental request letter, as well as support the longer-term capital needs that are so critical for the railroad’s future,” Flynn wrote to House Appropriations Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies subcommittee Chair Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) and Ranking Member Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.).

Flynn’s letter to the T-HUD leadership contained an even more important acknowledgment: “In particular, a $10 billion investment in Amtrak would enable us to avoid frequency reductions on our Long-Distance routes, as well as minimize any further impacts to our workforce.”

Since May 28th, we’ve been saying that while we strongly support additional emergency funds for Amtrak we also insist that any additional funds buy certainty for workers and passengers alike. I have also told Amtrak leaders repeatedly since the coronavirus pandemic hit that we believed there was willingness within the Congress to get Amtrak through this crisis without having to threaten vital service.

On Tuesday, THUD lawmakers put their money where my mouth has been, stepping up investment in Amtrak while tying that investment to a commitment to preservation and expansion rather than contraction. And today, Amtrak seems to have acknowledged that with enough money there is a way forward that preserves the service we all know our country needs now more than ever.

Congress is really listening to our Association’s members, friends and allies to recognize the critical role passenger rail and public transit have always played in economic resilience. The House has already passed the authorizers’ ambitious policy framework for passenger rail in H.R. 2, the INVEST In America Act, and this week House lawmakers advanced a Fiscal 2021 money bill that ensures that Amtrak, commuter railroads and state agencies have the funds they need to keep America moving. Appropriators are adamant that this money should be viewed as infrastructure investment and not purely a rescue measure, and they’re taking the long view about the payoffs from that kind of investment.

Flynn’s new letter also starts to take the long view, outlining plans to begin the next stage of fleet replacement, to expand Southeast U.S. service, to make important infrastructure investments for the Southwest Chief and other National Network routes, and even to finally move forward on Gulf Coast service restoration. All of those efforts had been put at risk by the devastating effects of the coronavirus outbreak.

This is also a great time for me to thank all of you, whether Association members or just rail-service supporters, for generating thousands of messages to the Congress to help drive our message home. It’s about a lot more than just money for Amtrak: it’s about the philosophy, the idea, that Amtrak’s coast-to-coast Network is a vital national asset at a time when our country needs help. This also might be a great time for you to thank your own House members, and to reach out to your Senators because that’s where the next stage of this fight will pick up. This is no time to let up the pressure!