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House GOP Leaders Question Amtrak Executive Bonuses

November 4, 2022

Top Republicans on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I) questioned the six-figure bonuses given to Amtrak executives in 2021 in a letter released to the public earlier this week.

by Sean Jeans-Gail | Vice President of Government Affairs + Policy

Top Republicans on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I) questioned the six-figure bonuses given to Amtrak executives in 2021 in a letter released to the public earlier this week.

Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Ranking Member Rick Crawford (R-AR) and T&I Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO) issued a public letter to Amtrak Chairman of the Board Anthony Coscia, asking him to explain Amtrak’s bonus program for executives. The letter criticized the company for giving nine top executives financial bonuses in excess of $200,000 in 2021—payments that were issued while a global pandemic was devastating ridership and ticket revenue, and while many of those same executives were making decisions to furlough front-line Amtrak workers.

“Payment of lavish executive bonuses when Amtrak services and revenues remain below pre-pandemic levels, and financial losses appear permanent, seems inappropriate, wasteful and disrespectful to Amtrak’s nonexecutive front-line employees and taxpayers,” wrote Reps. Graves and Crawford.

The congressmen also cited a piece written Rail Passengers’ President & CEO Jim Mathews—also quoted in the original New York Times reporting on the bonuses—to highlight customer dissatisfaction with the quality of service. In his piece, Mathews wrote that while ridership is recovering and financial balance sheets are beginning to look better, “the passenger experience in many cases is still suffering, thanks to a combination of things out of Amtrak’s control—freight interference, freight railroad labor unrest—and poorly handled service cancellations, which can only fairly be described as self-inflicted wounds.”

Rail Passengers has consistently pointed out that these bonuses are a predictable result of the call by many Members of Congress for Amtrak to operate ‘more like a business.’

“I believe Chair Coscia should have suspended bonuses during the pandemic period, given the widespread austerity being implemented by Amtrak,” stated Mathews. “That is one of the many reasons why I have always argued against treating Amtrak ‘like a business.’ It is a government agency, providing an essential service that the American people—acting through their elected representatives—have declared for 50 years that they want provided, and which private industry cannot profitably provide. It isn’t a vehicle for delivering shareholder value. We don’t expect the National Weather Service to make a profit, and we shouldn’t expect Amtrak to, either.”

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari gave a brief statement in response to an inquiry by Railway Age: “We welcome the opportunity to brief Reps. Graves and Crawford. Employee incentive plans are widely used by businesses in the United States and have been recommended to Amtrak by the Government Accountability Office (U.S. GAO) and Congress (Section 223 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008). We are pleased to offer these incentives as part of our competitive compensation package, helping us attract and retain talent who have the amazing opportunity to rebuild and expand passenger rail.”

In their official response, Amtrak will need to provide the T&I Committee the following information:

  1. The metrics on which performance bonuses are based.
  2. How these metrics compare to similarly situated firms in the transportation industry and those that are substantially owned or financed by the Federal government.
  3. The Amtrak Executive Board’s role in determining and approving performance bonuses for executives.
  4. Whether Amtrak employs an independent compensation committee to determine executive compensation, including performance-based bonus payments.
  5. How Amtrak will measure performance compensation on projects and activities wholly funded by Federal tax dollars appropriated through the IIJA.

Rail Passengers is pleased to see important legislators like Crawford and Graves talking about the need to ensure a better on-board experience and better performance, and look forward to working with all sides on improving transparency at Amtrak. That is why our organization pushed for legal changes that resulted in reforms like a Congressionally-mandated public meeting of the Amtrak Board of Directors. Given the massive outpouring of interest in using funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to expand and improve Amtrak service—from red states and blue states alike—we would argue that it’s more vital than ever to safeguard public trust in America’s Railroad.