Senate Republicans Want National Network Seats on Amtrak Board
April 21, 2023
A group of key Senate Republicans on the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee wrote to the White House asking for greater geographic diversity on the Amtrak Board of Directors, as required by law. Also, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg appeared before the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations this week to advocate for President Biden’s proposal for the Fiscal Year 2024 transportation budget and discuss the impact of proposed cuts.
A group of key Senate Republicans on the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce wrote to President Biden and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg asking for greater geographic diversity on the Amtrak Board of Directors, as stipulated by law.
The letter was headed up by Senate Commerce Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-TX), who was joined by Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), Jerry Moran (R-KN), Todd Young (R-IN), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), JD Vance (R-OH), and Eric Schmitt (R-MO).
As part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Amtrak’s Board must include two individuals who “reside in or near a location served by a regularly scheduled Amtrak service along the Northeast Corridor,” and four individuals from regions outside of the Northeast Corridor (NEC)—two of whom shall live in states served by an Amtrak long-distance service, and two from states served by an Amtrak State-supported service.
“Congress enacted this very explicit geographic diversity requirement to ensure that Amtrak’s Board of Directors is not dominated by individuals from the Northeast Corridor,” wrote the lawmakers. “As Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) explained at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Amtrak nominees last September, the IIJA ‘made changes to the Amtrak Board’s makeup to make sure that it reflects Amtrak’s network’s diversity’. These changes were reasonable and appropriate given that Amtrak is a national passenger railroad company that operates in 46 states and Washington, DC, and receives billions of federal tax dollars from Americans in every state.”
Rail Passengers Association has made securing a voice for passengers in the Midwest, West, and the South a key plank of our advocacy over the past few years. Specifically, our coalition has been pushing for the nomination of Knox Ross to the Amtrak Board. Ross is the former Mayor of the Town of Pelahatchie, MS, current Treasurer of the Southern Rail Commission, and a longtime advocate for better service for the National Network.
The Senators’ letter also argued for the advancement of Republican nominee Joel Szabat, who resides along the NEC in Maryland. The Senators argued Szabat provides necessary partisan balance; federal statues require that no more than five appointees to the Amtrak board may be members of the same political party.
The group of Committee members warned the White House that they intend to hold up the nomination of all Amtrak board members until the issue of geographic diversity is addressed.
House Appropriators Looks at Fiscal Year 2024 Transportation Budget
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg appeared before the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations this week to advocate for the Biden Administration’s proposed Fiscal Year 2024 transportation budget, and discuss the impact of cuts in transportation spending included in a draft budget outline issued by House Republicans.
While House Republicans have yet to propose a concrete budget for the upcoming year, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has spoken broadly of tying a debt limit increase to across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending. Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)—who chaired the committee until last year’s midterm elections gave Republicans control of the House—asked Secretary Buttigieg to put into concrete terms what these kinds of cuts would mean for Amtrak service.
“That would have an impact both in terms of delaying Amtrak’s progress in dealing with their maintenance backlog, and issues that folks—whether they are traveling intercity or whether Amtrak is part of their daily commute, as it famously was for the president for many years—would see that, feel that, and face the cost and the burden of that,” warned Secretary Buttigieg.
He also pointed to the many rail safety programs that would be hurt by cuts to the Federal Railroad Administration, pointing to recent high-profile derailments by Class I railroads as indicators that more oversight is needed, not less.
As part of our Rail Passengers Day on the Hill, Rail Passengers volunteers and staff blitzed Capitol Hill to ask lawmakers to fully fund rail programs at the authorized levels established by Congress in the BIL. Providing sufficient FY24 funding is necessary to allow Amtrak to operate trains and restore full service; perform annual maintenance and carry out core functions to avoid long-term deterioration of assets and services; and make targeted, high-priority investments for future expansion
"The support from the Rail Passengers Association, and from all of you individually, has been incredibly important to Amtrak throughout our history and especially so during the last trying year."
Bill Flynn, Amtrak CEO
April 19, 2021, speaking to attendees at the Rail Passengers Virtual Spring Advocacy Conference