Amtrak Chairman Responds to Rail Passengers Open Letter
December 7, 2018
This week, Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia wrote to Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews outlining real steps to pursue many of your Association’s customer-focused priorities. Coscia’s letter was a response to Mathews’ October open letter calling on Amtrak’s Board to embrace a bold growth plan for Amtrak focused on serving the entire country.
While we must remain vigilant and keep working closely with our partners in Congress, along with our Mayors and other elected and appointed officials, Amtrak confirmed its broad agreement with us on the need for aggressive action on On-Time Performance, restoration of at least daily service system-wide, growth and expanded service, and the need for new and upgraded rolling stock.
“As you are aware, several of our fleets are close to the end of their useful lives; therefore, Amtrak has begun formulating a comprehensive fleet strategy and is now taking critical steps toward re-fleeting, both on the Northeast Corridor and the National Network,” Coscia said in his letter to Mathews. “...we will soon begin to evaluate the appropriate strategy for our bi-level equipment; your thoughts and recommendations on this important topic would be greatly appreciated.”
Members should know that we are regularly and frequently meeting with Amtrak on all the issues we have outlined in our letter, and that advocacy -- your voice -- is working. We are scheduled to meet next month with Amtrak in the first of several meetings to provide input to the re-fleeting plan and the bi-level equipment strategy.
Amtrak is also well aware of our hopeful and grand vision for more and better service and commitment to the National Network.
“We are eager to grow and expand service to currently underserved cities, corridors and communities across the country,” Coscia wrote. “We are hopeful there will be opportunities for expansion onto new routes in places like Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.”
Coscia also specifically acknowledged your Association’s continued call for restoration of daily service on the Cardinal and Sunset Limited routes.
“You’ve raised valid concerns about thrice-weekly service which is consistent with the Company’s own view as set forth in our PRIIA-required Route Improvement Plans,” Coscia wrote. “We are looking again at the opportunity for daily service for both the Cardinal and the Sunset Limited. Of course, to do so will require reasonable cooperation from our Host Railroads and available equipment.”
Amtrak also sent Mathews’ letter and Coscia’s response to all employees through a company-wide memo, emphasizing the role our organization plays in advocating for robust investment in passenger rail:
“RPA spends most of its time educating members of Congress and their staffs about the value of passenger rail. This work is important to Amtrak, as the company relies on Congress for significant funding for capital investments. Earlier this year, Amtrak received $1.9 billion from Congress, the largest annual appropriation in the history of the company.”
Coscia’s comprehensive response, and the broad distribution it saw across the railroad, is encouraging; advocates should recognize that they’re playing a role in advancing a vision for a modern rail network. At the same time, we have to be the watchdogs of Amtrak. We have to ensure they do not become too “efficient,” because we know what that really means, and it’s not good for passengers. We should be wary of “rider choice.” Nickel-and-dime fees are the hallmarks of the worst airlines and Amtrak should know this as well as anyone. If they don’t know it, we will be there to remind them, again and again.
Bad service is the scourge that will absolutely push people into their cars. Bad food, no food, old equipment, less frequent services, exorbitant fees or price: these are unacceptable anywhere, whether on the Northeast Corridor or on the rest of the Interstate Passenger Rail System.
We can also never allow prioritization of — or discrimination against — one region over another. Amtrak can’t be allowed to choke the life out of certain routes, intentionally or not.
But that also means advocates need to stop choosing sides, arguing for or against the Northeast Corridor -- which remains a vital part of the overall National Network. We should never take from elsewhere to boost the Corridor, but we should welcome any effort to improve service and the customer experience on any route, and then use that success to push further so that passengers riding anywhere in the Interstate Rail Passenger System get the benefits.
More to the point, riders from Boston and NY and Washington will add to our voice on OTP, Private Right of Action, regular, frequent, safe and reliable service, new and better equipment, and so forth. When Amtrak wants to downgrade food and beverage options, NEC riders will be right there with us and in great numbers.
As Kay Bailey Hutchison once said, it’s National or Nothing!
Coscia's letter can be viewed, here.