As House Approaches Finish Line, Senators Wait for Starting Gun
July 24, 2020
Democratic House leadership has announced they will finish a seven-bill spending package next week, including the Fiscal Year 2021 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) budget. The T-HUD bill includes $10 billion for Amtrak and $24 billion for transit systems—funds that will be critical to avoiding service reductions and continuing infrastructure investment programs in the face of the economic downturn. The Senate, meanwhile, has yet to start the appropriations process for transportation, but will begin considering the next coronavirus relief package next Monday—a bill which could include money for Amtrak and transit systems.
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The House Rules Committee on Rules announced it will meet on Monday to set the terms for floor debate and accept amendments for the seven appropriations bills. The package is expected to pass along party lines.
Passengers will still have to wait for what counterproposals, if any, come out of the Senate. It is unlikely that the Senate will fund Amtrak at the $10 billion level set by the House bill. However, based in large part the work our association and allied organizations have done to shape support among Amtrak-served senators, there have been clear requests for enhanced funding coming out of the Senate. Three separate groups of Senators issued letters to Amtrak’s President William Flynn asking hard questions about the railroad’s plan to reduce service to three days per week on most long-distance routes:
- A bipartisan letter to Amtrak from Senators Daines (R-MT), Udall (D-NM), Heinrich (D-NM), Bennet (D-CO), Cramer (R-ND), Braun (R-IN), and Hoeven (R-ND) opposing plans to terminate one out of every five employees, putting thousands out of work, and reducing the frequencies of the National Network long distance trains.
- A letter from Senators Tester (D-MT), Rosen (D-NV), Cortez-Masto (D-NV), and Manchin (D-WV) to Amtrak demanding a commitment from Amtrak on what the conditions and timelines of a full resumption of 7-day-a-week service on all long-distance routes would look like, and the costs associated with the reduction and resumption of service.
- A letter from Senators Wicker (R-MS), Moran (R-KS), Gardner (R-CO), (R-WV) Capito, and Johnson (R-WI) to Amtrak to receive commitments that any reductions are only temporary and that there is a plan to bring daily service.
This week, a group of eleven northeastern Democratic Senators issued a letter directly to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) calling for “substantial funding for Amtrak in any future pandemic relief bill.” U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-CN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) signed onto the letter, which calls for additional funding to continue critical capital work on the Northeast Corridor and prevent layoffs and service reductions:
“As senators representing states along the Northeast Corridor (NEC), we urge you to include substantial funding to protect Amtrak’s capital funding, especially for crucial projects on the NEC—the busiest passenger rail corridor in North America. This funding would also serve to protect Amtrak’s workforce, nationwide service, and other critical projects,” the senators wrote. “We are particularly concerned that without substantial additional federal support, Amtrak’s critical capital program on the NEC could be affected. Prior to the pandemic, the 457-mile NEC rail network between Washington, D.C. and Boston Massachusetts provided 750,000 trips each day serving a workforce that contributes more than $50 billion annually to the national economy. However, the NEC needs significant upgrades as crucial segments are at or near capacity and portions of the rail line are over a century old.”
The senators continued: “[I]n response to the COVID-19 pandemic and a reduction in ridership, Amtrak is planning significant service and workforce reductions. Amtrak has proposed offsetting revenue losses by reducing operating costs by approximately $500 million in FY 2021. With ridership continuing to plummet, the financial situation of Amtrak will continue to worsen with potentially disastrous outcomes for the workforce and for service.
Rail Passengers will continue to work to secure concrete funding to prevent layoffs, continue daily service, and support desperately needed infrastructure upgrades across the NEC and the National Network.
You can join our campaign to insist that Amtrak receives emergency financial support, tied to certainty for workers and Amtrak-served communities.
"I wish to extend my appreciation to members of the Rail Passengers Association for their steadfast advocacy to protect not only the Southwest Chief, but all rail transportation which plays such an important role in our economy and local communities. I look forward to continuing this close partnership, both with America’s rail passengers and our bipartisan group of senators, to ensure a bright future for the Southwest Chief route."
Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS)
April 2, 2019, on receiving the Association's Golden Spike Award for his work to protect the Southwest Chief