Happening Now

Down To The Wire To Save Service

September 18, 2020

A Legislative Look Ahead To A Pivotal Week In Congress

by Jim Mathews / President & CEO

Let me be blunt: we have 13 days to avert catastrophic damage to our Amtrak service in small communities and big cities alike. Looking at the legislative landscape as of this afternoon, I can tell you that now is the time for all of us to dig a little deeper, write one more email, make one more phone call, and ask all of your friends and relatives to do the same.

As you’ve heard us say since May, Amtrak’s disastrous 3x weekly service proposal demands that we organize a vigorous defense of daily service for ALL long-distance routes...even those that are 3x today, like the Sunset and the Cardinal. We’ve done that with key congressional offices, shared our assessment of the dire consequences – a $2.3 billion bomb on Flyover Country alone, organized sign-on letters in the Senate and I’ve testified before the House committee that sets rail policy about our opposition to those cuts.

But make no mistake: the coronavirus pandemic poses a grave threat to all three business lines, the Northeast Corridor, State-supported, and the National Network of intercity passenger routes.

As bad as it is, 3x service on long-distance trains is far from the worst-case scenario U.S. passengers face — a flat-funding scenario on October 1st could see the entire passenger rail network set back decades, with some corridors facing the threat of permanent elimination.

The September 30th deadlines for the end of the FY2020 budget, the FAST Act and the CARES Act are all drawing near, but momentum is building to pass a legislative solution, with House Democrats indicating a vote on a short-term extension could come as early as next week.

Leadership in both the House and Senate have endorsed a bipartisan compromise to avert a government shutdown and keep transportation funding moving. The preferred solution appears to be a Continuing Resolution paired with a one-year extension of the FAST Act.

While this would nominally be a “clean” extension with flat funding, a group of 88 organizations led by the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials and the American Public Transportation Association issued a letter urging Congress to include emergency federal funding for state transportation departments and public transit agencies as part of the surface transportation extension—$37 billion and $32 billion, respectively.

Additionally, the White House has announced it favors a $25 billion bailout for the airline industry as part of the CR/transportation extension or the next coronavirus relief package. “We can’t lose our transportation system,” President Trump told reporters, signaling his support for an airline bailout.

This opens the door, just a crack, for passenger rail.

While we remain agnostic about the vehicle, Rail Passengers staff is working with key Hill offices to ensure that Amtrak receives $5 billion as part of any emergency federal funding package, and we’re including a requirement that this funding includes protections for National Network service and for Amtrak workers.

We need all of you to join us in delivering this message to your two Senators and Representative in Congress, using the resources we’ve gathered in our toolkit. Just click through this link to get the resources you need.

If you’ve already sent an email, great! Time to write another one. If you’ve already shared our graphics, our links and used our suggested social-media posts on your Facebook or Instagram pages, that’s fantastic! Share them again this weekend. If you’ve called your congressional delegation, you have my thanks; and now I’m asking you to call once or twice more. We must keep up the drumbeat, and our toolkit makes it easy. When you click on the phone call link, we’ve even included a “script” you can use when you make it through to congressional offices. It could not be easier.

Next week could be decisive in our fight to preserve passenger rail service for all Americans! Will you sit on the sidelines, or get in the game?