Last week, the U.S. Senate passed a transportation spending bill that included another record $1.94 billion in funding for Amtrak, while also attaching a number of amendments targeting Amtrak operations. These amendments come after months of controversial service and operational changes instituted by Amtrak’s new CEO, Richard Anderson. And despite Congress showing strong support for Amtrak by increasing their funding in recent spending bills, the railroad’s relationship with many on Capitol Hill is deteriorating.
In the last few months, members of both the House and Senate have engaged in heated discussions with Richard Anderson himself. Their concerns are varied, but king amongst them has been Amtrak’s proposal to essentially chop up the Southwest Chief and operate a portion of the route with a bus. Many local communities have also protested Amtrak’s decision to eliminate the last remaining ticket agents at certain stations.
Last week’s transportation spending bill was the Senate’s chance to push back. The “manager’s amendment ” easily passed by a vote of 92-6 , and included a number of amendments as part of the package (see list below). The next challenge will be to make sure these amendments are included in the final “conference” bill that will be negotiated between the House and Senate.
In the mean time, TCU members should call their Senators to thank them for supporting Amtrak employees, and also call their Congressperson and tell them to support the following amendments in the transportation spending bill:
U.S. Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121
- Ticket Agents – Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) amdt. 3600 – This amendment will require Amtrak to dedicate funding towards restaffing many of the stations where the agents were removed, and that averaged over 25 passengers per day (full text ). This amendment is critical to career Amtrak ticket agents (and TCU members) whose jobs were eliminated this year due to Amtrak’s new staffing policy. If it becomes law, restaffed stations could include: Cincinnati, OH;Hammond, LA; Havre, MT; Lamy, NM; Ottumwa, IA; Shelby, MT; Charleston, WV; Marshall, TX; Meridian, MS; Topeka, KS; and Tuscaloosa, AL. The amendment is due in large part to TCU’s Legislative Department advocating for its members on Capitol Hill. Cosponsors (9): Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), Doug Jones (D-AL), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Tom Udall (D-NM), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Jon Tester (D-MT), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Steve Daines (R-MT), Roger Wicker (R-MS).
- Southwest Chief – Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) amdt. 3413 – This amendment (full text ) effectively directs $50 million of Amtrak’s funding towards investing in Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route and enabling its continued operation. The amendment also directs Amtrak to seek and receive public input through a notice and comment process whenever the company is considering service changes on the National Network. Cosponsors (5): Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Cory Gardner (R-CO).
- Veterans Discounts – Sen. Richard Blumenthal amdt. 3677 – This amendment would direct Amtrak reinstate its discount program for members of Veterans Advantage. Amtrak received a lot of scorn when they announced they were cancelling the program back in March.