Getting Amtrak Through The Crash
March 24, 2020
As terrible as the coronavirus outbreak has been, when it's done we need to be sure there's still an Amtrak left behind.
by Jim Mathews / President & CEO
The coronavirus outbreak is crushing all forms of travel, and that includes Amtrak. The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Amtrak's ridership right now is down 92% (yes, I typed that correctly). Along with the rest of our D.C. professional policy team, I have been sounding the alarm about this since the declines began and working closely with key members of Congress to ensure that any rescue for transportation includes passenger rail and public transit.
As I told the Washington Post last week, we need to be careful that our rescue package funding doesn't wipe out any hope of paying for Amtrak's ambitious growth plans, plans your Association has been working patiently with Amtrak to advance for more than a year.
In the same Post article for which I was interviewed, Amtrak's Stephen Gardner said as much: "Eventually this will pass, but none of the bridges or [train] cars or any of the things we have that are old and need to be replaced will get younger as a result of this crisis,” he said.
All of us who care about our transportation system need to keep calling and emailing our congressional representatives and Senators on this issue. I know you're getting busy signals; sometimes we do, too, even though in some cases our team has personal cell numbers for key staff. Call anyway. And email.
Amtrak has outlined an incredibly bold, thoughtful and ambitious plan in its Fiscal 2021 legislative report and grant request, and the danger is that after a $1 billion bailout there will be reluctance to fund what has needed to be funded all along. That would be a mistake. As Stephen notes, all of the crucial elements of our National Network will still need investment when this crisis has passed. And that investment will pay major dividends, in jobs, in economic vitality and recovery and in preparation for resilience if -- or when -- we face another crisis like this one.
"The National Association of Railroad Passengers has done yeoman work over the years and in fact if it weren’t for NARP, I'd be surprised if Amtrak were still in possession of as a large a network as they have. So they've done good work, they're very good on the factual case."
Robert Gallamore, Director of Transportation Center at Northwestern University and former Federal Railroad Administration official, Director of Transportation Center at Northwestern University
November 17, 2005, on The Leonard Lopate Show (with guest host Chris Bannon), WNYC New York.