Happening Now

Rail Passengers Open Letter To Amtrak

October 26, 2018

We at the Rail Passengers Association believe that in the U.S. today we have arrived at a unique moment in passenger rail. Passenger rail generally and Amtrak specifically are enjoying some of their strongest support in decades, reflecting the reality that much of the American public is demanding more and better trains. With sharply increased appropriations in Fiscal 2018 and Fiscal 2019, Congress is demonstrating a willingness to make sensible investments in the future of mobility in the United States.

Amtrak, for its part, is looking to the future with renewed energy, contemplating exciting growth plans that could, for example, expand Amtrak along the Heartland Flyer, the Front Range Corridor, and the Los Angeles – Albuquerque corridor, and bring passenger rail back to the Gulf Coast. New CEO Richard Anderson is committed to improving the safety culture at the railroad, as well as finding ways to satisfy the tastes and demands of a new generation of fare-paying riders with improved rolling stock and on-board amenities.

It’s time to seize this moment, to shift away from an “operating” culture to an “opportunity” culture. On behalf of the 40 million Americans who ride intercity and commuter trains, we’re calling on leaders at Amtrak to lead—not follow—in helping to create a real surface-transportation policy for the U.S. Amtrak management needs to look boldly beyond the National Network and riders of today to assess what kind of country we’re likely to be in 2040 or 2050, to shape the future of the National Network and to use the rail mode to tie other modes seamlessly together.

Rail Passengers Association is today calling on Amtrak’s Board, Executive leadership and senior management to support a future with More Trains, Better Trains and A Commitment To Infrastructure Investment –

1. More Trains, Better Trains:

  • Move aggressively on your new growth vision, with more frequencies in dense corridors, new rolling stock and modern safety measures—everything from Positive Train Control to GPS-tracking and modernized procedures for train crews. Amtrak’s new emphasis on 400- to 500-mile corridors is a good idea, positioning Amtrak to fill a unique role that other travel modes can’t fill. By 2045, 89% of Americans are expected to live in urban areas. At the same time, during the next 20 years Baby Boomers are expected to grow the senior population by 30 million people—a demographic that often faces travel challenges from vision, hearing and mobility constraints. Corridors can’t supplant Amtrak’s congressional mandate to serve all Americans, but Rail Passengers Association believes that the mandate also shouldn’t stifle Amtrak from thinking about a robust future, which may look different from today.
  • Fully and enthusiastically embrace a customer-centric view of passenger service, ensuring that trains’ basic services—like toilets and air-conditioning—are reliable and sound while improving the experience for each and every traveler. It is long past time to replace the rolling museum that is today’s Amtrak with modern equipment with lower operating and maintenance costs, which will result in a better deal for the taxpayer as well as the passenger.
  • Eliminate, once and for all, the folly of services operating less than daily. Thrice-weekly service is not a meaningful frequency for modern American travelers and guarantees poor financial performance. Amtrak must start laying the groundwork for a rapid return to a Daily Sunset and a Daily Cardinal service.

2. Commitment To Infrastructure Investment:

  • Engage creatively and transparently with local communities, state partners, and private industryto find ways to say “Yes” to new service and amenities, rather than “No.” This includes pressing forward without delay on the long-awaited link between Mobile and New Orleans, a project which a recent study showed would produce $216 million in annual economic benefits for Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama despite costing the three states only about $7 million each year. Despite the urbanization of America, by 2045 we’ll still have a significant fraction of Americans living in rural communities, and demographic trends tell us that this population will have a large number of seniors, disabled and veterans who will need the kind of mobility that only rail can provides.
  • Engage in an open conversation with host railroads and regulatorsabout better, less-contentious approaches to shared-use corridors that promote investment in more network fluidity and a better passenger experience.
  • Notwithstanding the search for more cooperative approaches, continue pressing for a private right-of-action so that on behalf of paying passengers Amtrak can hold host railroads accountable for poor on-time performance.

The Rail Passengers Association supports meaningful change. By all means, grow, adapt, evolve and position for a stronger more self-sustaining future. It is time for Amtrak to embrace the new century. But it’s important that no community served today should see their service degraded. Rural America should not be shortchanged by any shifts in service. Amtrak has a mission beyond the balance sheet, a fact enshrined in law. Amtrak should always seek prudent stewardship of public funds. But Amtrak is a taxpayer-supported enterprise, whose core mission is to provide mobility and access to communities that need it and where private industry cannot profitably provide it. That doesn’t mean the nature of that service can’t change, but no community should get worse service. We expect a prudently run but truly National Network.

Millions of Americans believe in the vision of an Amtrak worthy of a 21stCentury America. At Rail Passengers Association we call it A Connected America, which will put 80% of Americans within 25 miles of a rail station within 25 years using a combination of high-speed/high-performance, long-distance intercity rail, commuter trains, light-rail, transit and innovative last-mile connections. A Connected Americais not only good for passengers but good for business, an economic engine in the communities it serves. We believe passengers should be able to drive, bike, walk or take transit to those stations as they choose, whether traveling for work, school or leisure. They should have the choice of multiple frequencies each day in dense corridors. They should be able to take the train to airports to continue their journeys onward. In short, they expect a modern, frequent, reliable and safe service as part of a robust ecosystem of travel choices, from ride-sharing vehicles and bikes to cars, trains and jetliners. It’s what America deserves.


Jim Mathews

President & CEO