Happening Now

Senate amendment would eliminate Amtrak food and beverage

July 25, 2013

Written By Sean Jeans Gail

Graphic courtesy of Transportation For America
Graphic courtesy of Transportation For America

The Senate is debating a transportation funding bill that would include $1.45 billion for Amtrak and $100 million for high performance rail. The bill also has $550 million for TIGER grants, a program that has effectively funded passenger and freight rail improvements, and $1.94 billion for New Starts, which has been critical in the development of regional rail transit.

With the House pushing an alternative proposal that will slash Amtrak’s funding by a third, it is essential that the Senate pass this bill with strong bipartisan support.

The Senate is considering two critical Amtrak-related amendments:

Amendment 1788, offered by Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) is positive, increasing the proposed level of Amtrak funding to $1.57 billion, an increase of $130 million.

Amendment 1764, offered by Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), would ban federal funds from being used “to subsidize costs related to food and beverage and first class services.”

The Senator’s amendment ignores that food and beverage service is an essential component of Amtrak’s business—particularly on long distance trains, where it meets basic human needs. Think about trying to travel on one of Amtrak’s long distance trains (that travel routes up to 2,438 miles in length, over the course of days) without access to onboard food and beverages. This absence would be especially hard on the high percentage of Amtrak's passengers with disabilities and senior citizens who rely on long distance trains.

[Read NARP's white paper, "The Economics of Passenger Train Food & Beverage Service"]

It is clumsy micromanaging which fails to achieve its stated objective of reducing government support of passenger rail. Amtrak estimates that elimination of food service would reduce ridership by 4.5%, cut ticket revenue by 9.9%, and increase the size of its required operating grant—even before considering labor protection costs associated with mass lay-offs.

These amendments could be considered as early as today! Call your Senators now! Let them know:

—You support robust funding for Amtrak and a modern national rail network, and ask them to vote yes on Senator Coons' Amtrak amendment (#1788)

—To oppose Senator Flake's amendment that would kill food and beverage service on Amtrak (#1764).