June 29, 2020

Udall, Heinrich Join Bipartisan Letter To Amtrak Opposing Cuts To The Southwest Chief

Amtrak’s actions could irrevocably hurt communities in New Mexico and would put thousands of Americans out of work

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) joined a bipartisan letter to the President of Amtrak opposing plans to terminate one out of every five employees, putting thousands out of work, and reducing the hours of operation of the National Network that includes the long-distance passenger rail route of the Southwest Chief. In New Mexico, the Southwest Chief serves several communities, including Raton, Las Vegas, Lamy, Albuquerque, and Gallup. Senators Udall and Heinrich are stressing the need to protect New Mexico jobs and surrounding local economies. 

“We are deeply concerned by the downsizing plan outlined in your supplemental funding request and believe it to be contrary to public interest. These cuts would not only dramatically reduce the utility of the nation’s passenger rail network, but would also ignore Congressional intent to expedite economic recovery following the pandemic,” the senators wrote. “In your FY2021 supplemental funding request you stated ‘e understand how important Amtrak service is to the nation and, particularly, small communities across the nation where we play a unique role in connecting these communities to the rest of America.’ Your request, unfortunately, does not reflect that understanding.”

“I am deeply disappointed to hear that Amtrak plans to lay off thousands of employees and reduce rail routes like the Southwest Chief at a time when Americans are already struggling to combat the COVID-19 crisis,” said Udall, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “These layoffs will add many New Mexicans to our country’s growing list of hardworking, yet unemployed, individuals who rely on their jobs at Amtrak to house and feed their families. The reduced routes will also cut off smaller, rural communities from neighboring towns, cities and states. The Southwest Chief is a critical engine of economic growth, commerce, and connection for New Mexicans throughout our state. I urge Amtrak to reverse course.”

“I find it reprehensible that Amtrak is using a public health crisis to try to realize their long-sought goal of gutting the National Network and lines like the Southwest Chief," said Heinrich. "Make no mistake, despite over $1 billion in recovery assistance from Congress, Amtrak is using the pandemic as an excuse to cut jobs and eliminate rail service throughout rural communities across the country. I will continue fighting to protect the Southwest Chief and ensure this essential service remains for our communities. I am committed to protecting jobs for hard-working New Mexicans during what has become the greatest public health crisis of our generation.”

Through the CARES Act, Congress provided Amtrak with $1.02 billion to alleviate economic impact, yet, Amtrak’s plan to terminate one out of every five employees would put thousands of Americans out of work at a time when millions of Americans have lost their jobs. The plan also calls for reducing the frequency of all National Network long-distance trains, while consolidating three routes into one, thus greatly reducing Amtrak’s ability to operate its Network at full capacity.

These actions will eliminate thousands of points of connection and dramatically reduce the utility of Amtrak as a transportation provider, irrevocably hurting hundreds of communities and small towns already devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the full letter below or by clicking HERE.

Dear Mr. Flynn,

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic Congress passed the CARES Act, which provided Amtrak with $1.02 billion to alleviate the severe economic impact COVID-19 produced. You have asked Congress to provide record levels of taxpayer funding, yet, in your supplemental funding request for Fiscal Year 2021 you are proposing to cut service and staff during an unprecedented time. We are deeply concerned by the downsizing plan outlined in your supplemental funding request and believe it to be contrary to public interest. These cuts would not only dramatically reduce the utility of the nation’s passenger rail network, but would also ignore Congressional intent to expedite economic recovery following the pandemic. 

Amtrak’s plan to terminate one out of every five employees would put thousands of Americans out of work at a time when millions of Americans have lost their jobs. This severe reduction in workforce raises serious doubts about whether a realistic plan exists for fully restoring service in a timely fashion. Your plan also calls for reducing the frequency of all National Network longdistance trains, while consolidating three routes into one, thus greatly reducing Amtrak’s ability to operate its Network at full capacity. These actions will eliminate thousands of points of connection and dramatically reduce the utility of Amtrak as a transportation provider, irrevocably hurting hundreds of communities and small towns already devastated by the COVID19 pandemic.

In your FY2021 supplemental funding request you stated “e understand how important Amtrak service is to the nation and, particularly, small communities across the nation where we play a unique role in connecting these communities to the rest of America.” Your request, unfortunately, does not reflect that understanding.

As Congress considers your supplementary request for FY2021, we ask that you provide the following information:

- How much would it cost to maintain the current service levels on all long-distance routes?
- How does the cost of retaining the current workforce in active status, ready to return to work, compare with that of hiring and training new employees?
- By reducing the workforce, what is your desired outcome? Why?
- What ridership metrics will Amtrak use to decide when to restore capacity, and how will they account for the reduced demand signal resulting from fewer frequencies and connections? Do you plan to restore service in phases?
- You wrote restoring these frequencies will be “subject to adequate funding;” What does Amtrak consider adequate funding?

Thank you for your time and cooperation, we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,