October 21, 2020

VIDEO: Udall Presses Amtrak CEO on Cuts to Southwest Chief During Commerce Committee Hearing

Senate Republican’s inaction on Amtrak assistance will hurt communities in New Mexico

VIDEO LINK: Udall’s questions begin at 1:31:38 here.  

WASHINGTON—Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, questioned William Flynn, President and Chief Executive Officer of Amtrak, on proposed cuts to the Amtrak workforce and long-distance rail routes like the Southwest Chief. 

Udall pressed Flynn on the importance of protecting New Mexico jobs by preventing further furloughs and reduced access to the Southwest Chief, the Amtrak long-distance line that serves many rural communities in the state with limited transportation alternatives. 

In light of the Republican COVID-19 relief proposal’s failure to include needed funding for Amtrak, Udall urged fellow senators and Amtrak leadership to prevent further Amtrak layoffs. Udall called for resources for rail in the subsequent coronavirus relief package. During the hearing, Udall addressed Senate Republican inaction on the $2.4 billion assistance funding for Amtrak provided by the House-passed HEROES Act. 

“Amtrak’s customers between Dodge City, Kansas and Albuquerque, New Mexico are grateful for Amtrak’s commitment to Congressional mandates on capital improvements to this line,” Udall began. “However, I’m concerned about its future, and I want to underscore what you mentioned in your testimony. Does Amtrak currently have the capability to maintain service on the Southwest Chief and other long-distance routes across the country?” 

“We have the capability to maintain the three times a week service that we just began operations of through the month of October,” Flynn replied. “We will need additional funding to restore 7 day frequency routes that we’ve temporarily adjusted. And that was all part of the capitol supplemental funding request we’ve submitted.” 

"Mr. Flynn, are you aware of legislation in Congress that will give you the resources you need to maintain long distance service for the Southwest Chief, rehire the employees you have laid off to date, and prevent further layoffs?” Udall pressed.

“Certainly in the House we're aware of the Invest in America Act and of the House Appropriations Act, which went over and above and provides an additional 5 billion dollars for longer term infrastructure projects and investment in Amtrak overall,” Flynn replied. “But I think beyond that, I believe it's Senator Blumenthal has legislation that would establish a trust fund. Passenger rail, Amtrak is perhaps the only means of surface transportation that does not have the certainty of a trust fund, does not have the ability or at least the certainty of long term funding for these long term capital projects so that would be vitally important to Amtrak as well.” 

Udall is fighting to end Senate Republican inaction that has led to layoffs and reduced access to routes like the Southwest Chief at a time when Americans are already struggling to combat the COVID-19 crisis. Recent Amtrak layoffs have added too many New Mexicans to the country’s growing list of hardworking people who are now unemployed, and the Republican Senate coronavirus relief proposals on the floor this week do not include any assistance for Amtrak employees facing layoffs.

Udall is calling on Senate Republicans to support the crucial funding in the HEROES Act that would reverse Amtrak layoffs and save thousands of jobs and pass his legislation to permanently fund Amtrak’s trust fund. Udall has long fought for full funding to maintain The Southwest Chief line as is a critical engine of economic growth, commerce, and transportation for New Mexicans.