June 26, 2019

VIDEO: Udall to Amtrak: America Needs a Visionary and Bold Plan to Preserve and Improve Long-Distance Rail

Urges top Amtrak official to engage with communities to ensure the future of the national train network

Video: https://youtu.be/MO73wbGdMvc

WASHINGTON – Today, during an oversight hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee, U.S. Senator Tom Udall pressed Richard Anderson, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Amtrak Board of Directors, on Amtrak’s plan to preserve and improve long-distance passenger rail for the American public.

Last year, Udall secured a commitment from a top Amtrak official to stop plans to substitute buses for trains on a segment of the Southwest Chief rail line during Fiscal Year 2019. Before this public commitment, the Southwest Chief route, which serves several New Mexico communities, faced an uncertain future after Amtrak threatened to withhold millions of dollars in funding necessary to maintaining long-distance passenger rail line service.

Udall thanked Anderson for “changing course, for now, from discontinuing the Southwest Chief – an action that would do a disservice to Amtrak customers and hurt all communities on the line between Dodge City, Kansas and Albuquerque, New Mexico.” Udall then stated that he was “very discouraged” to hear Anderson admit that Amtrak was still considering breaking up long-distance routes, and noted his strong disagreement with that plan.  

Udall urged Anderson to meaningfully engage with communities and stakeholders to make improvements that would ensure the future of the national train network. “While progress has been made – I am confident that the threat is not over,” said Udall. “I see that Amtrak continues to blame Congress and others for budgetary woes when it is convenient. Yet when tasked with engaging with stakeholders, you are slow to do so.”

“When Congress rejects Amtrak’s corridor plan, it appears that Amtrak will once again be left without a real vision for the National Network. That is deeply disappointing. Amtrak must develop a visionary and bold plan to preserve and improve long-distance rail for the American public,” Udall continued.

James Souby, Commissioner of the Southwest Chief & Front Range Passenger Rail Commission and President of the Colorado Rail Passenger Association, who was instrumental in helping to save the Southwest Chief line, also noted, “The way Amtrak evaluates long-distance service… is purely based on metrics related to passenger trips [but] the greatest value of long-distance trains are the economic and social benefits they bring to the communities they serve… In the three states--Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico--that the Southwest Chief runs through, the economic and social benefits total $180 million a year.” 

“When you think about the economic and social value of that train to that community, it’s immense,” Souby continued.

Udall urged Anderson to listen to Souby’s powerful statement. 

Udall has long advocated for investment in rural transportation infrastructure, such as the Southwest Chief line, which helps boost local economies and link communities across New Mexico to the rest of the nation. He previously helped lead bipartisan efforts, along with Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), in the Senate to secure an additional $50 million in federal funding to help maintain Amtrak’s train services in the 2019 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) appropriations bill.