Amtrak’s Flynn to Congress: Here’s What We Need

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
In a Jan. 22 letter, Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn outlined five top priorities for the new Congress to address in 2021.

In a Jan. 22 letter, Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn outlined five top priorities for the new Congress to address in 2021.

Amtrak CEO William J. Flynn has provided the 117th Congress with the railroad’s five top priorities to ensure its recovery from the pandemic and expand service this year. In a Jan. 22 letter (download below), Flynn asked legislators to address:

1. Sufficient funding: “Amtrak requires additional COVID relief funding to sustain and restore operations and recall employees through the remainder of FY21 and into FY22 and beyond,” Flynn wrote. (Amtrak is slated to receive $1 billion under the $2.3 trillion Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which was signed into law last month.) “In the coming weeks, we are requesting $1.541 billion in FY21 and will outline our FY22 needs in our annual Legislative and Grant Request.”

2. Intercity Passenger Rail Trust Fund: “Amtrak and intercity passenger rail are the only mode of surface transportation without a federal trust fund to provide reliable, multi-year program funding,” Flynn noted. “Reliance solely on the annual appropriations process for funding inhibits our ability to pursue large, multi-year capital projects or procurements and service expansion across the nation. If Amtrak is to significantly improve and expand our network, Congress must create a predictable and long-term source of federal funding, like a trust fund, for both the Northeast Corridor and the National Network.” (For more information on this need, listen to this Rail Group On Air podcast: Commuter Rail Coalition on Access, Capacity and Public Convenience and Necessity. Also, Romayne C. Brown, Board of Directors Chair, Metra (a CRC member) discussed the subject at a Nov. 18 hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.)

3. Access to freight railroads for new service and more trains: “Amtrak always attempts to work cooperatively with our host railroads to add new routes, modify existing routes, and add additional trains,” Flynn wrote. “More often than not, these efforts fail to provide reasonable access for Amtrak trains, leaving your constituents without the services they desire and deserve. We are seeking Congressional support and updates to statute to ensure the Amtrak network can grow and serve more of your constituents.” (Amtrak President Stephen Gardner addressed this issue at a Nov. 18 hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.)

4. Preference enforcement: “Our host railroads are required by law to provide Amtrak trains dispatching preference over their own freight trains,” Flynn pointed out. “Unfortunately, this requirement is not consistently honored and ‘freight train interference’ is the largest source of delay to Amtrak trains on host railroads, inconveniencing passengers in violation of the law. Amtrak seeks the right to bring an action in U.S. District Court when our preference right is violated so we can ensure our customers are not unnecessarily delayed by freight trains and arrive on-time.” (Amtrak President Stephen Gardner addressed this issue at a Nov. 18 hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.)

5. New routes: “Frequent and reliable ‘corridor’ routes, typically less than 500 miles, represent the fastest-growing segment of Amtrak service,” Flynn reported. “Population growth, changing demographics and travel preferences, and environmental concerns all point to new opportunities for intercity passenger rail, and we have developed a visionary plan to expand service across the nation. We ask Congress to authorize and fund Amtrak’s expansion in such corridors by allowing us to cover most of the initial capital and operating costs of new or expanded routes prior to requiring state partner cost-sharing under Sec. 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act.”

Tony Coscia, Chairman of the Amtrak Board of Directors, defined Amtrak’s “True Mission” in recent column for Railway Age. Railway Age will celebrate Amtrak’s 50 years of service in a special report in the April 2021 issue.

DOWNLOAD FLYNN’S ENTIRE LETTER HERE:

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