It’s easy to see why Americans of all political stripes want more Amtrak service and are willing to pay for it. Amtrak and its national network of short- and long-distance routes help create good jobs, act as a critical part of our transportation network, and connect millions of people and communities across our country.
It’s a shame Amtrak’s president and CEO, Richard Anderson, doesn’t seem to understand this.
Before a recent Senate hearing, Anderson outlined a future for Amtrak that breaks up the carrier’s long-distance routes in favor of expanded service in regional and metropolitan markets. There’s no denying Amtrak should be looking for growth opportunities. But the belief that the carrier’s regional expansion must come at the expense of its national network isn’t just concerning – this idea goes against Amtrak’s own mission and purpose.
Amtrak is not and never has been a corridor service. It was created by Congress to do what freight carriers could not: provide efficient, reliable passenger service to communities across this country. For the dozens of small, midsize and rural areas that Amtrak’s long-distance routes serve, the carrier has proven invaluable. These routes act as a critical link to city centers, educational and economic opportunities, and in many cases, are the only public transportation option available.
This explains why, when Amtrak wanted to kill off one of its top-performing long-distance lines last year, the Southwest Chief, lawmakers rightfully pushed back. Members of Congress from both rural and urban areas understand the importance of a truly national passenger rail system. They also understand that providing high quality, increased service in growing markets should not come at the expense of this carrier’s long-distance routes.
Whether Anderson wants to believe it or not, there is value in a national passenger rail system. Transportation labor cannot and will not allow Amtrak to abandon its mandate to connect and serve communities of all sizes throughout the country. We will continue to work with lawmakers and the American public to ensure any long-term plans to increase Amtrak’s growth in new markets also recognize the importance of and help maintain Amtrak’s national network.