Rail Passengers Demand More and Better Trains in Open Letter to Amtrak

Updated 2 weeks ago Special to HuntingtonNews.Net

Rail Passengers Association President and CEO Jim Mathews has called on Amtrak management in an open-letter to take passenger rail in the U.S. into the 21st Century and lead surface transportation policy. 

 

The letter, included with the press release below, was addressed to Amtrak's board and called for more and better trains, but also requested that Amtrak go further - to modernize Amtrak’s rolling stock, embrace a wholly customer-centric view, protect the integrity of the National Network, and refuse to degrade services.    The Association also outlined six areas where Amtrak can grow and develop a foundation for “A Connected America”, a concept that aims to put 80 percent of Americans within 25 miles of a rail station within 25 years.   

 

Rail Passengers’ “Open Letter” Calls on Amtrak to Lead Surface-Transportation Policy in U.S.

Riders Demand More and Better Trains for the 21st Century

Washington, D.C. - In an open-letter to Amtrak, the Rail Passengers Association (RPA) CEO Jim Mathews called on railroad management to “seize this moment” to shape the future of the National Network to create “A Connected America” that will meet the country’s transportation needs well into the future.

In the letter addressed to members of Amtrak's board, Mathews wrote that passenger rail is at a unique moment and is enjoying its strongest support in decades. Riders are demanding more and better trains and Congress has responded by increasing appropriations for both Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019. But, Mathews called on Amtrak leadership to go further, to modernize Amtrak’s rolling stock, embrace a wholly customer-centric view, protect the integrity of the National Network, and refuse to degrade services.

“It’s time to seize this moment, to shift away from an 'operating' culture to an 'opportunity' culture," Mathews wrote. "On behalf of the 40 million Americans who ride intercity and commuter trains, we’re calling on leaders at Amtrak to lead—not follow—in helping to create a real surface-transportation policy for the U.S. Amtrak management needs to look boldly beyond the National Network and riders of today to assess what kind of country we’re likely to be in 2040 or 2050, to shape the future of the National Network and to use the rail mode to tie other modes seamlessly together.”

To get Amtrak into a position where the railroad can make appropriate levels of change that benefit the communities along the National Network, RPA outlined six areas where Amtrak can grow and develop a foundation for “A Connected America”, a concept that aims to put 80 percent of Americans within 25 miles of a rail station within 25 years.

RPA is calling on Amtrak’s leadership to support a future with More Trains, Better Trains and A Commitment To Infrastructure Investment:

  1. More Trains: Move aggressively on your new growth vision, with more frequencies in dense corridors, new rolling stock and modern safety measures, while eliminating, once and for all, the folly of services operating less than daily.
  2. Better Trains: Fully and enthusiastically embrace a customer-centric view of passenger service, ensuring that trains’ basic services are reliable and sound while improving the experience for each and every traveler.
  3. Commitment To Infrastructure Investment: Engage creatively and transparently with local communities, state partners, and private industry to find ways to say “Yes” to new service; engage in an open conversation with host railroads and regulators about better, less-contentious approaches to shared-use corridors—while continuing to defend the rights of paying passengers to on-time service by pressing for a private right-of-action to hold host railroads accountable.

Rail Passengers is also implored Amtrak to look beyond its budget to ensure that communities do not get less service nor make cuts to routes, especially those in already underserved areas where transportation options are limited.

“It’s important that no community served today should see their service degraded. Rural America should not be shortchanged by any shifts in service. Amtrak has a mission beyond the balance sheet, a fact enshrined in law. Amtrak should always seek prudent stewardship of public funds,” Mathews wrote. “But Amtrak is a taxpayer-supported enterprise, whose core mission is to provide mobility and access to communities that need it and where private industry cannot profitably provide it. That doesn’t mean the nature of that service can’t change, but no community should get worse service.”

You can read the letter in its entirety below:

We at the Rail Passengers Association believe that in the U.S. today we have arrived at a unique moment in passenger rail. Passenger rail generally and Amtrak specifically are enjoying some of their strongest support in decades, reflecting the reality that much of the American public is demanding more and better trains. With sharply increased appropriations in Fiscal 2018 and Fiscal 2019, Congress is demonstrating a willingness to make sensible investments in the future of mobility in the United States.

Amtrak, for its part, is looking to the future with renewed energy, contemplating exciting growth plans that could, for example, expand Amtrak along the Heartland Flyer, the Front Range Corridor, and the Los Angeles – Albuquerque corridor, and bring passenger rail back to the Gulf Coast. New CEO Richard Anderson is committed to improving the safety culture at the railroad, as well as finding ways to satisfy the tastes and demands of a new generation of fare-paying riders with improved rolling stock and on-board amenities.

It’s time to seize this moment, to shift away from an “operating” culture to an “opportunity” culture. On behalf of the 40 million Americans who ride intercity and commuter trains, we’re calling on leaders at Amtrak to lead—not follow—in helping to create a real surface-transportation policy for the U.S. Amtrak management needs to look boldly beyond the National Network and riders of today to assess what kind of country we’re likely to be in 2040 or 2050, to shape the future of the National Network and to use the rail mode to tie other modes seamlessly together.

RPA is today calling on Amtrak’s Board, Executive leadership and senior management to support a future with More Trains, Better Trains and A Commitment To Infrastructure Investment –

1. More Trains, Better Trains:

  • Move aggressively on your new growth vision, with more frequencies in dense corridors, new rolling stock and modern safety measures—everything from Positive Train Control to GPS-tracking and modernized procedures for train crews. Amtrak’s new emphasis on 400- to 500-mile corridors is a good idea, positioning Amtrak to fill a unique role that other travel modes can’t fill. By 2045, 89% of Americans are expected to live in urban areas. At the same time, during the next 20 years Baby Boomers are expected to grow the senior population by 30 million people—a demographic that often faces travel challenges from vision, hearing and mobility constraints. Corridors can’t supplant Amtrak’s congressional mandate to serve all Americans, but RPA believes that the mandate also shouldn’t stifle Amtrak from thinking about a robust future, which may look different from today.
  • Fully and enthusiastically embrace a customer-centric view of passenger service, ensuring that trains’ basic services—like toilets and air-conditioning—are reliable and sound while improving the experience for each and every traveler. It is long past time to replace the rolling museum that is today’s Amtrak with modern equipment with lower operating and maintenance costs, which will result in a better deal for the taxpayer as well as the passenger.
  • Eliminate, once and for all, the folly of services operating less than daily. Thrice-weekly service is not a meaningful frequency for modern American travelers and guarantees poor financial performance. Amtrak must start laying the groundwork for a rapid return to a Daily Sunset and a Daily Cardinal service.

2. Commitment To Infrastructure Investment:

  • Engage creatively and transparently with local communities, state partners, and private industry to find ways to say “Yes” to new service and amenities, rather than “No.” This includes pressing forward without delay on the long-awaited link between Mobile and New Orleans, a project which a recent study showed would produce $216 million in annual economic benefits for Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama despite costing the three states only about $7 million each year. Despite the urbanization of America, by 2045 we’ll still have a significant fraction of Americans living in rural communities, and demographic trends tell us that this population will have a large number of seniors, disabled and veterans who will need the kind of mobility that only rail can provides.
  • Engage in an open conversation with host railroads and regulators about better, less-contentious approaches to shared-use corridors that promote investment in more network fluidity and a better passenger experience.
  • Notwithstanding the search for more cooperative approaches, continue pressing for a private right-of-action so that on behalf of paying passengers Amtrak can hold host railroads accountable for poor on-time performance.

The Rail Passengers Association supports meaningful change. By all means, grow, adapt, evolve and position for a stronger more self-sustaining future. It is time for Amtrak to embrace the new century. But it’s important that no community served today should see their service degraded. Rural America should not be shortchanged by any shifts in service. Amtrak has a mission beyond the balance sheet, a fact enshrined in law. Amtrak should always seek prudent stewardship of public funds. But Amtrak is a taxpayer-supported enterprise, whose core mission is to provide mobility and access to communities that need it and where private industry cannot profitably provide it. That doesn’t mean the nature of that service can’t change, but no community should get worse service. We expect a prudently run but truly National Network.

Millions of Americans believe in the vision of an Amtrak worthy of a 21st Century America. At RPA we call it A Connected America, which will put 80% of Americans within 25 miles of a rail station within 25 years using a combination of high-speed/high-performance, long-distance intercity rail, commuter trains, light-rail, transit and innovative last-mile connections. A Connected America is not only good for passengers but good for business, an economic engine in the communities it serves. We believe passengers should be able to drive, bike, walk or take transit to those stations as they choose, whether traveling for work, school or leisure. They should have the choice of multiple frequencies each day in dense corridors. They should be able to take the train to airports to continue their journeys onward. In short, they expect a modern, frequent, reliable and safe service as part of a robust ecosystem of travel choices, from ride-sharing vehicles and bikes to cars, trains and jetliners. It’s what America deserves.

Sincerely,

Jim Mathews

President & CEO

Comments powered by Disqus