News

91 House members pen letter to Amtrak CEO

March 2, 2019 - 91 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have written to Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson with regard to recent and expected changes at Amtrak.

Amtrak’s airline CEO wants to kill America’s most storied trains

March 2, 2019 - Another article on Amtrak upper management and their desire to end long distance service

RPA: Remember "National or Nothing?"

February 22, 2019 - Remember 'National or Nothing'? National Network Trains And Corridor Growth Can Co-exist February 20, 2019 Many of you probably saw the story in today’s Wall Street Journal suggesting that Amtrak plans to propose a bold growth plan for service in the Southeast and West, but will gut the existing National Network to make it happen. We talked at length last week with the reporter working on that story, and for those of you who don’t subscribe, here’s how that turned out: A plan that cuts back service on the long-distance routes, especially one eliminating stops in small rural communities, won’t be politically viable, said Jim Matthews, president of the Rail Passengers Association, a nonprofit advocacy group in Washington. The railroad, which was chartered by Congress in 1971 to preserve passenger rail service as private carriers dropped out of the business, is charged with operating a national service, Mr. Matthews noted, and representatives and senators from states served by the long-haul trains have proven fierce opponents of efforts to cut back service. While his group supports new, frequent corridors of intercity service, it won’t do so at the price of the long-distance routes, Mr. Matthews said. Congress has backed Mr. Matthews’s position in the past, including in the bipartisan spending bill passed this month, which included language urging Amtrak to preserve existing long-distance routes, which serve nearly 5 million riders a year. Amtrak has floated this trial balloon before. And our answer last year was the same as it is now: of course we support better, more frequent, daylight service into under-served or un-served communities. Enthusiastically. And we’ll fight tooth and nail to get it. What we reject is the idea that we have to choose between having more and better trains in these fast-growing areas or having a National Network that connects the entire U.S. And we certainly reject the idea that small communities which today depend on Amtrak service as an economic engine should lose their service in exchange for Cincinnati getting to see trains in the daytime. That’s because as a government-supported enterprise, Amtrak exists to serve not just growing communities, but as much of America as possible. And that includes places like Normal, Ill., Meridian, Miss., Minot, N.D., and Cut Bank, Mt. Let’s face it, if it were profitable to serve Cut Bank, BNSF would be falling all over itself to file with the Federal Railroad Administration to launch twice-daily service through the High Line. Obviously, that’s not happening, and that’s precisely why for decades American citizens – acting through their elected representatives – have continued to support having an Amtrak to operate that service. Passenger trains make money by generating jobs, retail, mobility, tourism and real-estate development. The communities served get the “profit” rather than Amtrak, and that’s okay. We taxpayers support Amtrak in part because we want these towns to thrive and their citizens to have access to jobs and mobility. That’s the same message we shared with Amtrak last Spring when we first heard about the idea of boosting service on popular segments. Then as now, we welcomed the idea of new and better service, but sought assurances that this would not come at the expense of the communities and passengers who rely on the service today. I wrote a letter to Amtrak Chair Anthony Coscia last April, and met again with him last May to share our concerns in person. Mr. Coscia was reassuring, and outlined a vision at that time which, frankly, all rail advocates could support. It would be a shame if Amtrak today is walking back that vision. First, he told me last May that there is NO plan to dismantle the National Network. Mr. Coscia said that Amtrak recognizes that as a government-supported enterprise, it has a "mission" (his word) beyond the balance sheet, and that top management is "committed to the mission." Mr. Coscia allowed that over the long horizon, perhaps decades, the overall shape of Amtrak's National Network is likely to change simply based on population shifts, demographic trends and economic growth. We can’t possibly disagree with this, especially as we already begin to see those changes emerge in ridership. But as of our meeting last Spring, there had been no firm decisions made on what the final shape of "Amtrak 2.0" would look like. Mr. Coscia explained that Amtrak planners, led by CEO Richard Anderson and Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner, were still working on a roadmap of how to get there, a roadmap with a horizon measured in decades rather than months. Mr. Coscia described for me the way the concept was beginning to take shape as development focused on corridor services with strong growth potential in lightly served or un-served areas. He cited as examples the entire Southeast U.S., or corridors like Chicago-St. Louis, or Chicago-Minneapolis. He went on to describe the picture as "corridors hanging off the legacy National Network routes like a necklace." The Network map as it exists today is hardly ideal, and is skeletal at best. "It was not drawn in a way to maximize service to those who need it or to provide value," he told me. "It was to benefit the railroads who were getting bailed out by the creation of Amtrak." Mr. Coscia then turned to Amtrak’s responsibility as a recipient of federal funds to make sure that the plans for the future serve the maximum number of Americans possible, especially those who need mobility and have fewer options such as the elderly, the disabled and rural residents. He specifically mentioned the elderly, disabled and rural residents, folks for whom we at Rail Passengers spend a lot of time advocating. Years down the road, there may come a time when the "legacy National Network routes no longer meet the mission," Mr. Coscia told me then, "but looking at the map today I can't identify any that don't." As a rhetorical device when talking with elected and appointed officials about the value of long-distance trains, I often use “Grandma in Cut Bank.” I did so with Mr. Coscia, underscoring how "Grandma in Cut Bank deserves to have the train take her to Spokane for her medical treatments." Mr. Coscia’s response was that Amtrak’s corridor ideas are about the growth of Amtrak and a vision for the future, but that "doesn't mean that we have to take away that train from Chicago to Seattle if that's the train she needs." The vision in today’s Wall Street Journal story doesn’t match that exchange. It has been nearly a year, and things can change. But recent actions by the U.S. Congress suggest that they would support a vision such as the one Mr. Coscia outlined for me last May. Congress appropriates taxpayer dollars every year to Amtrak because it’s a vital and cost-effective tool of economic development. And as most of you no doubt saw last week, not only is Congress repeating the message that a real National Network is important and needs to be supported, but it’s putting its money where its mouth is, appropriating near-record dollars for a second year to advance Amtrak service around the country. Against that backdrop, it’s clear that Amtrak need not be timid in asking Congress to support growth and new services. There is political and fiscal appetite to do more, and that’s the plan Amtrak should submit. We do not need to choose, especially when the choice offered is a false one. That’s the message I’ve delivered consistently to Amtrak over the past year, and it’s one you can help amplify by getting in touch with your congressional representative or Senator.

Register now for 2019 Rail Passengers Northwest Division Meeting (AK-ID-MT-OR-WA) May 18, 2019 in Cut Bank, Montana

January 28, 2019 - SPRING PASSENGER RAIL CONFERENCE THE IMPORTANCE OF AMTRAK’S LONG-DISTANCE TRAINS EMPIRE BUILDER – 90 YEARS OF OPERATION FUTURE OF THE FAST ACT SURFACE TRANSPORTATION BILL THAT EXPIRES IN 2020 Rail Passengers Association (RPA) NW Division (AK – ID – MT – OR – WA) All Aboard Washington and Association of Oregon Rail and Transit Advocates Saturday May 18, 2019 – 11:30am to 5pm (MT) Elks Lodge – 18 S. Central Ave. – Cut Bank, MT (406)873-4571 FEATURED SPEAKERS & OTHERS INVITED U. S. Congressman, Greg Gianforte (R-MT-At Large) Ms. Alison Vergeront, MT Field Rep. for U. S. Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) MT State Representative, Mr. Jacob Bachmeier (D) – HD 28 – Havre, MT Mr. Jim Mathews, RPA President & CEO – Washington, DC Mr. Ric Beals, President – Cut Bank Chamber of Commerce Mr. James Pino, Supt. Operations – BNSF Railway/Montana Div. – Whitefish, MT Amtrak Representatives – Invited U. S. Senator Jon Tester – Invited MT Governor Steve Bullock - Invited PROGRAM INCLUEDES Importance of Amtrak’s Intercity Network Trains to Rural America 2020 Reauthorization of the FAST Act Surface Transportation Bill which includes the American passenger rail system Speakers’ presentations along with audience discussion State rail advocacy activities report from NW Division, if Time Permits Stretch breaks to allow time for informal interaction Meeting Time – Registration and social time begins at 11:30am. Buffet luncheon starts at 12 noon. Program to follow to conclude by 5pm. Early Registration Fee - $50 person (postmarked by April 27). The registration fee includes luncheon buffet to cover everyone’s tastes, afternoon snacks, beverages and most other meeting related expenses. All registrations postmarked after April 27, along with paying at the door, please add a $10 surcharge to the above fee for a total amount of $60. Travel to the meeting – Amtrak’s Eastbound Empire Builder from the west is scheduled to arrive into Cut Bank, MT at 10:40am (MT). Amtrak’s Westbound Empire Builder is scheduled to depart from Cut Bank, MT at 5:51pm (MT). Lodging – Should your plans involve arriving Cut Bank ahead of the meeting or staying afterwards, there is a Super 8 by Wyndham Cut Bank located at 609 W. Main St. and which can be reached via the Internet or by calling (406)-873-8325. Cut Bank is limited on lodging facilities however, Shelby is located approx. 24 miles east on U. S. 2 and they have more motels to choose from. Thank you for your support of our efforts. Please print and complete the form below. Mail it with your check or money order to AAWA at the address shown below. (All Aboard Washington is a 501(c)3 Tax-Exempt organization.) Number attending Conference w/Buffet at early registration rate of $50. ($60 postmarked after April 27.) Additional donation of $ to help defray meeting expenses. Please also consider a monetary donation even if you are unable to attend. $ Total Enclosed Email Name(s) Address City/State/Zip Phone (Include Area Code) Please mail the registration form with your check or money order to: All Aboard Washington (AAWA) – P. O. Box 70381 – Seattle, WA 98127. The registration fee of $50 is for all registrations postmarked by April 27. After this date, please add the $10 surcharge for a total of $60. Donations above the registration fee are tax deductible as allowed by law. More Information – Barry E. Green: (406)-377-8056 (Home) or [email protected] For questions pertaining to program. Mark Meyer: (817)-480-5385 (Cell) or [email protected] For questions pertaining to Cut Bank along with lodging in Cut Bank or Shelby.

Interview with BNSF's Matt Rose in Railway Age

December 13, 2018 - An interesting interview with Matt Rose, Executive Chairman of BNSF Railway. An excerpt about Amtrak (and specifically referencing the Empire Builder): "Public policy needs to determine who pays for this stuff, and what is the role of Amtrak. It’s not for the railroads to determine, and quite frankly, it’s not for the Amtrak board to determine. Do we want a national system? Do we want just a regional system? What is the value of having passengers being able to utilize that system in the middle of North Dakota? If you’re living in the state of North Dakota, it’s a high value. If you’re living in L.A. and want to get to Chicago, it’s probably not a huge value."

Amtrak Chairman responds to RPA letter

December 7, 2018 - This week, Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia wrote to Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews outlining real steps to pursue many of your Association’s customer-focused priorities. Coscia’s letter was a response to Mathews’ October open letter calling on Amtrak’s Board to embrace a bold growth plan for Amtrak focused on serving the entire country. While we must remain vigilant and keep working closely with our partners in Congress, along with our Mayors and other elected and appointed officials, Amtrak confirmed its broad agreement with us on the need for aggressive action on On-Time Performance, restoration of at least daily service system-wide, growth and expanded service, and the need for new and upgraded rolling stock. “As you are aware, several of our fleets are close to the end of their useful lives; therefore, Amtrak has begun formulating a comprehensive fleet strategy and is now taking critical steps toward re-fleeting, both on the Northeast Corridor and the National Network,” Coscia said in his letter to Mathews. “...we will soon begin to evaluate the appropriate strategy for our bi-level equipment; your thoughts and recommendations on this important topic would be greatly appreciated.” Members should know that we are regularly and frequently meeting with Amtrak on all the issues we have outlined in our letter, and that advocacy -- your voice -- is working. We are scheduled to meet next month with Amtrak in the first of several meetings to provide input to the re-fleeting plan and the bi-level equipment strategy. Amtrak is also well aware of our hopeful and grand vision for more and better service and commitment to the National Network. “We are eager to grow and expand service to currently underserved cities, corridors and communities across the country,” Coscia wrote. “We are hopeful there will be opportunities for expansion onto new routes in places like Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.” Coscia also specifically acknowledged your Association’s continued call for restoration of daily service on the Cardinal and Sunset Limited routes. “You’ve raised valid concerns about thrice-weekly service which is consistent with the Company’s own view as set forth in our PRIIA-required Route Improvement Plans,” Coscia wrote. “We are looking again at the opportunity for daily service for both the Cardinal and the Sunset Limited. Of course, to do so will require reasonable cooperation from our Host Railroads and available equipment.” Amtrak also sent Mathews’ letter and Coscia’s response to all employees through a company-wide memo, emphasizing the role our organization plays in advocating for robust investment in passenger rail: “RPA spends most of its time educating members of Congress and their staffs about the value of passenger rail. This work is important to Amtrak, as the company relies on Congress for significant funding for capital investments. Earlier this year, Amtrak received $1.9 billion from Congress, the largest annual appropriation in the history of the company.” Coscia’s comprehensive response, and the broad distribution it saw across the railroad, is encouraging; advocates should recognize that they’re playing a role in advancing a vision for a modern rail network. At the same time, we have to be the watchdogs of Amtrak. We have to ensure they do not become too “efficient,” because we know what that really means, and it’s not good for passengers. We should be wary of “rider choice.” Nickel-and-dime fees are the hallmarks of the worst airlines and Amtrak should know this as well as anyone. If they don’t know it, we will be there to remind them, again and again. Bad service is the scourge that will absolutely push people into their cars. Bad food, no food, old equipment, less frequent services, exorbitant fees or price: these are unacceptable anywhere, whether on the Northeast Corridor or on the rest of the Interstate Passenger Rail System. We can also never allow prioritization of — or discrimination against — one region over another. Amtrak can’t be allowed to choke the life out of certain routes, intentionally or not. But that also means advocates need to stop choosing sides, arguing for or against the Northeast Corridor -- which remains a vital part of the overall National Network. We should never take from elsewhere to boost the Corridor, but we should welcome any effort to improve service and the customer experience on any route, and then use that success to push further so that passengers riding anywhere in the Interstate Rail Passenger System get the benefits. More to the point, riders from Boston and NY and Washington will add to our voice on OTP, Private Right of Action, regular, frequent, safe and reliable service, new and better equipment, and so forth. When Amtrak wants to downgrade food and beverage options, NEC riders will be right there with us and in great numbers. (The link to the actual letter from Mr. Coscia is above).

All Aboard Washington Fall 2018 Newsletter

December 5, 2018 - All Aboard Washington has a new editor for their newsletter, Patrick Carnahan. Check out his work!

Could DFL victories bring passenger-rail improvements to Minnesota? Maybe. High-speed rail? Probably not.

December 3, 2018 - Article about passenger rail in the December 2, 2018 St. Paul Pioneer Press

Additional Twin Cities-Chicago rail service viable, study finds

September 24, 2018 - Adding a daily train viable, study says; funding sought.

Williston receives more federal money for its $231 million airport

September 11, 2018 - Interesting article about funding for the Williston airport, which is to receive at least $112 million in federal funding for its $231 million airport. Here's the article from the Williston Herald: The article gives numerous numerous examples of grants given to airports in North Dakota alone. By the way, the "XWA" reference is to evidently what the airport code will be for the new airport. The current airport, Sloulin Field, is ISN. Sloulin Field currently has 5 commercial passenger flights daily: 2 Delta flights to Minneapolis/St. Paul, and 3 United flights to Denver. Note the reference to the Dickinson airport, which is also getting more money. Before the first Bakken Boom, both Williston and Dickinson were Essential Air Service cities served out of Denver with prop planes. As the boom was taking place, both cities saw an increase in air service in the form of small jets. Dickinson's main service was United to Denver, and for awhile even had Delta service to Minneapolis/St. Paul. As the boom subsided, Williston service diminished somewhat, but Dickinson faced losing its service altogether as it was no longer economically feasible. No problem, however: Essential Air Service was reinstated - to the tune of $4 million per year, which is amazingly not all that unusual in EAS terms! In contrast, there is no such program in place when passenger train service is threatened to a community. Several years ago, EAS was discontinued in places like Lewistown and Miles City in Montana because they were less than 150 miles (the new guideline) from a "major" airport (in their case, Billings). But Dickinson is only 100 miles from the Bismarck airport, which enjoys non-stop service to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Denver, Chicago, and Dallas/Fort Worth. And while Williston is no longer an EAS airport, Sidney (45 miles from Williston) and Glendive (116 miles from Williston) still each rack up millions in EAS "investment" annually. Just another perspective on "subsidy," "investment," and the perceptions of each. --Mark Meyer

As Amtrak Proposes Changes to Long-Distance Trains, Passenger Rail Advocates Sound the Alarm

August 30, 2018 - Amtrak officials say Empire Builder service will not change, but some worry about health of national network

Open letter to Richard Anderson

August 30, 2018 - Dear Mr. Anderson: I am writing you both as a long-time believer in and user of Amtrak as well as a frequent passenger on our nation’s air transportation system.

Amtrak’s “faulty route accounting”: RPA

August 30, 2018 - A white paper issued by the Rail Passengers Association, “Amtrak’s Route Accounting: Fatally Flawed, Misleading & Wrong,” contends that Amtrak’s fully allocated cost methodology “grossly exaggerates the cost of operating the national passenger train system. This, in turn, has lead to the conclusion adopted by many elected leaders and other affected stakeholders that abandonment of key long-distance trains will save Amtrak significant sums and lead to a more financially secure national passenger operation.”

The Empire Builder Dilemma

August 29, 2018 - By Fred Frailey TRAINS magazine

Passenger rail advocates step up efforts to promote long-distance Amtrak trains

July 26, 2018 - Trains News Wire

Rail advocates urge action to protect long-distance trains

July 11, 2018 - Some rail passenger advocates are taking up cuts to Amtrak service in Havre and proposals to reduce service from Kansas to New Mexico as a battle cry to fight any reduction to long-distance passenger rail in the country. (Havre Daily News)

Empire Builder supporters launch new website

July 10, 2018 - Mark Meyer of Portland, Oregon, a Cut Bank native and a member of the Rail Passengers Association, said he has helped create a website promoting and advocating for Amtrak’s Empire Builder that runs along the Hi-Line, traveling from Chicago to the West Coast and back. (Havre Daily News)