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Sen. Moran Questions Amtrak President on Rural Passenger Rail Service, Southwest Chief

Moran: “The idea that Amtrak would think about replacing passenger service with bus service for 400 miles . . . is something I can’t get over”

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) – member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation – questioned Amtrak President and CEO Richard Anderson on the Southwest Chief route and Amtrak’s plan for rural and long-distance passenger rail service during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday, June 26.

Click Here to Watch Sen. Moran’s Full Questioning

Sen. Moran (2:00): “Mr. Anderson, you set the stage for my skepticism about your view toward the Southwest Chief and long-distance passenger service when we had a conversation with you and my colleagues, and you indicated that there was in the planning stages – or at least thought process of Amtrak – a replacement of long-distance passenger service on the Southwest Chief from Dodge City, Kansas to Albuquerque using bus service.

Sen. Moran (2:29): My reaction, I never intended when I met with you, I was annoyed by Amtrak’s failure to pay the $3 million that I believed they committed to in a grant process for the Southwest Chief. That’s what originated my outreach to you, but it was the bus comment that caught my attention and has stayed with me. And the idea that Amtrak would think about replacing passenger service with bus service for 400 miles and believe that we would still have a long-distance passenger train service is something I can’t get over, because it tells me your attitude toward that line or maybe toward long-distance non-profitable passenger service. So my, I’ll say a few more things before the chairman, my time is gone, but I’m anxious for you to assure me that my perception about your belief in regard to this is erroneous.

Sen. Moran (3:20): And in that regard, what I would add to my question or comment is, can you reassure me that you will follow the law, can you assure me that if you followed the law that long-distance non-profitable passenger train service would continue, and in the letter that Senator Gardner read to you, that you claim credit for that paragraph, which is pretty appealing to me, is there anything in that letter that I should be concerned about, that you are using hedge words or things that give you greater flexibility than I think you’re conveying by what you’re saying today?”

Anderson (3:56): “First of all, we brought the issue, look, you’re our, you’re my boss. Okay? So Congress decides what our funding is, you decide the policy. I keep a laminated copy of the policy with me all times, because the best thing to do given how many of you are up here on the Hill is to just tell people that you follow the law, and the law is fairly straightforward in terms of what our mission is.”

Sen. Moran (4:20): “So in what the law allows you to do, what do I need to be worried about that you might do in regard to the reduction in service on the Southwest Chief?”

Anderson (4:31): “Look, you’ve been clear on the Southwest Chief and we’re headstrong in terms of using the $50 million. We’ve leveraged the $50 million – I think I told you when we met – to $90 million, but look, it still has three big problems, and we shouldn’t run from these problems. It needs to have PTC. I fundamentally disagree with him and I don’t think anybody should tell rural America that they have a lower level of safety than urban America, and that their trains are not going to have the kind of technology that the northeast corridor has. That happened in aviation. We had a whole series of accidents and Congress changed the law. So I disagree with that, and I bet that the NTSB disagrees with that. So that’s number one. You’ve got to fund what has to be funded to operate that railroad safely and it needs $100 million of investment. We don’t have that $100 million.

Anderson (5:26): I have an OMB and a Secretary of Transportation that has a different view of my budget than I do. I agree with all of you that we need to invest in a national railroad network, but we’ve got to have the funding. We’ve got to fix on time performance because you cannot hope to sustain this service with the Southwest Chief with the kind of continual deterioration with on time performance.”

Sen. Moran (5:50): “I’ll take that you want to increase and improve the service, but there are no hedge words in that paragraph. Thank you.”

Click here to watch the full questioning. 

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