Chairman Nehls Statement from Amtrak Oversight Hearing
Opening remarks, as prepared, of Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Chairman Troy Nehls (R-TX) from today’s hearing, entitled “Amtrak Operations: Examining the Challenges and Opportunities for Improving Efficiency and Service”:
Today’s hearing examines the current and future state of Amtrak. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) gave historic funding to railroads, with a large portion of that money going to Amtrak.
Amtrak is a federally chartered corporation with the federal government as the majority stakeholder. Its Board of Directors is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Amtrak’s funding largely comes from the federal government, versus from ticket revenue. Without significant taxpayer support, Amtrak could not operate.
Since its creation in 1971, Amtrak has never made a profit. Despite the funding provided in IIJA, Amtrak predicts it will lose roughly $1 billion per year, with those losses largely covered by the taxpayers.
My Democrat colleagues like to note that highways and airlines also rely on government subsidies to operate. While those modes receive federal support, they are also essential forms of transportation, in high use and high demand by the American people. Unlike Amtrak, Americans could not travel and function as they do without the use of highways and airplanes.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Amtrak ridership and revenues plummeted as commuters stayed home or chose to use other modes of transportation. Ultimately, Amtrak received billions of extra dollars in COVID relief to operate largely empty trains for several months.
Today, we will examine the state of Amtrak’s post-COVID recovery. While Amtrak has regained some ridership in recent months, we will hear about Amtrak’s plans to continue boosting demand and ticket revenue.
Amtrak’s losses arise almost entirely from its National Network and long-distance routes. Rather than focusing on attracting riders to existing routes, Amtrak now seeks to expand this network, risking a greater expense to the taxpayer. Some of these new routes will even require the states to cover costs and losses.
In fairness to Amtrak, prior to the pandemic, it was on a path to achieve profitability for the first time in roughly 50 years. This turnaround came as the result of tough decisions by its leaders that prioritized service and shared sacrifices with Amtrak employees.
While growth is a positive trend for a company, Amtrak must prioritize improving its current network, including important system maintenance and upgrades, and improving safety, security and customer satisfaction issues that have plagued Amtrak for years over expansion ambitions.
In addition to spending and revenue issues, this Committee has questioned Amtrak about its compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, rising crime in its stations and trains, the potential transport of illegal migrants from the southern border on its trains, and generous executive bonuses despite losses and service problems.
Amtrak must work to attract customers and revenue and operate as a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars. It should ensure its network is safe and secure. Further, it is necessary for Amtrak to strengthen its relationships with the states, including through the development of a transparent and fair cost allocation policy for state-supported Amtrak routes.
Finally, any potential expansion of Amtrak’s system must allow for freight railroads to provide input on capacity and track sharing issues. The recent supply chain crisis further emphasizes the value of freight railroads in efficiently moving goods across the Nation. Amtrak’s passenger expansion efforts should not be allowed to obstruct the critical movement of freight railroads.
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