Senate Holds Hearing to Discuss Passenger Rail

On Tuesday, the Senate subcommittee that oversees railroads held a hearing titled, “Passenger Rail: Opportunities and Challengers for the National Network.” Testifying were two people from regional rail commissions, a city manager from Colorado, and Joseph Boardman, the soon-to-retire CEO of Amtrak.

The hearing was almost entirely focused on Amtrak, not just passenger rail. Republicans talked about the importance of Amtrak’s state-supported routes and long-distance services, which provide important transportation services to millions living throughout rural America. Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Steve Daines (R-MT) both mentioned the importance of having stops in rural areas where some Americans can’t afford or have no access to other means of transportation. At the same time, some showed their disappointment that Amtrak continues to operate at a loss.

Mr. Boardman spoke passionately about the need to preserve, defend, and fund a national passenger railroad network. He also passively questioned the current on-time-performance (OTP) metrics issued by the Surface Transportation Board (STB), which many at Amtrak say benefit the Class 1 carriers by not adequately holding them accountable for running Amtrak’s trains on-time. At issue is the fact that Amtrak trains are only measured on their end-to-end points, instead of all the stops in between. This means that trains can leave on time, be late at numerous stops along their route, and as long as that time is made up by the end of the route, that train is never considered to have run late.

The other members of the panel described their own state’s or region’s reliance on Amtrak’s services, reiterating how it provides both transportation as well as local and regional economic benefits.

In what may be the last time he is called to testify before Congress, Mr. Boardman ended with a few passionate lines about his time at the railroad: “When I came to Amtrak, I knew I was leading a very special company – but my time here has proven to me, over and over again, that Amtrak is a national treasure, staffed by some of the best and most talented people in the rail business. That is something this nation cannot afford to lose.”

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