Tester Demands Amtrak Protect Rural Jobs and Long Distance Service Amid Pandemic

Senator pushes back against Amtrak proposal to cut 20 percent of employees, reduce service to three days a week

In response to Amtrak’s recent announcement that it may cut jobs and reduce service in rural areas amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Senator Jon Tester led a group of Senators representing rural America in expressing dismay at the proposal—which will disproportionately hurt remote communities—and demanding that the railroad commit to a timeline for resuming full, long distance passenger service.

“Rural networks could see trains running three days a week instead of seven, and 20 percent of Amtrak employees could lose their jobs,” wrote Tester and his colleagues Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) to William Flynn, President and CEO of Amtrak. “Putting the brunt of budget shortfalls on rural America and its workers is unacceptable, no matter the circumstances, but it’s particularly egregious when Amtrak’s long-distance provided double the revenue of state-supported routes or the Northeast Corridor combined in May. If Congress is going to continue funding Amtrak at historic levels, you need to work to ensure this path forward works for places such as Montana, Nevada, and West Virginia alike.”

The senators concluded: “For Congress to continue its support for all operations, we need a commitment from Amtrak on what the conditions and timelines of a full resumption of 7-day-a-week service on all long-distance routes would look like, and the costs associated with the reduction and resumption of service.”

Amtrak operates 15 long-distance routes in 47 states across the country, connecting rural and urban centers and providing inter-state mobility to underserved communities and populations. Amtrak’s Empire Builder Long-Distance Line—which is facing the proposed cuts—includes 12 stations along the Montana Hi-Line, which served 121,429 passengers who boarded or disembarked in Montana in 2019.

Senator Tester is a longtime champion of maintaining Amtrak service to rural communities, and he recently helped secure $1 billion for Amtrak in the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to maintain long distance routes during the pandemic. He has also led the charge to restore ticket agents in Amtrak stations in Havre and Shelby, and grilled Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson last year over the railroad’s plans to maintain passenger service in rural America despite the Administration’s proposal to cut 25 percent of the agency’s funding in Fiscal Year 2020.

Tester’s full letter can be found HERE.