To Support Passenger Rail on the Hi-Line, Tester Calls for Better Oversight of Amtrak’s CARES Act Funding

Senator: “It is vital that Congress continue to support Amtrak’s service to rural America”

As part of his ongoing efforts to ensure passenger rail services on the Hi-Line are able to continue supporting Montana’s frontier economies, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today demanded that Senate Commerce Committee ensure proper oversight of Amtrak funding allocated by the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“The devastating impacts of COVID-19 have impacted every corner of American life, and commuting is no different. Amtrak is facing low ridership and decreased revenue,” wrote Tester in a letter to Senate Commerce Committee leadership. “Rural service and long-distance routes are in jeopardy, as are thousands of jobs…That is why I was pleased that the CARES Act provided Amtrak with just over $1 billion to pay employees, offset ticket revenue losses, and to keep equipment sanitized and passengers safe.”

Tester continued: “…Despite this investment, Amtrak’s financial future remains uncertain. It is vital that Congress continue to support Amtrak’s service to rural America, so that we can provide crucial connections to jobs, tourism, and family. I believe that it is important for members of the Committee to have the opportunity to debate the tools at our disposal to do so.”

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.

Last month, Amtrak announced that it may cut jobs and reduce service in rural areas amid the ongoing public health crisis—a move that would disproportionately hurt remote communities on Montana’s High Line that rely on the Empire Builder Line. In response, Tester led a group of his colleagues in demanding that the railroad commit to a timeline for resuming full, long distance passenger service.

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 to the Senate Commerce Committee can be found HERE.