Tester Takes Trump Administration and Senate Colleagues to Task for Playing Games with Amtrak’s Future with Cuts to Empire Builder Service

Senator: “Press releases don’t save the Empire Builder or the jobs or the economy that it creates”

As service cuts on the Empire Builder go into effect this week, U.S. Senator Jon Tester took the Trump Administration and his Republican colleagues to task at today’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing for their consistent attempts to undermine Amtrak services while claiming to support the agency.

Tester is pointing to the smoke and mirrors being used by the Administration and many of his Senate colleagues who claim to support Amtrak while doing nothing to ensure that it receives the funding it needs to continue full service on the Hi-Line, particularly amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Trump Administration has consistently attempted to gut Amtrak in annual budget proposals and Republican Senators have refused to hold the President accountable for these cuts. Republican Senators even attempted to include an empty proposal in the recently-passed continuing resolution that would mandate full service on the Empire Builder without actually increasing funding for the agency, which is critical to preventing service cuts and furloughs.

“I pushed for this hearing because the Senate and the Trump Administration need to hear first-hand accounts of just how tone-deaf recent Amtrak policies are when it comes to rural communities,” said Tester, Montana’s only member of the Commerce Committee. “…The Trump Administration fought to end long-distance service which would have meant the end to the Empire Builder in Montana. Since then, they have attempted to cut the budget in half, leading to where we are today as Montanans lose service. This is unacceptable and is hurting our economy.”

Tester continued: “Some of my colleagues refuse to hold the Administration accountable. Instead, there is a bunch of hot air and press releases. Well I’ll tell ya, press releases don’t save the Empire Builder or the jobs or the economy that it creates, so I hope folks get serious about this issue before it’s too late.”

Tester’s colleagues in the Senate have consistently claimed to support providing Amtrak with enough funding to prevent service cuts that are hurting rural communities across the country. However, none of the “skinny” COVID relief packages proposed by Senate Republicans have included any funding for Amtrak.

Tester personally secured today’s hearing by urging Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash) earlier this year, asking them to listen to community members who have been devastated due to service cuts, low ridership, and decreased revenue. Earlier this week, Amtrak moved forward with cuts that reduced service on the Empire Builder from seven days per week to three-a move that Tester vehemently opposed.

Havre’s Paul Tuss, Executive Director of Bear Paw Development Corporation, gave testimony at the hearing, highlighting how critical long distance rail is to rural and frontier economies in Montana and across the country:

“Amtrak has made the decision to reduce daily service to three times per week. This move will obviously significantly hamper the ability of Montana residents to use the Empire Builder as they contemplate travel for personal or professional reasons,” said Tuss. “…A safe reliable passenger rail system in our country is critically important, especially for our rural and frontier communities. I strongly recommend your continued investment in Amtrak, especially its long distance routes such as the Empire Builder.”

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. The Empire Builder Long-Distance Line includes 12 stations along the Montana Hi-Line that served 121,429 passengers who boarded or disembarked in the state in 2019.

Watch Tester’s full remarks at today’s hearing HERE.

Watch Tuss’ full remarks at today’s hearing HERE.