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Stephen Gardner new Amtrak president

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Tom Booth

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I don’t think this means much - really just a reorganization and changing around of titles. He is still the #2 guy in charge of day to day as he was before. First of all I don’t think anyone at Amtrak wants to eliminate all 15 long distance routes. I think they have issues with some routes and believe in some network changes to help reposition the focus to spurring corridor growth but even Gardner has stated that there are “appropriate long distance routes” that they should operate.

Now obviously for many of us cutting even one of the routes is not or shouldn’t be considered acceptable - but there is a difference between wanting to make changes and wanting to eliminate altogether. And I think Gardner (along with Amtrak’s board) is the former.

As a former Congressional staffer I’m sure he knows more than anyone than when it comes to Congress you never get completely your way. If Gardner has to keep running the long distance routes to get more money for corridor development he’ll happily do it.
But I'd like to see Gardner as more pro Amtrak maintenance and expansion as opposed to contraction. The way he's portrayed here is the latter.
 

NSC1109

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Like many, I am conflicted.

Stephen Gardner is akin to the Anti-Christ to some members of this board and is more of a figure of change to others. I can respect both positions, as everyone has had differing experiences and it is sometimes difficult to understand what another has experienced. Here are my thoughts:

Amtrak is desperately in need of change. The network has largely remained the same since 1971, the only changes being (mostly) route losses such as the Three Rivers, National Limited, and Floridian. Expansion has to take place or Amtrak will continue to stagnate. While we disagree with the changes that Gardner/Anderson implemented, I honestly believe that they were well-intended in an attempt to try and bring Amtrak into the 21st century. Remember, Amtrak is mandated to make a profit and as much as we disagree with that, the company leaders have to follow through as best they can. Anderson is no rube. Northwest Airlines was one of the best airlines globally from an operations perspective under his tenure and he was able to affect the same with Delta post-merger between himself and Gil West as COO. NWA had some issues on the customer service side, no doubt, but in terms of ops they were a powerhouse. If given more time and more freedom, and no pandemic, I believe that Amtrak would have definitely made a profit this year.

Gardner is not incorrect that Amtrak's new approach should be corridor-focused. There is an opportunity to expand into new markets (such as Minneapolis, Denver, and Atlanta) and create "hubs" in those cities to service and facilitate connectivity in the upper Midwest, the Plains, and the Southeast, all of which distinctly lack (meaningful) passenger rail service. That isn't to say that the LD services should be terminated; in fact, I believe they should also be expanded to include newer routes such as Chicago-Atlanta/Florida. But that will take capital as well as sufficient support from the US government to ensure that OTP and trackage rights are available.

Systemic change is required for Amtrak to succeed. I am a little on edge, like many of you, on what Bill Flynn and Stephen Gardner are bringing to the table. After all, Flynn was an air freight executive most recently and while Amtrak touts his successes across "multiple modes of transportation", his most recent rail-related position was with CSX Transportation as Manager of the Merchandise Service Group for two years. Gardner's direct railroad experience came from the Buckingham Branch and the Guilford System's Maine Central. Not the most inspiring resume.

While the ideas are certainly good ones, the execution of those ideas are critically important, and it cannot be done at the expense of an entire service type. While we hold our collective breath and hope that Amtrak emerges from this relatively intact, we also must remember to give them a chance to recover and make changes and if we do not like what is happening, then write your representatives and Senators. Write the DOT. Donate to RPA and help take action. Just because we are not senior leadership at Amtrak doesn't mean we don't get a say. Hopefully it won't come to that, but that's what it's there for.

My ideal top priorities post-pandemic:

-Fleet Renewal/Simplification: Search for replacements for the Superliners and ensure that replacements are as standard as possible with existing fleet to keep maintenance costs down.

-Corridor Expansions: Use refurbished Horizons on new routes in the Southeast while partnering with MN/CO/GA/LA officials to develop corridors in the MSY/ATL/DEN/MSP regions.

-Shoreside Brand Renewal: The last time I was in Chicago Union Station, there seemed to be a haphazard boarding process and the station still seemed almost rundown. Understandably this is not going to be resolved without a major facility overhaul and expansion (something currently in the works), but once completed Amtrak should seriously consider a more updated and professional look inside CUS and their other stations. Take a look at what Delta has done in SLC: Your first look at Salt Lake City's brand-new terminal

-Enforcement against Freight Railroad OTP Hindrance: Need I say more?

-ELIMINATION OF THE MAINTENANCE BACKLOGS
 
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railiner

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After a half century of existence, with all its trials and tribulation's, it seems like Amtrak's routes are pretty much 'set in stone', for the most part, and I can't see anything that will radically change it. The only exception's are a few expansion's like Roanoke, here and there. I just don't think there is enough push out there to do otherwise...
 

IndyLions

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I agree with a lot of what you say - with a few comments...

...Anderson is no rube...If given more time and more freedom, and no pandemic, I believe that Amtrak would have definitely made a profit this year.
I agree - "break even" (at least as Amtrak currently measures it) was nearly in the bag before the pandemic. What Anderson did prove as far as I am concerned is that Amtrak can be trusted to handle the funds appropriated to them responsibly, and that Amtrak will follow the rules they are given.

Gardner is not incorrect that Amtrak's new approach should be corridor-focused. There is an opportunity to expand into new markets (such as Minneapolis, Denver, and Atlanta) and create "hubs" in those cities to service and facilitate connectivity in the upper Midwest, the Plains, and the Southeast, all of which distinctly lack (meaningful) passenger rail service. That isn't to say that the LD services should be terminated; in fact, I believe they should also be expanded to include newer routes such as Chicago-Atlanta/Florida. But that will take capital as well as sufficient support from the US government to ensure that OTP and trackage rights are available.
I agree Amtrak needs to be focused on corridors for new routes and service expansion - but until the 750 mile rule is eliminated - there isn't a snowball's chance in hell of implementing corridor expansion.

My ideal top priorities post-pandemic:

-Fleet Renewal/Simplification: Search for replacements for the Superliners and ensure that replacements are as standard as possible with existing fleet to keep maintenance costs down.
Priority 1, 2 & 3 are Equipment, Equipment and Equipment. We can't have a meaningful National OR Corridor system in this country until we get new equipment. It's not just the Superliners - we need to replace everything. The other reason equipment is Priority 1, 2 & 3 is because it takes so long to get new equipment built and in service.

-Corridor Expansions: Use refurbished Horizons on new routes in the Southeast while partnering with MN/CO/GA/LA officials to develop corridors in the MSY/ATL/DEN/MSP regions.
Again - can't happen with the current 750 mile rule. HOWEVER - Amtrak needs to develop a truly outstanding corridor plan - which they can attempt to sell as being part of a sensible transportation and infrastructure program. If it is even "remotely" connected to the Green New Deal - it will never, ever, ever, ever, pass. The Senate will see to that.

-Shoreside Brand Renewal: The last time I was in Chicago Union Station, there seemed to be a haphazard boarding process and the station still seemed almost rundown. Understandably this is not going to be resolved without a major facility overhaul and expansion (something currently in the works), but once completed Amtrak should seriously consider a more updated and professional look inside CUS and their other stations. Take a look at what Delta has done in SLC: Your first look at Salt Lake City's brand-new terminal
I have seen the new SLC terminal in person, including the massive Delta SkyLouge and am duly impressed. However, the recently updated Metropolitan Longe at CUS is not chopped liver. I agree the operation at CUS is haphazard - but the problem is Amtrak's inability to lead and manage their customer facing employees effectively. This is their number one "brand" problem nationwide - not only at CUS.

-Enforcement against Freight Railroad OTP Hindrance: Need I say more?

-ELIMINATION OF THE MAINTENANCE BACKLOGS
No argument here...
 
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crescent-zephyr

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I agree Amtrak needs to be focused on corridors for new routes and service expansion - but until the 750 mile rule is eliminated - there isn't a snowball's chance in hell of implementing corridor expansion.
The 750 rule is good, in my opinion. Amtrak was created to handle long distance services. If states want regional service, they should pay for it like so many states currently are.
 
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NSC1109

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I agree - "break even" (at least as Amtrak currently measures it) was nearly in the bag before the pandemic. What Anderson did prove as far as I am concerned is that Amtrak can be trusted to handle the funds appropriated to them responsibly and that Amtrak will follow the rules they are given.
100%. Anderson was a great CEO and from what I understand, truly loved the job. It was something entirely new for him and he apparently loved being in the field on the NEC with Regionals flying by two tracks over while the crews sought shelter in the M/W equipment.

I agree Amtrak needs to be focused on corridors for new routes and service expansion - but until the 750 mile rule is eliminated - there isn't a snowball's chance in hell of implementing corridor expansion.

...Again - can't happen with the current 750 mile rule. HOWEVER - Amtrak needs to develop a truly outstanding corridor plan - which they can attempt to sell as being part of a sensible transportation and infrastructure program. If it is even "remotely" connected to the Green New Deal - it will never, ever, ever, ever, pass. The Senate will see to that.
I never realized that there was a 750-mile rule, I just thought that was a cutoff point between "corridor" and "national network". Given that particular obstacle, corridor networks without state support would be significantly more difficult. While I see the benefit of state support (additional funds to provide better service), it's also a curse, the funds being held like a carrot over Amtrak's head with the persistent threat of removal (see Hoosier State).

Priority 1, 2 & 3 are Equipment, Equipment and Equipment. We can't have a meaningful National OR Corridor system in this country until we get new equipment. It's not just the Superliners - we need to replace everything. The other reason equipment is Priority 1, 2 & 3 is because it takes so long to get new equipment built and in service.
The good news is that Amtrak knows this and has thankfully taken steps to address it with the AMF replacements and the ALC-42 (even with that god-awful paint scheme while they develop Phase VII). The Viewliners are still (mostly) new, but the Supers and the Horizons need to be replaced and EVERYTHING needs to be in 1 general paint scheme. Regional differences won't hurt anything, but you need to be able to look at it from a distance and recognize it as Amtrak of the 21st century, not Amtrak of the Rainbow Era. The greys and blues I like, and I don't mind the "Amtrak Midwest" SM on the corridor services as long as it stays in the Midwest.

I have seen the new SLC terminal in person, including the massive Delta SkyLouge and am duly impressed. However, the recently updated Metropolitan Longe at CUS is not chopped liver. I agree the operation at CUS is haphazard - but the problem is Amtrak's inability to lead and manage their customer facing employees effectively. This is their number one "brand" problem nationwide - not only at CUS.
Agreed, I truly love the Metropolitan Louge at CUS. I make sure to purchase the day pass while I'm there to take advantage of the priority boarding and to relax a little before I depart, so I'm a little out of touch with the general boarding procedures for coach/non-priority pax. Last I knew, you were herded into an undersized gate area and were in a long, long line (depending on the season). Occasionally they'd have waiting areas in the Great Hall with a train number taped to a sign and then they'd come get you at boarding time. That was a while ago though.

Amtrak needs to totally revamp how that works, and a huge improvement would be an underground concourse expansion to allow for specific waiting areas for specific trains or services (i.e., Illinois Service gets two waiting areas, Michigan Services get two waiting areas, etc). I think each "gate" covers a block of tracks, but I'm not sure how many gates cover Amtrak's portion of South Concourse and I don't think there are any gates for North Concourse. I think Metra is moving some services to LaSalle Street as well so it would provide an opportunity to help alleviate congestion in the boarding area with only BNSF service Metra passengers to deal with as well as allowing Amtrak to expand in the Chicago area.

They tout the "Chicago Gateway" on the Amtrak website...almost in disbelief that they are helping with the multi-billion dollar project to alleviate congestion around Chicagoland but can't put some money towards making their own station a better gateway to the country.
 

IndyLions

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The 750 rule is good in my opinion. Amtrak was created to handle long distance services. If states wants regional service, they should pay for it like so many states currently are.
Then our national transportation and infrastructure system will continue to operate with the coordination and efficiency of our national Covid 19 response...

That same “well-oiled machine” that has led (thus far) to 13.9M cases and >270k Covid deaths.
 

sttom

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Moving forward, what I would support is to eliminate the 750 mile rule (or appropriate money to the states to support corridor service, or both) and develop more corridor services co-located along National Network routes. This allows the LD trains to share the overhead costs, thus improving their financial performance and also feed passengers between the two types of service. Finally, the leadership of Amtrak should out and about in both Congress and the transportation industry cheerleading for passenger rail and explaining why its not some washed up 19th century technology, but rather a solid component of any advanced nation's transportation system, as indeed one can see in all of the other advanced industrial nations.
While I support ending the 750 mile rule and mandating more service out of Amtrak at Federal expense, the devil is in the details. Amtrak already has mandates for a "national network" and be "part of a balanced transportation network" but that hasn't lead to a good rail network. A mandate without details isn't worth the paper it would be printed on. And if Congress wasn't up to passing something with details in what was claimed to be "the good old days", I doubt they would do so now.

And some offense to Congress, most of the people there don't seem to think we can expect more out of this country beyond maintaining the status quo or slowing our decline. Part of that is there isn't a great lobby for public transit on the national level and from what I've seen from the RPA is what I consider average. One thing I would suggest is coming up with a national plan based on changing the 750 mile rule and make the business case as to why trains are a good thing. I talked with a more conservative friend of mine about why expanding Amtrak service in California would be a good thing. Knowing this, I didn't mention the environment at all. I talked about how the economic impact from just tourism would be greater than the cost to run the trains and that the cost of maintaining the tracks would be less than maintaining the equivalent amount of highways and that the savings overall would also be greater than the upfront capital costs. But when I see people talking about transit expansion, the environment is usually a highlight if not the main headline. People who aren't environmentalists and generally not big on government spending can be convinced that services like Amtrak are worth the cost if the benefits are greater than them.

The 750 rule is good in my opinion. Amtrak was created to handle long distance services. If states wants regional service, they should pay for it like so many states currently are.
To quote the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970, "The Congress finds that modern, efficient, intercity railroad passenger service is a necessary part of a balanced transportation system; that the public convenience and necessity require the continuance and improvement of such service to provide fast and comfortable transportation between crowded urban areas and in other areas of the country; that rail passenger service can help to end the congestion on our highways and the overcrowding of airways and airports; that the traveler in America should to the maximum extent feasible have freedom to choose the mode of travel most convenient to his needs; that to achieve these goals requires the designation of a basic national rail passenger system and the establishment of a rail passenger corporation for the purpose of providing modern, efficient, intercity rail passenger service; that Federal financial assistance as well as investment capital from the private sector of the economy is needed for this purpose; and that interim emergency Federal financial assistance to certain railroads may be necessary to permit the orderly transfer of railroad passenger service to a railroad passenger corporation."

This is the original intent of Amtrak, the 750 mile rule is frankly spiting in the face of the people who created Amtrak. Amtrak was made to compliment other facets of our public transit system. The 750 mile rule hinders that by shackling the future of Amtrak to the State governments with the only federal involvement being keeping the NEC alive and running once a day train throughout most of the country. That is not a balanced, modern or efficient rail system, let alone transit system on the macro level.
 

crescent-zephyr

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This is the original intent of Amtrak, the 750 mile rule is frankly spiting in the face of the people who created Amtrak. Amtrak was made to compliment other facets of our public transit system. The 750 mile rule hinders that by shackling the future of Amtrak to the State governments with the only federal involvement being keeping the NEC alive and running once a day train throughout most of the country.
I disagree. If states want regional corridors they can pay for them. Should Amtrak be running Metra and Long Island Railroad as well? Of course not.

The federal funding should go for funding multi-state long distance services. Since we don’t even have a complete long-distance system in place, that needs to be the priority.
 

NSC1109

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I disagree. If states want regional corridors they can pay for them. Should Amtrak be running Metra and Long Island Railroad as well? Of course not.

The federal funding should go for funding multi-state long distance services. Since we don’t even have a complete long-distance system in place, that needs to be the priority.
What do you believe a complete long-distance system looks like?
 

AmtrakFlyer

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It’s hard to say States should pay for corridors when Amtrak is on the hook for a lot of if not most NEC costs. Should we have a Southwest Corridor (SWC), with service from SF to LA to PHX?
A NWC with PDX-SEA-SPK?

Of course and they all should have uniform funding unless a certain state wants more service within its borders then the State should be on the hook for that service.
 

MARC Rider

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I disagree. If states want regional corridors they can pay for them. Should Amtrak be running Metra and Long Island Railroad as well? Of course not.

The federal funding should go for funding multi-state long distance services. Since we don’t even have a complete long-distance system in place, that needs to be the priority.
What about multi-state corridor services? The Michigan services serve three states. A corridor service connecting Chicago with the Twin Cities would serve three states. A Pittsburgh - Cleveland - Toledo Corridor would serve two states. The Cascades serves two states. Etc., etc.

Long distance train service has its place in the national transportation mix, but it's clearly secondary to service connecting larger population centers. And it's important to realize that most people riding the "long distance" trains only travel a relatively short distance along the longer total route.
 

crescent-zephyr

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What about multi-state corridor services? The Michigan services serve three states. A corridor service connecting Chicago with the Twin Cities would serve three states. A Pittsburgh - Cleveland - Toledo Corridor would serve two states. The Cascades serves two states. Etc., etc.
And how are those funded? There’s your answer.
 

MARC Rider

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And some offense to Congress, most of the people there don't seem to think we can expect more out of this country beyond maintaining the status quo or slowing our decline. Part of that is there isn't a great lobby for public transit on the national level and from what I've seen from the RPA is what I consider average. One thing I would suggest is coming up with a national plan based on changing the 750 mile rule and make the business case as to why trains are a good thing. I talked with a more conservative friend of mine about why expanding Amtrak service in California would be a good thing. Knowing this, I didn't mention the environment at all. I talked about how the economic impact from just tourism would be greater than the cost to run the trains and that the cost of maintaining the tracks would be less than maintaining the equivalent amount of highways and that the savings overall would also be greater than the upfront capital costs. But when I see people talking about transit expansion, the environment is usually a highlight if not the main headline. People who aren't environmentalists and generally not big on government spending can be convinced that services like Amtrak are worth the cost if the benefits are greater than them.
"You don't have to be an "environmentalist" (whatever that is) to appreciate the environmental benefits of passenger rail.

One reason why environmental benefits are so widely talked up when proposing passenger rail or public transportation projects in general is that the states can obtain benefits under the Clean Air Act. This is generally found under the rubric of "transportation conformity.

General Information for Transportation and Conformity | State and Local Transportation Resources | US EPA

Basically the deal is that states can't get funding for the lovely pork-barrel highway projects they lust after unless they can show that the project will conform to the State Implementation Plan (SIP) required under the Clean Air Act. Rail and transit projects that take cars off the road will give the state "SIP credits" that will allow them to build higher priority projects. Adherence to a SIP allows the state to take charge of enforcement of the Clean Air Act in their state and develop regulation priorities more in synch with local interests (Although EPA still has to approve the SIP). Thus transit projects that take cars off the road are often a popular way to offset emissions from other sources that are harder to control. Paradoxically, a transit or rail project that takes cars off the road in one place might allow the state to build a highway project in another place because the increased emissions from the highway project are offset by the cars being taken off the road by the transit project. This has obvious applications in facilitating highway projects in rural areas where the increased traffic won't cause Clean Air Act non-attainment by taking cars off the road in the urban non-attainment areas.

Note that even projects benefiting long-distance trains could qualify for this offset, especially for places like Chicago, where many trains serve the city every day. Most of those folks riding into the city from the rural hinterlands would otherwise be driving in to the city, thus spewing their emissions into the non-attainment area. So the state could get credit in it's SIP by accounting for people arriving into the city by Amtrak trains, even long distance trains where the passengers board well outside the non-attainment area.

It's really a shame that there's a significant slice of the public that is now immediately turned off by the concept of "environmental benefits." When the Clean Air Act was passed (and the most recent amendments are from 1990), it was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. I guess fewer and fewer people remember the foul air that everybody had to breathe if they lived in or visited or were downwind from a major metropolitan area back in the "good old days." Even as late as the 1990s, I remember that on some hot sunny summer days in Baltimore, the ozone was so bad I'd be wheezing after the short walk from my office building do to my car. At least I didn't have problems with asthma, but my daughter did.

Anyway, the environmental benefit of rail and transit projects are not some tree-hugger abstraction, but actually provide other practical benefits to state and local governments and industries. No wonder they're always cited when someone proposes a rail or transit project.
 
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Willbridge

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Having followed this from the 1971 bloodbath on I'll add the fact that originally the "NEC Only" thinkers sneered at the idea of the West Coast needing passenger trains at all. We ended up being able to set up corridor services because of the supposed evil "political" route, the Coast Starlight. Without the skeleton national network that we have now any new growth area will be out of luck, having to start over again for infrastructure, connections, etc.
 

crescent-zephyr

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Under the 750 mile rule, it's harder to fund a multi-state corridor when you have to coordinate multiple states to cough up the funding. And if the state's recalcitrant (Like, say, Indiana or Ohio), it means no service.
Correct. If the states don’t want it, they don’t get it. Simple as that.
 

Trogdor

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Correct. If the states don’t want it, they don’t get it. Simple as that.
The Coast Starlight serves exactly as many states as the Wolverine, the Downeaster, the proposed extra Chicago-St. Paul train, etc. A New Orleans-Florida route would serve more states than the Coast Starlight.

By what logic, other than an arbitrary mileage cutoff that is far, far higher than the reach of Metra and LIRR (which you referenced as service for which Amtrak should not be responsible), is one more deserving of federal funding than the others?
 

Ziv

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I hear you, Tricia. Twice daily routes on some of the LD routes has been something I really wished for. But until there is more money and equipment it will remain a wish not a reality. Making the Empire Builder a twice daily train would really help it hit markets that are currently ill served due to middle of the night arrivals. The CS and/or the CZ would be a good second/third choice if enough equipment were purchased.

Twice daily would be a vast improvement in connectivity and calling times.
 

sttom

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I disagree. If states want regional corridors they can pay for them. Should Amtrak be running Metra and Long Island Railroad as well? Of course not.

The federal funding should go for funding multi-state long distance services. Since we don’t even have a complete long-distance system in place, that needs to be the priority.
We can walk and chew gum at the same time. I know its been 50 years since this country has had to do so, but it can. Passing a plan that expands long, short and medium distance routes can be done, one just needs to be worked out. Highways are state planned with a huge amount of federal underwriting, asking the same of Amtrak, commuter or regional rail isn't a huge stretch. The federal government doesn't have to be involved in planning any non interstate route, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't fund it. I personally think a mandate for "state" services should be part of Amtrak legislation and an appropriate funding mechanism, but Amtrak should only step in an fulfill the mandate if the states decided not to cooperate and there are viable routes to serve. And this doesn't exclude expanding long and medium distance services as well.
 

AmtrakFlyer

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It’s going to be hard to walk and chew gum at the same time the way our government is set up with today’s cast of players. A small fringe group like the Freedom caucus or even one individual like the Senate majority leader have the ability to keep us from moving forward.
 

sttom

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Anyway, the environmental benefit of rail and transit projects are not some tree-hugger abstraction, but actually provide other practical benefits to state and local governments and industries. No wonder they're always cited when someone proposes a rail or transit project.
I'm not denying that the environmental benefits are important, just that people advocating for transit projects other than highways take the time to understand their audience. There are a bunch of people in this country that won't be swayed by them alone and from my experience, the financial benefits to the public and economic benefits to towns that get new or expanded trains aren't emphasized as heavily. For example, some stats I've seen from the Downeaster is that it brings in $29 million per year in tourist dollars for $7 million in state subsidy money. That needs to be highlighted especially when talking to Republican politicians who generally see anything other than highways as a waste of money. Complying with the Clean Air Act would just be icing on the cake for them.
 
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