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Amtrak Board Appointments: Why No Advocate for Rail Passengers?... Again.

After a months-long delay, President Joe Biden recently named 5 appointees to Amtrak’s board of directors. While we’re sure they are mostly qualified and deserving of being named to the body that will guide Amtrak’s future, we must still ask.

Why is there no one representing the growing number of Americans who use Amtrak.... those who choose to travel by train for business or to connect with jobs, education, health care or just to travel on vacation, go to a ball game or take in a concert in another city?

Could the White House staff not find a qualified candidate to make sure Amtrak’s users have a voice?

There are many passenger rail advocacy organizations around the nation. I know. I’m the Executive Director for one of them, All Aboard Ohio. I have counterparts in every state Amtrak serves as well as national associations such as the Railroad Passengers Association and Rail Users Network, with their own boards and membership of qualified potential candidates.

With a well-funded expansion of Amtrak service to the 48 contiguous states already underway and states lining up to either add service or create new passenger rail corridors, why would an Amtrak Board be empaneled that’s missing the voice and views of Amtrak’s core customers?

We have concerns that need to be heard as future passenger rail policy is created and enacted. Not the least of these concerns are things like the funding and development of long-distance train services as well as services aimed at shorter corridors. We are concerned that the threshold for short-haul, state-supported corridors remains at 750-miles and under when there are few such corridors within any of our states.

We have concerns over how new passenger locomotives and passenger railcars are developed, procured and rolled out into service. We have concerns about things like train stations and their accessibility, safety and security as well as the amenities like clean, accessible restrooms, maintenance and connections to local transit or ride-share systems.

President Biden. You’ve deservedly earned the unofficial title of “Amtrak Joe” from your days in the Senate up through today as the nation’s most recognizable passenger. You, of all people, should understand why our views as fellow passengers are important and deserve to be heard.

We ask you and USDOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg to add a passenger rail advocate to the Amtrak Board of Directors immediately. Just as you surround yourselves with staff and advisors who you depend upon to tell you what you need to know, so does the board that governs the nation’s passenger rail system need to hear from those who use and advocate for more and better passenger rail.

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