October 20, 2014

Amtrak’s future crucial to Rail Retirement financing

Stem

“Every Amtrak employee should be placed in a productive position that supports the needs of customer service and managed growth of operations,” UTU National Legislative Director James Stem told Congress Nov. 28.

“Amtrak operating crews are among the most productive workers in that system and our members are ready and eager to work,” he said in testifying before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “Assign us a train and provide for instructions and where to go, and our members will show up for duty and get Amtrak passengers to their destination safely and on time. We in labor are Amtrak’s partners.”

Stem praised Amtrak’s Next Generation Plan that “provides a road map for improved service and identifies the funding requirements. But for us to succeed, Congress must provide Amtrak with consistent and predicable multi-year funding for modernization and capacity upgrades. Amtrak’s Next Generation Plan for the Northeast Corridor will cut the transit time in half between Washington, D.C.’s Union Station and New York’s Penn Station, as well as between New York and Boston.

“What Amtrak really needs is dramatic increases in capital investments,” Stem said. “Capital spending to increase speeds and upgrade Amtrak’s infrastructure is the ticket to transporting American’s in a cost effective and energy efficient manner.”

Stem reminded lawmakers that “Amtrak also plays a central role in financing Railroad Retirement, which is a self-funding pension, unemployment and disability benefit program that covers almost one million active and retired railroad workers. Changes in the financial treatment of Amtrak, such as significant funding cuts or passenger rail privatization, could jeopardize the solvency of the system.

“Americans want a national intercity rail passenger network, and Amtrak is uniquely able to fill that need. Highways and commercial aviation will not alone meet the nation’s future passenger transportation needs and demands. The coordination of air and rail passenger services should be mandated to free more air slots and provide timely rail services for shorter travel distances.”

Stem also made clear labor’s “full support for the expansion of our freight rail capacity. Amtrak and our freight railroads work together as partners and both have capacity needs that can be mutual goals. We support the expansion of Amtrak services and understand that this expansion must also address the capacity needs of our freight rail partners.”

UTU National Legislative Director James Stem, right, testifies before the House Transportation and
Infrastructure Committee Nov. 28 with Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman, left, and Amtrak
Inspector General Theodore Alves.