February 28, 2019 - TRA Newswire -

91 members of Congress have sent a letter to Amtrak President/CEO Richard Anderson concerned about his plans that could alter the national passenger rail network by providing more short-haul trains at the expense of interstate network trains that serve many rural towns and cities.

Texas Congressman Colin Allred (D) - Dallas and Congresswoman Sheila Lee Jackson (D) and Lizzie Fletcher (D) - Houston were among the 91 lawmakers that signed onto a letter to Anderson last week wanting answers to questions ranging from threatened service levels across the country to cutbacks in on board food service, elimination of station agents and passenger assistance, losing a revenue stream from charters and carrying private cars attached to regularly scheduled trains and planned closing of maintenance and reservation facilities among other issues.

The letter stated that "we are concerned that the changes Amtrak has made and those it may be considering will erode ridership and and harm the viability of Amtrak, especially the National Network. Maintaining an intercity passenger rail network that is truly national in scope is crucial to providing transportation access to many rural and small communities. Moreover, it is required by law. When Congress created Amtrak, we specifically called for a national system in which Amtrak would operate a national rail passenger transportation system that includes not only the NEC (Northeast Corridor), but also state-supported and long-distance routes. As a quasi-public corporation entrusted with this statutory responsibility, Amtrak muse uphold the law."

One of the concerns centers on the elimination of station agents in 2018 and replacing a full-service employee that could issue tickets, check baggage and arrange travel plans for riders with a caretaker that would only open and close a station at train times. Both Texarkana AR/TX and Marshall, Texas lost their station agent in a round of 20 station cuts last year, limiting passenger access to information and help for those traveling with disabilities.

Texas is served by Amtrak's Texas Eagle, a daily service between Chicago and San Antonio that stops in 18 towns and cities and the tri-weekly Sunset Limited that serves cities from California to El Paso through San Antonio and Houston to Beaumont and New Orleans along the southern border. A daily state-supported train, the Heartland Flyer runs between Fort Worth and Gainesville to points north to Oklahoma City. That train is a joint effort of the Oklahoma and Texas Department of Transportation. Recent changes by Amtrak have resulted in removal of a baggage car on the Texas Eagle and Sunset Limited and reduction in the number of coaches carried on those trains, limiting revenue and ridership growth. Baggage cars were recently refitted to carry bicycles, which would have added  an additional revenue source for those trains.

The text of the Congressional letter to Anderson can be found here: https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/7c8e6b_eee64e5f666340a986eb501785146e9f.pdf