September 11, 2020 - TRA Newswire - According to the Rail Passengers Association, Amtrak’s response to COVID-19 will drop a $2 billion “bomb on Flyover Country.”

Rail Passengers President and CEO Jim Mathews said Amtrak’s plan to reduce service on its long-distance routes would be a major blow to 40 percent of the country’s small and rural communities the rail line serves. Mathews testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads and Pipelines on Wednesday. Click here to read Mathews testimony.

Reducing service to only three days per week on 12 of the 15 long-distance routes—a vital transportation link to the 40 percent of the nation’s small and rural communities that it serves—speaks much louder than words, according to Mathews. "Whatever the underlying reasons, reducing frequencies across the National Network will drop a $2 billion-dollar bomb on “flyover country.” Mathews cited a study that Rail Passengers conducted.

Mathews said that while the cuts will save Amtrak money, they will cost the U.S. economy.

“Rail Passengers Association has modeled a preliminary, high-level analysis of the economic consequences of Amtrak’s decision to cut its daily intercity passenger services back to only three runs per week,” Mathews said. “Unfortunately, even the most conservative assessment is dire: to save $213 million, Amtrak’s nine months of daily service cuts could drop at least a $2.3 billion bomb on Flyover Country, a figure that could rise above $3 billion if the cuts remain in place for the full year.”

For routes like the Southwest Chief, which travels through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, the economic losses to the communities that line serves could add up to $239 million over nine months.

In Texas some cities served by Amtrak's Texas Eagle have few if any other public transportation options and would be directly affected by the service reduction to three trains a week. Poor connections at the Amtrak Chicago hub would mean you might not be able to get an onward train on the day you wanted to travel.

Mathews said that "COVID-19 is a once in a generation pandemic and the consequences that governmental inaction poses to the cities, towns and rural communities connected by our intercity rail network are significant. The Association acknowledges Amtrak faces real and difficult choices, but without some kind of financial aid there are far greater risks to the network than thrice weekly (3x) service for long-distance routes – we could lose entire corridors, permanently", according to Mathews.

In his testimony before Congress, Mathews said that "Amtrak is an essential service for tens of millions of Americans and hundreds of communities. Our organization was pleased with Amtrak President & CEO William Flynn’s May 25th statement to Congress that the railroad understands how important Amtrak service is to the nation and, particularly, small communities across the nation where they play a unique role in connecting these communities to the rest of America.”

"Congress didn’t let the Federal Highway Administration close highways four days out of seven when gas tax revenues flatlined, and it shouldn’t stand idly by and allow Amtrak to introduce 3x service to hundreds of communities across the U.S.", Mathews said in his statement to Congress.