November 11, 2019 - TRA Newswire/ -

Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews will appear before the House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Rail Wednesday morning, November 13, to make the case for a dramatic increase in investment for a national rail network. The hearing, titled “Amtrak Now and Into the Future,” will focus on the upcoming reauthorization, bringing together perspectives from Amtrak, state transportation officials, labor, and of course passengers.

Here's where you can watch the hearing, which takes place at 9am Central time this Wednesday. The hearing will be streamed live on the House T&I website. The hearing will be archived for later viewing.

“I look forward to speaking to Congress on behalf of America’s passengers,” said Mathews. “I will raise concerns about the ongoing changes to service that have upset our members, and will lay out a blueprint for equitable growth across the entirety of America’s passenger rail network--growth that does not require one community to give up their only train so that another part of the country can get better service. With strong Congressional leadership, we believe Amtrak that is capable of fulfilling its legislative mandate to be America’s Railroad.”

Mathews comments may also focus on the heels of news over Amtrak's quiet implementation in January of a forced arbitration clause that has angered consumer advocates and lawmakers.  For instance, if you were injured or killed in an unlikely Amtrak crash, you would not be able to sue.  Some critics have called Amtrak's forced arbitration one of the most broad and detailed clauses ever seen for a transportation provider.  Lawmakers from Connecticut and Michigan have already called for Amtrak to change their policy.

The Rail Passengers Association said it's heard from angry passengers and travelers that have reached out over social media and by email and calls.  According to Mathews, who has expressed concern with Amtrak over the change, passengers could go to federal court and try to prove that federal law bars their particular claim from arbitration, but winning the case would be rare.

In a statement released last week Mathews stated that "over the past few years, we’ve worked hard to expand the Rail Passengers Association’s reach and influence to better support our mission of More Trains, Better Trains. These efforts have been hugely successful: our reputation, media reach, Congressional access and policy influence are at levels not seen in decades."

During the hearing Amtrak will note that it  set new records for ridership, revenue, and financial performance in Fiscal Year 2019.

“We congratulate Amtrak on its record-setting 2019, and look forward to working with the railroad and Congress to get even more Americans on trains in the coming year,” said Jim Mathews. “We need to move even faster on new equipment and added frequencies to all parts of the network if we are to address America’s growing mobility crisis. This will take strong Congressional leadership, meaningful new investment, and renewed engagement from all stakeholders.”

The railroad carried a record 32.5 million passengers, with ridership up across all business lines:

Acela saw increases of 4.3%
Northeast Regional saw increases of 2.9%
State-Supported saw increases of 2.4%
Long Distance saw increases of 1%

The railroad also touted $1.6 billion in capital investments, highlighting several new equipment initiatives: “manufacturing continues on the new Acela fleet, a contract was awarded for 75 new locomotives to replace some of our aging National Network locomotive fleet, and a Request for Proposals (RFP) was issued for a new fleet of single-level passenger rail vehicles.”