As Sept. 30, the end of its 2023 Fiscal Year, rapidly approaches, Amtrak has precious little time to firm up design specs and place an order for what appears to be a complete redesign of the long-distance (LD) passenger service. The IIJA (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) provided five fiscal years of advance authorized funding for which Amtrak has, at most, three years left to obligate. The railroad has previewed an integrated trainset design based on 10-car single-level and nine-car bilevel consists focused upon accessibility, but did not address other critical issues.
Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner testified Tuesday, June 6, 2023 during a House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Hearing. This hearing was titled "Amtrak Operations: Examining the Challenges and Opportunities for Improving Efficiency and Service" and is available at the following link: https://transportation.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=406457
The Aurora Group encourages all mobility advocates to watch, then act upon statements made during this critical hearing. Our National Network of passenger rail services, especially the long-distance sector, is at a critical point. Amtrak executive management continues to delay repair, rebuilding, and replacement of long-distance service equipment.
To help us take action, email co-Chairman George Chilson at Chairmand@TheAuroraGroup.org
"WASHINGTON — While the U.S. Transportation Security Administration reported a record 2.7 million passengers processed at the nation’s airports on Friday, May 26, a lack of capacity means intercity passenger rail travel was not a Memorial Day weekend travel option for many Americans served by Amtrak long-distance trains... "
"The shortage of active bilevels was evident when deployment plans for fiscal 2023 were devised in mid-2022. The need was clearly exacerbated by high-profile derailments of the Empire Builder in 2021 and Southwest Chief in 2022..."
As a part of his continued fight to strengthen rural America, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today formally blocked President Biden’s nominees to serve as members of the Amtrak Board of Directors – five of whom are from Northeast Corridor states, violating provisions secured by Tester to ensure full geographic representation and firsthand knowledge of long-distance routes on the Amtrak Board through his bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. None of the six nominees are from Western states.
“It is important that people in places like rural Montana have a voice at Amtrak to ensure we aren’t left behind,” Tester wrote in a letter to President Biden. “After careful review, I will be blocking the slate of nominees currently before the United States Senate… Unfortunately, this slate of nominees fails to meet the requirements of the law and Congress’s clear intent in including the geographic requirements in the [Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act].”
Congress enacted this very explicit geographic diversity requirement to ensure that Amtrak’s Board of Directors is not dominated by individuals from the Northeast Corridor. As Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) explained at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Amtrak nominees last September, the IIJA “made changes to the Amtrak Board’s makeup to make sure that it reflects Amtrak’s network’s diversity”. These changes were reasonable and appropriate given that Amtrak is a national passenger railroad company that operates in 46 states and Washington, DC, and receives billions of federal tax dollars from Americans in every state.
"To bring your slate of Amtrak board nominees into compliance with the geographic diversity requirement in federal law, we urge you to withdraw one of your Democrat nominees from the Northeast Corridor and replace that person with a nominee from outside the Northeast Corridor."
"We are always looking for ways to improve our customers· experience, especially in times of inconvenience. Amtrak is still in the process of reviewing our procedures and evaluating what we could have done differently in this case, but we know that accurate and timely communication is always important... Active communication with dispatchers and other host railroad staff is still needed in order to estimate something like remaining delay time when there is a serious disruption."
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, alongside Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner demanding answers by January 31 about the incident and an explanation of the company’s policies to ensure adequate customer treatment.
On January 19, 2023, Amtrak publicly announced a program to replace aging long-distance Superliner and Amfleet II equipment. The reason behind this is clear: Management has concluded that “...the current fleet will approach the end of its service life after the next decade.”  We see the crisis as now, not in the future, and moreover this is a crisis of Amtrak’s own making.
Excuses are plentiful. Insufficient staffing is often cited. During the public Amtrak Board meeting in St Louis on December 1st, Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner indicated “...stored equipment that is no longer commercially viable are essentially donations to the parts supply.”
Based upon this answer an observer might reach the conclusion that none of the stored equipment is commercially viable and, therefore, none will be restored to service.
To quantify existing equipment status, Amtrak’s Five-Year Plan 2022-2027, Equipment Appendices, indicates that 96 cars built for long-distance trains are stored.  We question if Amtrak has or intends to expend generous CARES Act of 2020, American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, and the Infrastructure Investment and Improvement funding made available by Congress to repair and place this equipment back in service.
Presentation shows ideas for 10-car single-level, nine-car bilevel trains