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Hungry On The Rails

The Senate is debating an important transportation funding bill that would include $1.45 billion for AMTRAK & $100 million for high performance rail. The bill also has $550 million for TIGER grants, a program that has effectively funded passenger & freight rail improvements, & $1.94 billion for New Starts, which has been critical in the development of regional rail transit. With the House pushing an alternative proposal that will SLASH AMTRAK’s fund by 1/3, it is essential that the Senate pass this bill with strong bipartisan support. The Senate is considering 2 CRITICAL AMTRAK-related amendments. One, being offered by Senator Chris Coons, a Maryland Democrat is POSITIVE…increasing the proposed level of AMTRAK funding to $1.57 billion, an increase of $130 million. In my opinion, this is not only good, but it’s imperative. The other amendment is being served up by Republican Senator Jeff FLAKE from Arizona. Flake’s amendment would BAN federal funds from being used to “subsidize costs related to food & beverage & 1st class service.” Flake’s amendment IGNORES that food & beverage service is an ESSENTIAL component of AMTRAK’s business…particularly on long distance trains, where it meets basic human needs. I think this is vital to all of us here on the Hi-Line who use & DEPEND on the Empire Builder. Think about it…trying to travel on one of AMTRAK’s long distance trains like our Builder with no food or beverages! These “long distance” trains would travel routes up to 2,438 miles over the course of days without access to on-board food & beverages! This absence would be especially hard on the high percentage of AMTRAK’s passengers with disabilities & senior citizens who rely on the Builder. It is clumsy “micromanaging” indeed, which fails to achieve its stated objective of reducing government support of passenger rail. AMTRAK estimates that elimination of food service would reduce ridership by 4.5%, cut ticket revenue by 9.9%, & increase the size of its required operating grant-even BEFORE considering labor protection costs associated with mass layoffs. These amendments could be considered as early as THIS week. I urge you to contact our Montana political leaders NOW & let them know that you support robust funding for AMTRAK & a modern national rail network, & ask them to vote yes on Senator Coon’s AMTRAK amendment (#1788) & that you oppose Senator Flake’s amendment that would KILL food & beverage service on AMTRAK (#1764). Trying to take away burgers & beer from the Builder would be like taking away the “Good-AS-Gold” oldies tunes from me!…I’m the Puffman…ALL ABOARD!

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