Rockefeller Remarks on Moving Intercity Passenger into the Future

September 14, 2011

Rockefeller PortraitWASHINGTON, D.C.—For more than a century, intercity passenger rail has been the backbone of our transportation network, capably moving people throughout our nation to drive economic growth.  And for more than four decades, Amtrak has been our one and only national intercity passenger rail carrier—which Congress created to make this essential function continue when other railroads were shedding their passenger rail operations.

Since it was created in 1970, Amtrak has had a somewhat tortured history, being forced to survive on anemic budgets and whipsawed by near constant political micro management.  And yet, impressively, it continues do much more than just chug along.  In fact, this year, Amtrak is expected to again reach record-ridership levels with more than 30 million people taking the train.  

In West Virginia, Amtrak is a lifeline for many who rely on the Cardinal and the Capitol Limited lines which serve 10 stations and provide an affordable way for West Virginians to get between small communities and big cities.  Approximately 51,000 Amtrak riders made their way to and from West Virginia in 2010.  And at a time when jobs are critical to our nation’s economy, Amtrak has employed 42 West Virginians whose wages totaled more than $3 million.

However, I am increasingly concerned about the House Republican attacks against Amtrak and intercity passenger rail funding—and even worse, the proposal to turn Amtrak over to the highest bidder.  I understand that as part of our deficit discussions, new and dire fiscal cuts must be on the table, but that does not mean we have to put our transportation network in jeopardy because of a crusade in Washington to rein in the deficit with reckless spending cuts—something that’s never worked and is fundamentally short-sighted.  I believe a more balanced approach is needed that involves astute cutting where necessary coupled with enhancing and investing in the programs that are working.

House Republicans have proposed to cut Amtrak operating funding by 60 percent and to eliminate funding for state-supported routes, which puts Amtrak’s entire network in jeopardy.  And all at a time when our national transportation system is in dire straits, it just doesn’t make sense.

The reality is: Americans rely on railways, highways, airways, and waterways to efficiently move goods safely to their destinations.  States like West Virginia need sound infrastructure to boost economic development in rural communities.  Yet, our transportation infrastructure is showing signs of wear and tear and, frankly, much of it is in disrepair.

As I see it, we have one real option: to rebuild our economy and our infrastructure with a plan that combines smart, targeted spending cuts with smart, targeted revenue increases.

President Obama proposed a way to do this earlier this week—asking for $6 billion to continue the investment he has already made in our intercity passenger rail network.  I very much want intercity passenger rail to be successful as a critical transportation mode for the 21st century—the fastest, cleanest and most efficient method we have of moving goods and people in every sector across the country and around the world.

I thank Chairman Lautenberg for holding this important hearing and look forward to hearing from our witnesses on how to do just that.