U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), chair of the Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security Subcommittee, will hold a hearing titled “Passenger Rail: Opportunities and Challenges for the National Network” on Tuesday, February 23, at 9:45 a.m.
Witnesses will testify on local, state, and federal efforts to strengthen state-supported and long-distance passenger rail routes, which account for the majority of trips taken by Amtrak passengers. It will focus on reforms advanced in the five-year transportation bill signed into law in December 2015, including measures to increase the transparency of Amtrak, streamline railroad project approvals, expand state and local participation in National Network activities, and boost innovation and competitiveness in grant programs. The hearing will also cover new initiatives, such as the Gulf Coast Working Group and State-Supported Route Committee.
- Mr. Joseph H. Boardman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Amtrak
- Mr. Knox W. Ross, Secretary-Treasurer of the Southern Rail Commission and Mayor of Pelahatchie, Mississippi
- Mr. Timothy H. Hoeffner, Chair of the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission and Director of the Office of Rail, Michigan Department of Transportation
- Mr. Rick Klein, City Manager of La Junta, Colorado
* Witness list subject to change
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security Subcommittee hearing
This hearing will take place in Senate Russell Office Building, Room 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
For reporters interested in reserving a seat, please contact the press gallery:
• Periodical Press Gallery – 202-224-0265
• Radio/Television Gallery – 202-224-6421
• Press Photographers Gallery – 202-224-6548
• Daily Press Gallery – 202-224-0241
Individuals with disabilities who require an auxiliary aid or service, including closed captioning service for the webcast hearing, should contact Stephanie Gamache at 202-224-5511 at least three business days in advance of the hearing date.
Senator Deb Fischer
"Good morning. I am pleased to convene the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation & Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security for this hearing entitled “Passenger Rail: Opportunities and Challenges for the National Network.”
"During today’s hearing, members of this subcommittee will examine passenger rail systems in the United States, particularly those outside the Northeast Corridor. I want to thank Senator Wicker for requesting today’s hearing on this important matter.
"I’m pleased to see that we have a strong panel representing local and national passenger rail experts from across the country.
"In particular, I want to recognize Mr. Joe Boardman, Amtrak’s president and CEO, who will be retiring on September 30th this year. Mr. Boardman served as New York’s commissioner of transportation, as well as the Federal Railroad Administrator, before becoming the CEO of Amtrak.
"We appreciate his service and commitment to advancing freight and passenger rail policy in the United States.
"Last fall, I had the opportunity to join Mr. Boardman on an Acela train ride from Washington to Baltimore. Sitting in the front locomotive provided an in-depth look at the operations of our nation’s passenger rail system. I enjoyed this experience. It was particularly informative to witness an engineer in action at a time when Amtrak is seeking to implement positive train control in the Northeast Corridor.
"Although passenger rail is important to the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak’s management of rail networks throughout the nation deserves our attention as well.
"I appreciate that our freight railroads, such as Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe, generously work with Amtrak to coordinate and ensure the movement of passenger rail service on their rail infrastructure networks throughout the country.
"My home state of Nebraska hosts the California Zephyr line, with stops in Hastings, Holdrege, Lincoln, McCook, and Omaha. This line provides service to Chicago, Denver, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. According to Amtrak, in fiscal year (FY) 2015, total station usage in Nebraska amounted to over 53,000 people.
"Although Amtrak has made progress over the last several years, there are still some serious challenges facing the operation of Amtrak’s assets and resources.
"A January 2016 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that Amtrak does not consistently report financial data across its business lines.
"This is hindering Amtrak’s ability to demonstrate performance accurately. For example, the report found that Amtrak’s Miami terminal was billed for snow-shoveling costs incurred elsewhere on Amtrak’s system. GAO noted that this may lead to a misallocation of resources.
"Additionally, Amtrak is looking at cutting its operating costs by nearly 4 percent. Revenue has been lost due to competition from other modes of transportation, lower gas prices, and weather-related incidents. As many here know, Amtrak faced a $307 million operating loss in FY 2015.
"Without adequate data and asset management, it will be difficult for Amtrak to address these challenges. I continue to be a strong proponent of performance-based outcomes in regulations and organizational management. I hope Amtrak will work to implement a performance-based framework, informed by past data, to address financial and operational challenges.
"I look forward to hearing more from our witnesses as we discuss how to strengthen our nation’s important passenger rail network during today’s hearing.
"I would now like to invite Senator Booker to offer his opening remarks."
Witness Panel 1
Mr. Joseph H. BoardmanPresident and Chief Executive OfficerAmtrak
Mr. Knox W. RossSecretary-Treasurer of the Southern Rail Commission and Mayor of Pelahatchie, Mississippi
Mr. Timothy H. HoeffnerChair of the Midwest Insterstate Passenger Rail Commission and Director of the Office of Rail, Michigan Department of Transportation
Mr. Rick KleinCity Manager of La Junta, Colorado