U.S., Amtrak: Russ Jackson wrote to his Congressman about Stephen Gardner’s Texas Eagle; the Congressman responded and took action

By Russ Jackson, Guest Commentator; April 28, 2022

Have you corresponded with your U. S. Congressman about Amtrak lately? I have.

Did you say how Amtrak affects your state and your Congressional District specifically? I did.

Did you compare an Amtrak train to an Artichoke? I did.

Have you been contacted by your Congressman in return? I have.

Were you satisfied that your Representative now knows more about Amtrak? I am.

The Capitol Building, Washington, D.C. Photo via Unsplash, Dieter Spears

On January 23, 2022, I published an article, “Amtrak’s Texas Eagle is like an Artichoke, Mr. Congressman” on this platform, courtesy of Bruce Richardson who has reported it did exceptionally well with viewers. In the article I said, “The Texas Eagle is buried in the secondary of the hierarchy of the endangered species of passenger transportation, Amtrak’s long distance trains,” asked why Amtrak has ignored this train more than the others that serve “flyover country,” then answered my own question: “It’s because Amtrak management wants to.” I asked my Congressman to find out “why.”

A pre-Amtrak Missouri Pacific Lines Texas Eagle logo. Image via American-Rails.com website.

The Artichoke reference came when someone said, “Life is like eating Artichokes, you have to get through so much to get so little,” and I went on to explain how the Texas Eagle is a small but vital part of the Texas transportation picture, that its potential for growth is enormous and no new Texas money is required to do that. I asked the Congressman to look into the Eagle’s Dining Car situation we all know about, why Amtrak never considers the prime importance of “revenue passenger miles,” where Amtrak spent its Covid Relief money, and other items. My Representative is Dr. Michael Burgess (Republican-Texas District 26). Although Amtrak’s only direct connection with his District is the Heartland Flyer that rushes through here on its trip between Ft. Worth and Oklahoma City, it doesn’t stop here. I sent him my Artichoke article.

On February 11 a letter arrived thanking me “for taking time to complete and return your signed Request for Congressional Inquiry Form.” They had taken my material and submitted it “on my behalf” to the Federal Railroad Administration. “As soon as a response is received I will be in touch with you,” etc., signed Michael Burgess, M.D., Member of Congress. That’s a good start!

On March 17th and 18th I exchanged phone calls with Dr. Burgess’s administrative assistant, who said they had not received a reply yet and asked if I had, which I had not. He called the FRA, and they told him they were still “working on it.” We also discussed recent developments at Amtrak and I sent him a copy of our early March Amtrak trip report.

On April 14th I received a phone call from the same administrative assistant in Dr. Burgess’s office. He told me the reply letter from the FRA was received and a copy would be sent to me. We discussed the contents and recent developments about Amtrak, how the Texas Eagle was being restored to daily service, but still without a Sightseer Lounge, that the other problems still in exist, and that the train now had a new development: run-through trainsets with the Capitol Limited that allowed passengers to travel between San Antonio, Chicago, and Washington, DC, a concept Amtrak had tried once. The on-time performance in its first weeks was like the last time; so horrible that in May Amtrak will give up on that idea. Again.

Here is some of what the FRA response to Dr. Burgess said; you be the judge if there are answers to my questions.

First, they thanked him for the letter “on behalf of your constituent” regarding “His concern Amtrak will not continue to financially support long distance trains with funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The FRA is committed to improving the safety and efficiency of our nation’s rail system.” It goes on to specify where those funds are supposed to go: Section 22210(b) protects existing Amtrak routes by limiting the discontinuance or substantial alteration of existing long distance routes in any fiscal year in which Amtrak receives adequate federal funding for such route.” (Underline and italics are mine)

It goes on to say the FRA “will conduct a study to evaluate the restoration of daily intercity rail passenger service,” and other items “for enhancing long distance services.” The key words above are “limiting” and “adequate,” neither of which are “shall do” words or who will define them.

Well, what else could I expect? Was it worth the effort?

Yes, definitely, because the FRA, the Department of Transportation, and presumably Amtrak now are aware that another Member of Congress knows there are big problems with Amtrak, and he has a constituent who will be keeping him informed about what would affect not just the Congressional District, but also the State of Texas. Michael Burgess, M.D. will be around a while longer, as he is unopposed in this November’s Congressional election. Do you, reader, have someone who takes the time to reply and follow-up to your inquiries? I do, and I’m grateful for that.

Bruce Richardson recently wrote, “When It Comes To Stephen Gardner’s Amtrak, Settle For More, Not Less. Demand More” Let’s keep trying to get Amtrak to do what it should have been doing all along by recognizing that the long distance trains are the most productive in the system. In their newly released “5-Year Plan” they state these trains have 17% of the system’s riders and generate 37% of its revenue. Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner is under severe criticism for his management and apparent ignoring of “flyover country” trains. Mr. Gardner, if you will not downgrade or eliminate the 15 long distance trains SAY SO. Your silence is deafening.

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