Press release from United States Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana; April 25, 2023
Five of six Amtrak Board nominees from Northeast Corridor; violation of Senator’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law
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].”
Tester’s letter continued, “I ask that you take action to solve this issue and bring the slate of nominees into compliance with the IIJA requirements. I believe the board will be well-served by adding a qualified candidate who has greater familiarity with the operations and customer base for Amtrak’s long-distance and regional routes. I stand ready to work with you and my colleagues to confirm these eventual nominees.”
Tester worked with four other Democrats, five Republicans, and President Biden to craft the bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs Act. He specifically worked with his colleagues on both sides of the aisle to include provisions that will enable Amtrak to modernize its operations and continue to serve the entire country’s needs for decades to come. Part of that effort included crafting a bipartisan fix that restructured the Amtrak Board of Directors so that it better reflects the nation’s geographic diversity. Specifically, in addition to other requirements, Congress mandated in the law that no more than four members of Amtrak’s Board come from the Northeast Corridor, which statute defines to include Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia. Currently five of the six nominees for Amtrak’s Board are from the Northeast Corridor.
Tester’s move to block the Administration’s slate of Amtrak nominees received the support of Montana rail passenger leaders.
“The Empire Builder has been serving northern Montana for nearly 100 years, and it’s critical that someone on the Amtrak Board is familiar with the unique needs and challenges of long-distance rail in rural America,” said Barry Green, Council Representative for Montana at the Rail Passengers Association. “Long-distance rail in Montana is an entirely different ballgame than the urban coastal commutes, and we’re delighted to have Senator Tester standing up for the people who rely on Amtrak in our part of the country.”
“For too long the Amtrak leadership has come from coastal cities, and rural America, dependent on long-distance passenger rail, has been left without a seat at the table,” said Dave Strohmaier, Missoula County Commissioner and Chair of Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority. “Rural America deserves a voice, and we appreciate Senator Tester leading the charge to improve rail service for the folks in Montana and the West.”
Tester has been Montana’s leading champion for strengthening Amtrak in rural America and last year successfully fought to restore full, daily service to the Empire Builder. Tester’s bill reinstating furloughed Amtrak employees and rolling back previous service reductions to the Empire Builder route was signed into law as part of the American Rescue Plan in March 2021. Tester was the only member of Montana’s Congressional delegation to vote for the bill. Tester personally secured a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the cuts in 2020, inviting Havre’s Paul Tuss, Executive Director of Bear Paw Development Corporation, to testify about how crucial long-distance rail is to rural and frontier economies in Montana and across the country.
Tester’s bipartisan Infrastructure Law is projected to create more than 800,000 American jobs and lower costs for businesses by making targeted investments that will strengthen our nation without raising taxes on working families. He secured significant wins for Montana in the legislation, including $2.82 billion for Montana’s roads, highways and bridges; $2.5 billion to complete all authorized Indian water rights settlements; $1 billion to complete all authorized rural water projects through the Bureau of Reclamation; $65 billion to deploy broadband to areas across the country that lack internet access and additionally make online connectivity affordable; and $3.37 billion to reduce wildfire risk nationwide, among others. Tester also worked to ensure that all iron, steel, and construction materials used for these projects must be made in America.