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One Step Forward, One Step Back for Amtrak Board Nominees

October 20, 2023

Senate Committee advances three nominees to the Amtrak Board, only to see another Senator renew hold over geographic concerns.

Shortly after the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation advanced three nominees at an executive session held this week, Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) renewed his blockade, promising to hold up all Amtrak nominations until he sees more geographic diversity in the nominees.

This week’s hearing came in the wake of the White House announcing that it would withdraw a Democratic nominee from the Northeast Corridor (NEC) following bipartisan protests in a move that seemed designed to break the Senate blockade. With the exception of Chris Koos, who is mayor of Normal, Illinois, every other nominee advanced by the White House resides along the NEC, in contravention of statutory requirements for geographic diversity on the Amtrak Board included in the Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act (IIJA).

Initially, the White House’s promise seemed to have done the trick as the committee voted unanimously to advance the bipartisan slate – Tony Coscia (renominated in his current role as Director of the Board), Mayor Koos, and Joel Szabat – while repeating calls for better representation for National Network passengers in future rounds of nominees to the Amtrak Board.

“…President Biden’s current slate of nominees does not comply with the statutory requirement that no more than four of the eight Board members be from a state along the Northeast Corridor, a fact that I have raised since April,” said Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who is the ranking Republican on the Committee. “Last week the President promised to bring his slate into compliance by substituting someone from outside the Northeast corridor for one of the current Democrat nominees. Senator Tester, in particular, has been vocal and very effective on this issue. Based on President Biden’s assurance, and Amtrak’s good faith cooperation with my investigation, I will today support moving the nominees out of committee.”

“Amtrak is a critical part of America’s infrastructure from coast to coast. But it’s not just about the Northeast corridor; Amtrak is important all over this country,” added Senator John Tester (D-MT). “In my home state of Montana, we’ve got the Empire Builder that has been connecting Montana to the rest of the world for generations. It is important that rural America is not left behind on the Amtrak Board. I have been crystal clear from the jump that because of the law—in fact, our bipartisan infrastructure law that we passed a year ago—we fought to make sure that rural America, that long distance rail, had a place on the Amtrak Board. The Administration did not heed that. Since then, they have pulled back on one nominee so that we can get somebody that understands long distance rail on the Amtrak Board. Look, I think that’s a good sign. It will make the Amtrak Board stronger and certainly will make America stronger for that.”

However, Senator Moran wasn't satisfied by promises from the Biden Administration. The senior Senator from Kansas said he will continue to place holds on the nominees until “the White House complies with the current law and appoints a nominee representative of the diverse geographic regions that Amtrak serves.”

Next Steps?

It’s clear that there will need to be new nominees advanced before we can get a much-needed injection of fresh blood on the Amtrak Board. Rail Passengers Association continues to work to advance nominees that represent ALL of America and not just the Northeast Corridor, and our staff is in contact with allied Senate offices to help secure Board seats for people who understand the needs of National Network passengers.

“60% of the passengers ride on the national network, not Northeast Corridor, so you have to have somebody on the Amtrak board who understands what this is about, understands what riding these trains is like,” Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews told Bloomberg Government.

We know that all trains and routes are important and that those who live in rural areas often have fewer transportation options. We want to make sure no one is left out as we continue to fight for more trains, in more places that serve MORE PEOPLE.

Please consider donating today to help us keep going in this fight!