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Graves & Crawford Statements from Hearing on Amtrak’s COVID-19 Response

Opening remarks, as prepared, of Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO) and Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Ranking Member Rick Crawford (R-AR) from today’s hearing entitled, “Amtrak’s Response to COVID-19”:

Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO):
I want to thank Chairman Lipinski for holding this hearing, and I want to thank our witnesses for attending.

Today’s hearing is a good opportunity to review how Amtrak has handled the COVID-19 pandemic.  Prior to this crisis, Amtrak was coming off its best year ever.  In 2020, Amtrak was expecting to make a profit for the first time in its almost 50-year history.  After the pandemic hit, Amtrak reported that its ridership dropped by 95% and its revenues were down by 82% compared to 2019 levels.

Today is also Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn’s first appearance before the Committee since taking over in April.  I welcome Mr. Flynn.  He comes to Amtrak after several years working in various roles in the private sector transportation industry.  His experience includes high level positions in the aviation and maritime industries, and also working for a Class I freight railroad.

I know many of the Members of this Committee on both sides have worked with Mr. Flynn as he’s served in these various roles.  I have always found Mr. Flynn to be both effective and forthright in many of his past positions.  I expect that will be the same for his leadership of Amtrak.

I look forward to hearing Mr. Flynn’s update on Amtrak’s COVID-19 response.  I am also interested in hearing about his future plans for Amtrak, including recovering from the pandemic, restoring ridership, and meeting the Congressional mandate of turning a profit. 

Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Ranking Member Rick Crawford (R-AR):
Thank you, Chairman Lipinski, for holding this hearing.  I also want to thank our witnesses for being here today.

Our hearing is to review Amtrak’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  In March, Congress gave Amtrak over $1 billion in additional funding to offset pandemic losses and avoid furloughs.  Since that time, Amtrak has significantly cut its routes and announced that it is laying off 20% of its workforce, or almost 4,000 people, by October 1, 2020. 

Amtrak has also more than doubled its fiscal year 2021 funding request from just over $2 billion, to almost $5 billion.  I am troubled that Amtrak is receiving and requesting record amounts of funding while cutting services and thousands of jobs.

Amtrak also recently requested a waiver of its Buy America requirement to purchase equipment from a foreign country.  When I asked for more specifics in a July letter, Amtrak could not provide even the most basic information, including the costs and origins of the equipment.  Amtrak should not be spending its taxpayer-provided bailout money on foreign goods while cutting American jobs and services.

I welcome new Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn.  I look forward to hearing about how he is responding to the COVID-19 crisis, but also his thoughts on other important issues including his plans for meeting Amtrak’s Congressionally mandated requirement of making a profit.

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