Groups Fear Amtrak Killing Long-Distance Trains

Two organizations that represent private railroad car owners are accusing Amtrak of lacking commitment to support the passenger carrier’s national network.

The letter was sent to Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson and signed by Robert G. Donnelley, president of the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners and W. Roger Fuehring, president of the Railroad Passenger Car Alliance.

It cited what it described as “recent, abrupt, negative changes in Amtrak’s policies toward special trains and private cars.”

The changes, the groups say, have imposed “unreasonable economic costs on Amtrak, car owners, their employees and vendors, and the communities these cars and trains visit.” The letter is seeking a review of current policies.

Last month Amtrak announced new fees and rules for the handling of private rail cars that had the effect of making them more expensive to operate and limiting where and how often they can run.

Amtrak in March also revealed other policy changes that sharply curtailed specials and charter movements, some of which use private rail cars.

Among other issues, the letter offered as evidence comments made by Anderson at a California conference of passenger rail officials that described as high the costs of long-distance trains and their per-passenger subsidies.

These figures, the letter said, “are particularly alarming because heretofore they have been talking points for Amtrak’s critics.”

If the long-distance network was removed, the private rail car groups said, it would result in the loss of Amtrak service to 29 states and a Balkanized network of four isolated pieces.

Such a network, the letter predicted, would lead to a drop in federal support far exceeding the costs of the long-distance network.

“Amtrak cannot afford to continue to act as if it doesn’t need friends,” the letter said.

It predicted that Amtrak’s [fiscal year] 2020 funding will be very tight, citing one congressman as saying that “funding will drop off a cliff’ after the two-year budget deal expires.”

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