Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak board of directors’

Amtrak Board Nominees Sent to Senate Floor

September 17, 2020

Three nominees to the Amtrak Board of Directors have advanced to the Senate floor, but a Kansas senator has placed a hold on two of them

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation approved the nominations of Chris Koos, Sarah Feinberg and Todd Rokita, but Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) is demanding that Rokita and Feinberg provide credible evidence that they support Amtrak’s long-distance services.

Moran’s staff indicated that Koos, the mayor of Normal, Illinois, has provided such evidence, but Feinberg’s statement needs more detail.

Rokita, a former Indiana congressman, did not respond to the senator’s request to provide a written statement.

The Senate committee voted unanimously to advance the nominations of Feinberg and Koos, both Democrats, but advanced Rokitas nomination on a party line 14-12 vote.

All 12 dissenting votes came from Democrats. Rokita is a Republican.

Feinberg is a former head of the Federal Railroad Administration and is currently interim president of the New York City Transit Authority.

Amtrak Board Nominees Tell Senate Committee They Support Keeping National Network

August 21, 2020

Amtrak board of directors nominee Chris Koos told a Senate hearing that although he is “very committed” to Amtrak’s national network he also views the carrier’s proposed reduction of frequency of service on long-distance routes as a temporary measure.

Testifying to the Senate Commerce Committee on Aug. 6, Koos, the mayor of Normal, Illinois, said that without long-distance trains Amtrak doesn’t have a national network.

“I understand the need to be prudent about the frequency of those routes in a COVID world. I am strongly committed to returning to daily service on the long-distance routes,” he said.

Amtrak plans to operate all of its long-distance trains except the Auto Train on tri-weekly or quad-weekly schedules.

The New York-Miami Silver Meteor and Silver Star began operating on a less-than-daily basis in early July and the remainder of the trains will move to tri-weekly in October.

Also testifying and supportive of the reduction in long-distance service was board nominee Sarah Feinberg,

“I believe Amtrak is taking the right steps — cleaning, masks, matching service levels to current ridership demand,” said Feinberg, who is currently the interim president of New York City’s public transit system and former head of the Federal Railroad Administration.

Some Senators during the hearing expressed reservations about Amtrak’s plans.

“I’m very concerned that these cuts may significantly harm communities and threaten the long-term viability of the national railroad,” said Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) and the ranking minority member of the committee.

Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) was particularly outspoken in his view that Amtrak is biased against long distance trains.

“I am here to make sure that the nominees understand what they’ve just answered in Senator Cantwell’s question about their commitment to long-distance service,” he said.

“My view is that Amtrak is designed to provide long-distance service across the country.

“The metrics of whether or not it should exist is not whether or not it is profitable. We have a nationwide system designed to make certain that that service is available to all Americans with geographic dispersity across our country.”

Moran was among a group of senators who opposed an earlier Amtrak plan to break the Chicago-Los Angles Southwest Chief into two trains with passengers traveling by bus between western Kansas and Albuquerque.

Amtrak backed away from that plan in the face of congressional opposition.

Moran saw some parallels between the fight over keeping the route of the Chief intact and Amtrak’s plans to reduce the frequency of operation of the long-distance trains.

“But, now with COVID, there is an opportunity and perhaps an excuse for the diminution of service which I understand. What I am concerned about is the return of the service,” he said.

“I want to make certain that responding to the challenges financial and otherwise of COVID pandemic is not used an excuse to now terminate or significantly reduce, where it no longer is viable, long-distance service on the Southwest Chief and other long-distance routes.”

Moran expressed skepticism about Amtrak’s stated criteria for determining when a long-distance train would return to daily operation.

Among other things, ridership in the first quarter of federal fiscal year 2021 must be within 90 percent of Amtrak’s projected numbers.

“That requires me to have a lot of faith in the projections of Amtrak, so that something less than what you project doesn’t automatically become an explanation for why we no longer can support long-distance passenger service,” Moran said.

The Kansas senator asked Koos and Feinberg to respond in writing their commitment to long-distance service and suggested he might delay their confirmations without that.

Moran had earlier delayed the confirmations of other Amtrak board nominees.

He said to Feinberg and Koos that he hopes the Amtrak board will not look for the excuse that COVID-19 might present for the elimination or significant further reduction of that service.

“In other words, we struggle with maintaining our service for the needs on a daily basis,” Moran said. “Now, with reduced service, I think ridership is going to be less viable not more viable, and so the criteria that Amtrak is creating is making it more difficult in my mind to see that Amtrak is on a path to restoration of service.”

Feinberg said at the hearing she understood the importance of the trains because she is from West Virginia where they are important.

Koos talked about how important the Texas Eagle is to his community and smaller communities across the nation.

“”The first quarter of Fiscal Year 21 seems to me like a tenuous benchmark, because I don’t know where we’re going to be the first quarter of ’21 with COVID-19,” he said.

“ I think we have to recognize the mood of the country and people’s willingness to public transportation again in a post-COVID world and that is the metric that I would use to judge the viability of the long-distance routes.”

Rokita Nominated for Seat on Amtrak’s Board

August 1, 2020

A former Indiana congressman who voted in favor of amendments to reduce or eliminate Amtrak funding has been nominated by the Trump administration for a seat on the Amtrak board of directors.

Todd Rokita was named by the administration to fill a seat being vacated by Derek Kan.

Kan’s term is due to expire on Jan. 3, 2021. Rokita was also named to fill a seat on the Amtrak board whose term will run through Jan. 3, 2026.

It is not the first time that Rokita has been nominated for the Amtrak board.

He was nominated on May 7, 2019, but that nomination was never confirmed by the full Senate.

The Rail Passengers Association said Rokita voted against Amtrak in eight of the thirteen Amtrak-specific amendments during his time in Congress.

Amtrak Board Nominees Advance to Senate Floor

May 23, 2020

Three nominees for seats on the Amtrak board of directors were approved by a Senate committee this week on a 14-12 party line vote.

Their nominations have been sent to the Senate floor for confirmation.

The nominations of Joseph Gruters, Lynn Westmoreland and Rick Dearborn had been languishing for months.

That action followed the Trump administration naming two additional nominees for the Amtrak board, Chris Koos and Sarah E. Feinberg.

Ranking Senate Commerce Committee minority member Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) opposed the advancement of Gruters, Westmoreland and Dearborn because they did not have bi-partisan support.

“These nominees, in my opinion, are controversial and have not appeared before this committee in the current Congress,” she said. “Further, they have been on committee markups multiple times only to advance on party-line votes. I hope that we can continue to work through these issues and questions on a more bipartisan basis.”

Westmoreland is a former Congressman who was nominated in October of 2017.

While in Congress he voted in 2009 and 2015 to end all Amtrak funding.

During his confirmation hearings, Westmoreland said he now understood the importance of government funding to Amtrak.

Dearborn is a former member of the Heritage Foundation, which has consistently called for the elimination of Amtrak.

An earlier nomination of another former Congressman, Todd Rokita, has yet to be resubmitted to the Senate.

Rokita voted a number of times in favor of amendments to slash or eliminate Amtrak funding.

Koos is the mayor of Normal, Illinois, while Feinberg formerly served as administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.

Previous moves to advance Amtrak board nominees to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote were stymied by Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) who objected to Amtrak’s efforts to separate the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief into two separate trains connected by a bus service between western Kansas and Albuquerque.

2 Named to Amtrak Board of Directors

May 19, 2020

The Trump administration announced it intends to nominate Sarah E. Feinberg and Chris Koos to Amtrak’s board of directors. Both are Democrats and would fill seats on the board set aside for that party.

Feinberg is interim president of MTA New York City Transit and previously served as Federal Railroad Administrator and as chief of staff to former Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.

She also once served as director of policy communications at Facebook and director of Global Communications and Business Strategy at Bloomberg.

A West Virginia native, she is the founder of Feinberg Strategies and received her B.A. from Washington and Lee University.

Koos has been mayor of Normal, Illinois, since 2003. He serves on the advisory board of Transportation for America, is a member of the Uptown Normal Business Association, and, since 1979, has served as the owner and operator of the retail specialty stores Vitesse Cycle Shop and Often Running.

Both nominations require confirmation in the U.S. Senate.

Amtrak Board Nomination Moves on to Full Senate

November 16, 2019

A nomination of a former Indiana congressman to the Amtrak board of directors has been sent to the full Senate for consideration.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved the nomination of former U.S. Rep Todd Rokita on a voice vote.

Rokita, who was nominated to the Amtrak board last May for a five-year term, was attacked by some rail passenger advocates for his having twice voted to end Amtrak’s federal funding.

During a July hearing before the committee, Rokita said he voted against Amtrak funding to “send a message” to the carrier.

Rokita said that as a congressman he was sometimes limited to voting yes, no or present.

“I believe in fiscal responsibility for all of us,” Rokita said. “I believe my votes against these funding provisions sent a message to Amtrak.”

He also said during his testimony that he voted for the 2015 FAST Act, which helped create grant funding for Amtrak.

Three other nominations to the Amtrak board remain on hold due to the objection of Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas).

They include Rick Dearborn, a former deputy chief of staff for President Donald Trump; Joseph R. Gruters, a former Florida state representative who was co-chair of Trump’s 2016 Florida campaign, and former U.S. Rep. Leon A. Westmoreland of Georgia

Westmoreland also voted twice against Amtrak funding while in Congress.

Amtrak Board Nominee Says Right Things in Hearing

July 26, 2019

A former Indiana Congressman who has been nominated by the Trump administration to serve on Amtrak’s board of directors has his day before a Senate committee this week and as expected he said all of the right things.

Todd Rokita spoke of riding Amtrak trains many times and said he favored a robust passenger train system.

He also was grilled about the times that he voted while a member of Congress in favor of amendments to cut Amtrak funding.

Rokita sought to explain those votes away by saying, “I believe in fiscal responsibility and my vote sent a message.”

The remarks came during a hearing by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

In response to a question from Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) about whether he would be a fierce backer of Amtrak, Rokita replied that funding of the rail service was up to Congress and his job would be to make sure it was spent wisely. He said his priority would be to improve on-time performance and track safety.

“We don’t need to beat the airlines but to improve “frequency and consistency,” he said.

The committee did not vote on Rokita’s nomination, which is opposed by the Rail Passengers Association.

Nominated in May, Rokita was introduced to the committee Senator Todd Young (R-Indiana), who also serves on the commerce committee and served with Rokita in the House.

Young described Rokita as having “a personal passion for transportation.”

Rokita said he has ridden several times on Amtrak’s Cardinal and Hoosier State.

“I’ve been an Amtrak passenger my whole life, riding the Cardinal from Wabash College (in Crawfordsville) home to Munster,” he said. “And I’ve have ridden the Northeast Corridor routes often while in Congress.”

Committee Chairman Roger Wicker ( R-Mississippi), asked Rokita if he favored eliminating any Amtrak routes.

In response Rokita said keeping a national system was a priority and he had “no preconceived notions to eliminate anything.”

Rokita served in the House from 2011-2019 and is now general counsel for Apex Benefits, a consulting firm in Indianapolis.

Dukakis, Gunn Share Concerns About Amtrak Board

July 26, 2019

The composition of the Amtrak board of directors is drawing concern from a former Amtrak president and board member that the board is becoming too political and is lacking in transportation experience.

The Trump administration has nominated two former Republican congressmen who voted in favor of amendments to revoke Amtrak funding.

Michael Dukakis, a former Amtrak board member, told Trains magazine that during his time on the board it was bipartisan by agreement.

“I don’t think any of us bought into the idea that Amtrak would pay for itself,” Dukakis said. “We have to serve all parts of the country, and in any event, we have an infrastructure deficit, and that means public funding (to fix it). The board I served on was quite unified around that notion.”

Dukakis, who is a now a professor of political science at Northeastern University and UCLA, said that during his time on the board the members were well-versed in transportation and “committed to the simple but powerful notion that the entire country needs a first-class rail passenger system.”

Gunn, who served as Amtrak president between 2002 and 2005, said the board members he worked with were an intelligent group with backgrounds in transportation.

“I was lucky when I went to Amtrak because I had Mike Dukakis, John Robert Smith [now Chairman of Transportation for America], Gov. Linwood Holton [Republican from Virginia] and a very smart guy, Michael Jackson, who was the Department of Transportation representative, on the Board,” Gunn told Trains.

The Trump administration last year nominated Joseph Gruters, Rick Dearborn, and Leon Westmoreland to the Amtrak board but have yet to be confirmed because of a hold placed on their nominations by Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas).

All three men have been nominated again this year along with former Indiana Congressman Todd Rokita.

Rokita voted in favor of amendments offered in 2011, 2015 and 2017 to cut Amtrak funding.

Westmoreland is a former Georgia congressman who twice voted in favor of amendments cutting Amtrak funding. None of those amendments were approved.

Gunn said that DOT board member Jackson “wasn’t a pro-Amtrak guy but he believed in honesty, telling the truth and getting things done. He would give you a heads up if you were getting on thin ice [with the George W. Bush Administration] and when you weren’t — he was good at that. Jackson wouldn’t fit in today,”

Gunn said politically appointed boards are worthless and dangerous if they bring nothing to the party.

He expressed concern that management buyouts in the past two years has robbed Amtrak of employees and managers who know, understand, and appreciate railroad practices—what works and what doesn’t.

“It’s very sad what’s going on now at Amtrak — the institutional knowledge is almost destroyed. And the people being nominated (to the board) to oversee them are, at best, lazy politicians.”

Senate Committee To Consider Amtrak Board Pick

July 21, 2019

A July 24 hearing has been set by the Senate Committee on Commerce to consider a nominee for a position on the Amtrak board of directors.

The Trump administration has nominated former Indiana Congress Todd Rokita to the board, a move that drew opposition from some rail passenger advocates due to his support of amendments would have ended funding for some Amtrak service had those amendments been adopted.

Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews said his group opposes the Rokita nomination although he said the former congressman is likely to say the right things during his hearing.

The nomination of Rokita was announced last May.

Ex-Indiana Congressman Nominated for Amtrak Board

May 9, 2019

The Trump administration has nominated a former Indiana congressman to Amtrak’s board of directors.

The nomination of Todd Rokita drew fire from the Rail Passengers Association, which described the former Republican congressman as anti-Amtrak.

RPA said that during his time in Congress, Rokita voted against Amtrak on eight of 13 Amtrak-specific amendments, including failed amendments seeking to end funding for the carrier’s national network, ending Amtrak’s federal grant and cutting capital funding for Amtrak.

The rail passenger advocacy organization said it would lead an effort to hold up Rokita’s nomination.

In a related development, Kansas Senator Jerry Moran has placed a legislative block on three appointees to the Amtrak board until the carrier commits to keeping the Southwest Chief operating as it does now between Chicago and Los Angeles.