On April 5th, eleven members of the United States Senate from both parties signed a letter that was sent, just a few hours later, to Amtrak’s president, Richard Anderson. The phrasing of the letter was such that there could not possibly have been any misunderstanding as to where these senators were coming from. For example, here is the very first sentence:
“We are writing in strong support of Amtrak’s national network, including long-distance and state-supported routes.”
A bit farther along in the letter, the senators ask Anderson for “assurances of your commitment to the national network.”
Boring in on that point, Anderson was asked if he is planning to shorten or change any of the long-distance routes. If so, pressed the senators, which ones?
That question was immediately followed by another, a particularly astute one: Anderson was asked if he was contemplating the shortening of any of long-distance routes and, if so, which ones and by how much?
That’s significant, you see, because any train with a route of 750 miles or less can only continue to operate if the states involved agreed to subsidize it. Since some states have already refused to come up with the money in those cases, shortening the routes could be Amtrak’s devious way of killing those long-distance trains.
Finally, the senators asked Anderson for an explanation of the “accounting method” Amtrak uses. That’s really an important question because for years many outside observers have believed that Amtrak “cooks the books” by allocating a disproportionately high share of the cost of operating the Northeast Corridor to the long-distance trains. That device has made the NEC look good, but at the expense of the long-distance trains.
Much of this will shake out over the next few months, but in the meantime, Amtrak’s Anderson has been put on notice with a very clear message from the Senate: Don’t mess with the long-distance trains!