For Immediate Release (21-15)
Contact: Sean Jeans-Gail (202) 320-2723; firstname.lastname@example.org
Senior Amtrak Executives Preview Railroad’s Plans for Infrastructure Bill Funds
Washington, D.C.—Senior Amtrak executives spoke to the Rail Passengers Association yesterday about plans for the future of America’s Railroad. Amtrak Executive Vice Presidents Roger Harris and Laura Mason addressed virtual attendees of the RailNation:DC passenger advocacy conference, providing insight into how Amtrak is recovering from the pandemic, how the railroad will use increased passenger rail funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA) to improve the experience for America’s passengers, and strategies for ensuring major projects come in on-time and on-budget.
Mr. Harris, Executive Vice President - Chief Marketing and Revenue Officer, oversees major marketing efforts across the Northeast Corridor, State-Supported and Long-Distance Service Lines. He revealed the railroad’s timeline for fleet renewal for the Northeast Corridor and the National Network, a procurement program that would receive a massive boost with the passage of the IIJA.
"We're basically replacing all of our fleet over the last five years,” explained Harris. “Between the new Acelas, Viewliner cars ordered by the states, the Siemens replacement for Amfleet equipment on the NEC, and once you wrap the long distance fleet, it will be the vast majority of the Amtrak rolling stock. This is not something Amtrak really has a deep bench on, in terms of doing procurements, so we really need to tackle these sequentially. So, there's some elements of the Amfleet replacements that we need to wrap up still from that procurement, and then we will begin to have the capacity to work on the long-distance procurement.”
Harris also revealed that Amtrak’s return to pre-pandemic service has been hampered by the same labor shortages affecting the U.S. economy at large.
"As to opening up traditional dining to non-sleeping car passengers, what we really wanted to make sure we did with the reintroduction... is to make sure we could do it right in the first place,” disclosed Harris. “Because of limited crew, and because it was a new service, we did not want to overburden our [Onboard Services] employees with having to deal with coach passengers and Covid restrictions and everything else all at the same time. We made a very deliberate decision that we would restrict it to sleeping car passengers initially to make sure we could get the service right, harden the service, deliver it reliably.”
Harris reported that beginning October, Amtrak will start allowing business class passengers to access the dining car on the Coast Starlight.
“Now I know that sounds like a really small population, but the idea is to start small and work through the issues we will inevitably encounter,” Harris said. “As that test is successful, we will work to roll it out to additional markets."
Ms. Mason, Executive Vice President - Major Program Delivery, informed Rail Passengers supporters about her work in laying the groundwork to receive the substantial infusion of federal funding that will come from the passage of the IIJA. Mason was brought onboard by Amtrak this summer to head up strategy in developing the largest-scale and most complex projects, overseeing tens of billions of dollars in investment in critical infrastructure, stations and fleet renewal.
“With the state of our infrastructure today and the funding that we have hopefully coming towards us with the infrastructure bill, we need to be able to build up the capacity to do multiple billion dollar programs, to have just not one focus but many,” she explained. “We have $40 billion of planned critical infrastructure, facility, and fleet investments that we need to turn into a reality."
Mason also answered questions from Rail Passengers members about how to ensure the next generation of railroaders include the best and brightest, with a workforce that reflects the diversity of Amtrak’s ridership.
"One of the big challenges to the industry is 'how do we get people excited and involved?',” Mason said. “We need to recruit at all levels; I think entry-level is very important, but also mid-level. We need to bring in people from different industries and help them see the rewards that come from working in rail. That you can do well by doing good, and also that you can have a tremendous positive impact. I talk about this when I go out recruiting, about the impact. Do you want to affect tens of thousands of people a day? Hundreds of thousands? Millions of people a year? You can do that in transportation! There's very few other jobs out there where you can actually directly affect the lives of tens or hundreds of thousands of people every day. Particularly to the younger generations who talk about climate change and want to do something, I say: make it your day job, come work in rail. If you want to combat climate change, help be part of the solution of making rail and carbon neutral transportation an option for everybody."
Rail Passengers supporters took part in the virtual briefing as part of our campaign to get the bipartisan infrastructure bill across the finish line. This week, Rail Passengers is working to connect passengers with their elected officials on how Amtrak supports strong towns and vibrant economies.
About Rail Passengers Association
The Rail Passengers Association is the oldest and largest national organization serving as a voice for the more than 40 million rail passengers in the U.S. Our mission is to improve and expand conventional intercity and regional passenger train services, support higher speed rail initiatives, increase connectivity among all forms of transportation and ensure safety for our country's trains and passengers. All of this makes communities safer, more accessible, and more productive, improving the lives of everyone who lives, works and plays in towns all across America.