BLE joins 'Rally for Rail' on Capitol Hill

Labor, other groups lobby Congress to provide Amtrak funding, save passenger rail

Representatives of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers participated in a high-energy "Rally for Rail" on Capitol Hill on May 8, joining hundreds of concerned citizens and rail supporters from across the United States in urging Congress to support passenger rail as an integral part of America's transportation system and to provide full funding for Amtrak in 2003 and beyond.

Participants in the "Rally for Rail" represent many businesses, labor unions, and state and local governments, as well as millions of consumers and citizens across America.

The BLE was represented by Raymond Holmes, BLE International Vice-President & U.S. National Legislative Representative, as well as several State Legislative Board Chairmen, including Terry Briggs (Texas), Ken Kertesz (Pennsylvania), Mike Muscha (North Dakota), J.T. Norris (Virginia) and Ed Way (Illinois). Also participating was Amtrak General Chairman Mark Kenny and Brian Gallagher of the New York State Legislative Board.

More than 50 groups have endorsed resolutions calling on Congress to fully fund Amtrak in 2003, and to enact a reauthorization bill that ensures a strong, long-term future for the nation's passenger rail system.

"Today's event demonstrates that people from all across America and across the political spectrum want a stronger passenger rail system in this country," said Mayor Kenneth Barr, chairman of the Transportation and Communications Committee of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "We are all united in the conviction that it's time to put Amtrak on a more stable foundation for the future, and to have it play a growing role in our country's congested transportation system."

In early May, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties, the National Conference of State Legislatures and three other national organizations representing local governments sent a letter to House and Senate leaders urging them to appropriate $1.2 billion for Amtrak in FY '03 to prevent the elimination of services.

Among those addressing the 9 a.m. pep rally were Senators Joe Biden (D-DE), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX); Reps. Jack Quinn (R-NY), James Oberstar (D-MN), and Bob Clement (D-TN); Mayors Kenneth Barr of Fort Worth, Texas and Patrick Henry Hays of North Little Rock, Ark., representing the U.S. Conference of Mayors; Rhea Huddleston, Wapello County Board of Supervisors, Ottumwa, Iowa, representing the National Association of Counties; George Dorshimer of LTK Engineering Services of Ambler, Pa., representing the business community through the American Passenger Rail Coalition; Mac Fleming, international president of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes; and Debbie Sease, legislative director of the Sierra Club.

Later in the day, Rally participants flooded Capitol Hill and met with more than 45 key members of Congress.

Congress created Amtrak in 1971 to take over unprofitable passenger rail lines from the private sector. But unlike aviation, highways and other modes of transportation, Congress has given passenger rail no dedicated source of funding. Instead, it must rely on the unpredictable annual appropriations process, which has provided only about 50% of the authorized funding levels in recent years.

To improve its financial position, Amtrak has found ways to boost revenues by nearly 40 percent over the last five years - leveraging valuable assets, borrowing funds from private banks, and cutting back on operating and capital spending without compromising safety, reliability or service. But these efforts have not been enough to offset the basic problems of conflicting policy mandates and inadequate public funding. Without adequate funds in 2003, Amtrak has told Congress and state leaders it may have to discontinue much of the national network as early as this fall.

"Investing in our national Amtrak passenger rail system has never been more important," said George Dorshimer, President of LTK Engineering Services of Ambler, Pa. and board member of the American Passenger Rail Coalition.

"It's ironic we're in this situation because Amtrak is performing so well in the market," said Alan Yorker of Decatur, Georgia, president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. "The growing demand for Amtrak's services is a reflection of the fact that rail is an attractive option for many business and leisure travelers, it's cost-effective for state and local governments, it's a contributor to job creation and economic development, and it's good for the environment and energy independence."

"The need for the service is there, along with strong support from the traveling public, state and local governments, and all of these groups here today," Sonny Hall, president of the Transport Workers Union of America and president of the Transportation Trades Dept. of the AFL-CIO. "What Amtrak needs most now is a steady, strong partner in the federal government - a partner it doesn't have today."

The BLE is a part of a broader coalition, which includes representatives from the American Passenger Rail Coalition; National Association of Railroad Passengers; Railway Progress Institute; U.S. Conference of Mayors; National Conference of State Legislatures; Sierra Club; the AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department; and the National Association of Counties.

From left: George Newman, SLBC-MA; Terry Briggs, SLBC-TX (behind Newman); Ken Kertesz, SLBC-PA; Mark Kenny, GC/Amtrak; Raymond Holmes, VP & NLR; Mike Muscha, SLBC-ND (next to Holmes); Brian Gallagher, New York; J. T. Norris, SLBC-VA; Ed Way, SLBC-IL.



© 2002 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers