Four Republican congressmen question Amtrak role in Biden campaign train (updated)

Letter to Amtrak CEO asks for answers by the day before presidential election
RELATED TOPICS: AMTRAK | PASSENGER | POLITICS
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Four Republican Congressmen are asking Amtrak to explain its role in the September campaign train of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
Jonathan Hinely and Malcolm Kenton

Four Republican Congressmen have sent a letter to Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn questioning whether the September campaign train of Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden “redirected Amtrak’s scarce resources” and requesting — by the day before the Nov. 3 presidential election — details on what the train cost Amtrak to operate and what the Biden campaign paid Amtrak for the operation.

Amtrak, in response, says the price of the charter “aligns with our standard practice and market rates … There were no discounts or scheduling preferences.”

The letter from the four legislators expresses concern that “the apparent use of a struggling, resource-deprived, publicly-run service for political gain does not serve the best interests of Amtrak or the American taxpayers at this time” and that it may have been given operating preference over freight trains, which “have proven essential and resilient in transporting essential goods, including medical supplies and personal protective equipment “ during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other questions, it asks if passengers on the train purchased tickets, how many Amtrak employees were taken off their regular duties to staff the charter, and documents spelling out Amtrak policies for political charters and how the Biden train remained in compliance with those charters.

Amtrak’s statement in response calls charter trains “an important revenue source for Amtrak and one that supports other parts of our business. Customers range from sports teams to businesses, historical groups and even individuals whose private railcars are coupled to our trains.”

 

The company notes “the railroad industry has a long history of operating special trains for public officials on both sides of the aisle and Amtrak has been part of that.” Its history website includes a look at presidential campaign trains.

The letter, on the letterhead of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, was signed by Rick Crawford of Arkansas, ranking member of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, as well as Bob Gibbs of Ohio and Scott Perry and Lloyd Smucker of Pennsylvania. All four voted against the two pandemic relief bills passed by the House, one in May and one in October, that would have provided $2.4 billion in Amtrak funding.

Smucker recently introduced legislation which would require Amtrak to turn over its Philadelphia-Harrisburg Keystone Line to the state of Pennsylvania [see “Digest: Legislation introduced to transfer Keystone Line ownership …,” Trains News Wire, Oct. 16, 2020.

The full letter is available here. Amtrak says it will “respond promptly” to the letter.

— Updated at 6:15 p.m. with Amtrak response


 

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