DeFazio Welcomes Testimony from State Rep. Nancy Nathanson Regarding Amtrak Rail Service in Oregon
Washington, D.C. —Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Peter DeFazio (OR-04), today released testimony from Oregon State Representative, Nancy Nathanson (Eugene, District 13) delivered at a committee hearing titled: “Amtrak Now and Into the Future.” Nathanson advocated for increased federal funding for passenger rail operations, more reliable capital funding, attention to freight train length and freight interference in order to improve passenger rail service and increase on time performance. Below are excerpts of DeFazio’s opening statement as prepared for delivery and Nathanson’s written testimony. Chair DeFazio’s statement as delivered can be found here. Nathanson’s full written testimony can be found here. A video of the full hearing can be found here.
Excerpts of DeFazio’s opening statement:
“Thank you, Subcommittee Chairman Lipinski and Ranking Member Crawford, for holding this hearing. First, I’d like to welcome Oregon Legislative Representative Nancy Nathanson, who represents the Eugene area. She has been a long-time advocate for improvements to passenger rail in the state and I think her testimony today will echo the challenges and opportunities that many states are feeling with Amtrak service. Thank you for being here today.
“Amtrak should be one of our Nation’s great success stories, but it remains one of our Nation’s most difficult challenges because of a belief by some in this chamber that our country shouldn’t have a national passenger rail system supported by the Federal Government. We spend hundreds of billions of dollars to subsidize every form of public transportation – highways, aviation, transit– yet Amtrak gets the short end of the stick, with under $2 billion a year from the Federal Government.
“People are tired of spending an hour and a half to drive 20 miles to get home from work or spending an hour (plus) to get past airport security and to their gate only to find their flight is further delayed because of weather. Our highways and airports are at capacity, so it makes no sense to continue to ignore the value that our passenger rail system could offer this country if we actually put some real money towards improving it.
“…The thing is, people want national passenger rail service. To get there, we have to stop nickel and diming Amtrak to death and get over this notion that Amtrak can help meet the far-reaching transportation needs of our country without real federal investment that both expands services and improves the system that we have. I look forward to hearing your visions of Amtrak’s future and about the ways we can strengthen and grow this national asset without harming those who rely on this system for travel and employment.”
Excerpts of Nathanson’s written testimony:
“…I have heard from my constituents and from Oregonians that passenger rail service is vitally important for Oregon and the broader region, and that is why I have been working to ensure it continues to be available as a key link in our region’s multimodal transportation system.
“…A growing challenge for [on time performance] in Oregon is freight rail interference, which accounts for nearly ¾ of the delay time. In the first quarter of 2019 alone, there were nearly 7,000 minutes of freight rail related delay on the Union Pacific system in Oregon. While federal law may give passenger trains preference over freight trains, this has not been Oregon’s experience in practice.
“…In recent years, states have stepped into the breach and have continued funding short distance intercity passenger rail operations, but in order to truly grow the service, states need a strong federal partner. By restoring funding for passenger rail operations, Congress can help cities, regions, and states across the country deal with some of their most urgent problems.
“…Reliable federal funding for capital projects will also help strengthen and grow passenger rail service. …However, these general fund supported grants are not reliably funded from year to year. …Having reliable and predictable capital funding available every year will allow states and their partners to better plan for capital improvements that will benefit passenger and freight rail alike.
“…More capital funding for grant programs and Amtrak will allow states to have better and more efficient rail service, construct more separated grade crossings, eliminate more points of rail system congestion, and ensure a better customer experience.
“… Many challenges to public health and safety arise from longer freight trains. …Congress and the Administration can reduce adverse impacts on communities and improve safety and passenger service by addressing train length.
“…Taken together, increased funding for capital projects and common sense limits on train length can certainly improve [on time performance]. However, more must be done to address on time performance. I fear that without further action, we will continue on the trend of increased freight rail interference and lower [on time performance]. Giving the Federal Rail Administration the tools it needs to achieve true passenger rail preference would be incredibly helpful for promoting better [on time performance].”