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Rail News: Amtrak

Montana senator's bill would restore Amtrak long-distance routes, rehire furloughed workers


U.S. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) has introduced a bill that would reinstate furloughed Amtrak employees and return complete long-distance service to routes such as the Empire Builder.

Tester has been critical of the staff cuts and reductions in long-distance routes that Amtrak made last year in response to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The reductions resulted in furloughed Montana jobs and reduced service on the Empire Builder from seven days per week to three, he said in a press release.

"These cuts were an unacceptable attack on rural America, and my legislation will right that wrong by reinstating Montana's furloughed Amtrak employees and restoring full long-distance service to the Empire Builder," Tester said. "Our state has been hit hard by the pandemic, and my bill will help put our economy back on track and get Montanans back to work."

Tester's bill would authorize and appropriate federal funding in the form of grants to Amtrak to restore the routes and rehire furloughed employees.

Amtrak operates 15 long-distance routes in 47 states across the country, connecting rural and urban centers. The Empire Builder long-distance line includes 12 stations along the Montana Hi-Line that served 121,429 passengers who boarded or disembarked in the state in 2019, according to Tester's press release.

Amtrak officials said in an emailed statement that they agree with Tester that Amtrak's national network trains are important and provide mobility to underserved regions.

"We want to restore service to pre-pandemic levels and recall our furloughed workers to operate safe and dependable Amtrak service across the U.S.," Amtrak officials said. "Legislation to do that is in the COVID-19 relief bill pending final House action. We hope the Senate follows Sen. Tester and other leaders in both parties to complete that passage and send it to the president so we can restore service in time for the summer travel season."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 2/24/2021