Supporting Amtrak’s Right-of-Way to Bring Passenger Rail to Madison
Last week I spoke to the national Surface Transportation Board on behalf of Amtrak. My testimony was in support of Amtrak’s right to access freight lines which will be crucial to bringing passenger rail to Madison. You can see me give my remarks here or read them below.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today, and thank you for your service. I am Satya Rhodes-Conway, Mayor of Madison Wisconsin, and I am here to advocate for greater passenger rail service to all America’s cities.
The Surface Transportation Board’s decision on whether service can be restored on the Sunset Limited line will have profound impacts not just in the Southeast, but on communities throughout the country. The result of this decision will set precedent – determining whether or not freight operators have the right to refuse passenger rail service. A bad decision in this case could make it impossible to bring passenger rail to Madison, which is why I am here today.
One of the rationale outlined for rejection of the Sunset Limited service is that the service would “unreasonably impair” freight operations. I understand the importance of freight rail networks – especially now – at a time when supply chain issues and trucker shortages are plaguing our economy. And yet, the importance of investing in passenger rail – a greener connective tissue linking cities across the nation – cannot be ignored. This vision can only truly be achieved by ensuring that Amtrak has the access to freight rail lines, as outlined in laws that are already on the books.
For communities like Madison, the ability to establish passenger service could be unreasonably impaired if freight operators are given this broad ability to block passenger rail implementation. Further, granting this ability would directly undermine Amtrak’s right to use any rail line in the US, which was specifically granted when Amtrak was created to relieve freight operators of their obligation to provide passenger service. Madison, like many other communities across the country, currently lacks adequate passenger rail access. In fact, Madison lacks direct access to passenger rail – our closest station is located over 30 miles away. This discourages travelers from using rail and increases individual automobile use at a time when the nation and our City are working diligently to reduce GHG emissions and fight climate change. In an effort to bring passenger rail service directly to the City, Madison recently obligated funding to plan for passenger rail service implementation. The demand for the service is prevalent in Madison. Residents, our neighboring cities and the many people who visit Madison for business, government and leisure travel – all would benefit from direct Amtrak service to Madison. And we are in the Amtrak Connects US vision – however, our ability to implement the service could be imperiled by the precedent set in this decision.
Historic amounts of funding has been allocated for passenger rail service and related infrastructure investments. The BIL provides $102 billion in funding for rail planning, capital improvements, and service expansion. Here in Madison, we’re working to leverage federal funding for new Amtrak service, which will not only provide the foundation for passenger service, but significantly improve the safety and efficiency of freight operations in our region. We anticipate that the effort will lead to:
- Targeted double-tracking for passing,
- Refurbishment or replacement of deficient bridge structures between Milwaukee and Madison,
- Improvements to curve radii and slopes of existing track to improve speed and safety of operation, and
- Improvements to rail crossings, protecting rail operators and riders, pedestrians, bikers and autos.
But we can only realize these improvements and gain passenger service in our City if Amtrak is allowed to operate on freight rail corridors. Rejecting Amtrak’s request to establish the Sunset Limited Line will set a precedent that freight rail operators can reject passenger rail on their corridors. Please do not set that precedent today – for the future of our environment, our economy and our communities please uphold Amtrak’s ability to operate passenger rail service on any freight corridor.