May 4, 2023 - TRA Newswire - The new ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), has come out in advocating for a national approch to develop passenger rail policy. Cruz picks up the position from long-time passenger rail champion Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss), who steps down as ranking member. 

Senator Cruz, who had not openly advocated for passenger rail in the past, issued two sign-on letters that advocates for Amtrak's national network. In one of the letters, Cruz voiced displeasure with the makeup of the Amtrak Board of Directors, calling out the Biden Administration for loading up members from the Northeast U.S. with no representation from the rest of the country. Cruz is joined on the issue by Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana), fighting for America's rural seat at the passenger rail table. The other letter from Cruz calls for rail infrastructure funds, now heavily weighted to the Northeast Corridor, to be distributed in a more equitable manner to other states.

Cruz and Tester ramped up the Amtrak board issue by formally blocking President Biden's five Democrat nominees from the Northeast Corridor. Tester and Cruz are both citing a violation of provisions of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law which requires a diverse geographic representation of the national network. There are no nominees from any state west of the Mississippi River. 

While Tester is holding up his Democrat party nominees until there is better represenation from across the country, Senate Republicans have yet to decide who their four nominees will be to go under a committee microscope, less one that is from the Northeast. 

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law requires the Amtrak Board of Directors include two members from the Northeast Corridor, two from Long-Distance Routes and two from State-supported corridors. 

Transportation for America, a Washington transportation advocacy organizatio, issued this statement: "We nonetheless applaud the Senators’ efforts as well as Senator Cruz’s leadership on this issue, and will support him in holding the Biden administration to the requirements in the IIJA. He is building on the work that Sen. Wicker and Sen. Cantwell (D-Wash.) have done to steer Amtrak toward a national vision for passenger rail."

Cruz, vowed to block the five Democratic nominees unless at least one of them was removed from consideration. A separate letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg criticized the Administration for spending too much money on Northeast Corridor projects at the expense of the rest of the nation.

Sen. Cruz is also seeking a commitment from the Biden administration that states outside the Northeast will have “the opportunity to compete for the Fed-State and other discretionary grant programs administered by the Department of Transportation to the fullest extent consistent with the law.”

All of the existing Amtrak board member terms have expired, including Chairman Anthony Coscia, and they continue to serve until new members are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has to approve any individual to serve as a Republican member of the board. Several names have been proposed but no action has yet to be taken.ividual to serve as a Republican member of the board. Several names have been proposed but no action has yet to be taken.

Photo Credit: Marshall News-Messenger