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."