Roots on the Rails Roots on the Rails

Advocacy

Thank you for joining us on Facebook Sat., 6/27, for our discussion about passenger rail.

This bipartisan letter, authored by Steve Daines (R, MT) is circulating in the U.S. Senate for signatures. It is spot on. The due date to sign is Monday at 12:00 PM EDT. Contact your Senators NOW to urge them to sign on. This link provides contact information  for your entire Congressional delegation.

We would encourage you to join the Facebook Group FRIENDS OF THE SOUTHWEST CHIEF, run by Evan Stair. This is an excellent resource for keeping abreast of the latest news and advocacy efforts (and often has cool photos, as well!)

Please purchase SAVE THE SOUTHWEST CHIEF and KEEP 'EM ROLLING teeshirts. 100% of proceeds go to passenger rail advocacy efforts. Visit https://teespring.com/stores/the-train-depot

www.govtrack.us provides contact information for all of the U.S. Congress. The message you wish to convey is simple: "Please do not allow Amtrak to cut daily frequencies on trains to tri-weekly." Phone calls are the best, e-mail second, and conventional US mail third. Avoid petitions and form letters - make your letters your own. Petitions, etc. are easy to dismiss because they are easily seen for what they are: "slacktivism".

Here are three grassroots organizations that are excellent resources for passenger rail advocacy.
https://nmrailpassengers.org/
http://www.passengerrailks.org/
http://passengerrailok.org/

While many of us feel The Rail Passengers Association is not sufficiently aggressive in its efforts to hold Amtrak's feet to the fire, it does remain the only advocacy organization lobbying Congress on behalf of those of us who prefer rail travel. Membership also gets you a 10% discount on most Amtrak fares.

Amtrak has removed its national timetables from its website. As a disclaimer, some of the services in this timetable may not be available. Call 1-800-USA-RAIL if you need assistance.
Use this link to access the SOUTHWEST CHIEF timetable.

Evan Stair writes: "Nothing in life is as easy as good or bad. Life would be a lot easier if it were. This passenger rail crisis has been evolving since the 1930s. There are entire books devoted to the subject. One I recommend is "To Hell in a Day Coach" published in 1968. This book discusses the reasons setting the stage for the eventual creation of Amtrak in 1971.
If you are looking for a 'villain' you will be sorely disappointed. Has Congress played a role? Yes. Has the office of the president played a role? Yes. Has the Amtrak board of directors played a role? Yes. Has every member of the U.S. electorate played a role? Yes.

The consequences of over 100 years of history has led us to this crisis. It is not the first and it will not be the last.

Until the electorate stops lobbing firebombs over the wall to the other side the beatings will continue. The consequences of partisanship are gridlock and stagnation.

If people need assistance with formulating a letter, I can provide you with a template customized to your region. All you have to do is email me at EvanStair@PassengerRailOK.org and I create a custom letter.



TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION WITH YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS  -- FROM SARAH, WHO USED TO HAVE TO ANSWER CONSTITUENT LETTERS FOR A LIVING, SO SHE HAS SOME OPINIONS...WHICH SHOULD NOT COME AS A SHOCK

- Currently, with the pandemic in full force, many government offices and staff are operating remotely, so written letters may be taking longer to get to peoples’ attention.

- We suggest using the elected official’s electronic contact form found on their website, or searching their website for an e-mail address. Some offices will have the direct contact information for staffers who work on transportation issues – these are valuable people to know about, so make sure to copy them on all your correspondence.

- A letter should be used primarily to educate, advocate, and request specific action – not to berate or criticize past actions or inactions of the official in question (tends to shut people down from hearing your concern).

- Don’t forget the importance of local mayors, state legislators, city council officials, select boards, county officials – everyone in any elected role has an interest in a robust local economy and public transportation. You don’t necessarily have to write individual letters to all of them, but it is useful to cc them on your correspondence, or to send them a copy of your correspondence with an attached note saying: “I wanted to make sure you were aware of this important issue facing our city/down/district/state. Any assistance you can provide in stopping these cuts is much appreciated.

- Find out where your elected official has district offices and also send physical copies of your correspondence there. It’s more likely to be read by a real human, and will hopefully find its way in front of a staffer with knowledge and experience in the issue.

- Subscribe to your elected official’s electronic newsletters, social media platforms etc. If they are holding any Zoom calls, conference calls, virtual Town Meetings etc. – get on them. Be prepared with a question about Amtrak – doesn’t have to be elaborate, and be ready for a rather broad and non-specific answer, but get the question in front of them. You can ask something like: “Are you aware that Amtrak, which serves XX communities in your district has announced plans to drastically reduce passenger rail service to three times a week, and are you willing to contact Amtrak CEO William Flynn to discuss your concerns about the impact of those service cuts on your constituents?” Immediately following the exchange, send an e-mail thanking them for the opportunity to participate in the discussion and providing yet another copy of the exceedingly well-articulated letter you’ve already sent them.

- If you manage to get in front of your elected official in whatever electronic capacity serves as actual dialogue these days, do NOT be offended if they refer you to a staffer for follow up. This is actually a good thing. Staffers are typically assigned a portfolio of issue areas in which they are expected to develop expertise, so they may well be starting form a better-informed place than the official themselves. They also serve a valuable role in focusing the official’s attention on the issues that are being generated from constituent correspondence. Get to know the staff people who handle the issues you care about – they can be very helpful to you.

- For our pals from elsewhere outside of the US: First of all, thanks for being willing to get involved. Though you may not be a constituent of any of the relevant elected officials, you do have an important perspective to contribute – the role that Amtrak has played in introducing you to various US communities in which you have contributed to the local economy. Your letter can lead off with something like: “While I may not be your constituent, I have used Amtrak to visit your district on numerous occasions, staying in local hotels, eating at local restaurants, supporting local organizations, and shopping in locally-owned businesses. Amtrak’s planned service reductions will make it much less likely that I will return.”

To sum up:

- Support for Amtrak is bi-partisan. Don’t assume that the elected official with whom you disagree on every other issue is necessarily on the wrong side of this issue.

- Remember that Amtrak is federally-mandated to operate a NATIONAL passenger rail network, and that their annual operating budget is set and appropriated by Congress.

- Remember that members of the Amtrak Board of Directors are appointed by the President, but must be confirmed by the US Senate. That gives the US Senate some leverage to work with.

- Remember to keep your advocacy focused on the impact on the official’s district and constituents. Draw every point you make back to why it should matter to them.

- Remember to keep your eye on the prize. Bringing up side issues like onboard meal service or restrictions to private car moves is not effective right now, as they are not at the center of the fight (we’ll get back to fighting about those once we save the long-distance network).

The following template (with appreciation to Evan Stair from whom I have blatantly stolen a good part of this), may be useful. The capitalized and bolded sections are not meant to be included, just to serve as an explanation of the importance of each section.



Dear _______,

IMMEDIATELY ESTABLISH WHY YOUR OPINION MATTERS TO THIS PARTICULAR ELECTED OFFICIAL AND SYNOPSIZE YOUR CONCERN: “I am a constituent from ________, and I have an urgent concern about Amtrak’s planned long-distance passenger rail service reductions, set to take place on October 1, 2020.

WHY THIS ISSUE SHOULD MATTER TO THIS OFFICIAL: As you know, Amtrak serves the following cities/towns in your district: (list them), providing much-needed transportation services as well as economic support to local business and tourism.

PROVIDE SOME CONTEXT AND DETAIL: On June 15 Amtrak Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing and Revenue Officer Roger Harris issued an employee advisory, stating the company will reduce service on all daily long-distance routes radiating from Chicago to three-times-weekly. These routes include the Empire Builder, to Seattle and Portland, California Zephyr, to Emeryville, CA, Southwest Chief, to Los Angeles, Texas Eagle, to San Antonio, Capitol Limited, to Washington D.C., Lake Shore Limited, to-New York City, and City of New Orleans. Concurrent with this ill-advised plan is a 20% cut to Amtrak’s existing work force.

ELABORATE ON WHY THIS MATTERS: While Amtrak leadership is presenting these service reductions as a logical response to reduced ridership due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they have not issued any assurances that the services will be restored at any point in the future, giving rail advocates good reason to believe that their ultimate intent is to dismantle the long-distance passenger network.

Amtrak is a federally-subsidized entity. Taxpayer dollars from around the country support its operations, just as they support our interstate highway systems, airlines and other modes of transportation. As you know, Amtrak is mandated by the federal government to maintain and operate a NATIONAL (emphasis mine) network of passenger rail services.

Consider this. Amtrak currently operates two long-distance trains on a three-times-weekly schedule. These include the Sunset Limited, New Orleans-Los Angeles and the Cardinal, Chicago-New York City. True, as the latest Year End Report (FY2018) shows both the Sunset Limited and Cardinal required less in appropriations, but revenues were proportionally much worse than trains that operate daily.

Take a look at the daily Southwest Chief that requires a $1.26 federal subsidy for every dollar in revenue. Then look at the Sunset Limited that requires a $2.84 federal subsidy for every dollar in revenue. The Cardinal is not much better requiring a $2.18 subsidy for every dollar in revenue. Said differently, the loss of convenient daily schedules requires more federal funding per revenue dollar. This is a recipe for entire system financial collapse that will affect the economies of over 500 communities where Amtrak stops. This is especially true for those smaller towns that use Amtrak as a way to attract visitors.

CLEARLY STATE YOUR REQUEST FOR ACTION: I respectfully request that you become involved in this crisis. Specifically, I would request that you review the attached letter to Amtrak CEO William Flynn from Senator Steve Daines, which has garnered bi-partisan support in the Senate and lend your strong support to the collective efforts of your colleagues. Please put a stop to Amtrak’s planned service reductions, staffing reductions, and furloughs. This is the only way I see as a way to reasonably restore patronage once the pandemic subsides.

ALWAYS END WITH A THANK YOU, A REQUEST FOR A RESPONSE!!! Thank you for your attention to this important matter. I look forward to your response and am happy to provide any additional information or insight that you or your staff might find helpful.

Sincerely,

Your name
(Make sure to include your contact information!! You’d be amazed at how many people forget this!)
DON’T FORGET TO ATTACH THE LETTER FOM SENATOR DAINES



A FINAL NOTE:
It is easier to point fingers at the present cast of characters. If you want to FIX Amtrak, you have to fire the entire board of directors, name a new chairman who will fire William Flynn for not firing Stephen Gardner and all of the aviation hires Amtrak has made since 2018 when Richard Anderson took over. You have to separate the Northeast Corridor from Amtrak, then force the new CEO of the National Network to follow the guidelines set in federal code:

https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/49/24701