Earlier this year, elected officials in Washington D.C. spoke hopefully of focusing on a bipartisan agenda that would prioritize improving the nation’s faulty infrastructure though investment. But thus far, that hasn’t been the case. Increased spending on the nation’s roads, rails and other important networks has taken a back seat to other issues.
Nowhere is that more evident than when it comes to funding for Amtrak. Instead of bolstering the national passenger railroad that plays an essential role in the U.S. transportation system, proposed budget cuts would reduce service in some 23 states where long distance Amtrak trains currently make stops. The move would eliminate the jobs of more than a thousand rail Teamsters aligned with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the Brotherhood of Maintenance and Way Employes Division (BMWED).
Amtrak workers and the traveling public, instead of benefitting from proposals calling for some $1 trillion in infrastructure investment, are facing even more strain due to this “skinny budget” blueprint proposal. Rural America would lose a vital transportation lifeline. And railroad workers’ retirement security could be threatened as well.
“The loss of so many jobs would have a serious impact on the Railroad Retirement System, as employer and employee taxes pay for the system,” said Dennis Pierce, President of the Teamsters Rail Conference. “All railroaders, regardless of employer, would feel the negative impact if these cuts are allowed to happen.”
BMWED members could also be threatened if projects such as the multi-billion dollar Gateway Tunnel under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey or Amtrak’s national network enhancement that would provide improve rail service and track upgrades are cancelled.
If the nation’s passenger rail system is truly obsolete, as has been stated by top elected officials, this is no way to go about fixing it. The U.S. will never catch up to the commuter and passenger rail systems in place in Europe and Japan if it doesn’t make improvements that upgrade the transportation network. Pinching funding will only exacerbate its decline.
Eighteen months ago, the Teamsters unveiled its “Let’s Get America Working” platform because it wanted to encourage Democrats and Republicans to come together and back policies that would build a better nation for workers. It was meant to set a path forward that would create new jobs and networks that are necessary to compete in this 21st century global environment.
Making cuts to Amtrak and other important infrastructure runs counter to such thinking. It won’t help Americans or the nation’s economy. It is just a continuation of short-sighted policy that will unfairly hurt rail workers and stop the country from realizing its full potential in the years to come.