Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee complained Wednesday that Amtrak has become a centerpiece of former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, and they want to know if the taxpayer-funded rail service is giving the Democrat special treatment.
In a letter to Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer William Flynn, Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., the ranking member of the Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee, asked whether Biden — whose penchant for riding Amtrak to and from his home in Delaware each day -during his decades in the Senate was well known — drained resources from the struggling passenger rail service when he used an Amtrak charter train on a campaign trip through Pennsylvania and Ohio after the first presidential debate.
Their letter follows complaints by Democrats that President Donald Trump violated the Hatch Act by holding campaign events and parts of the Republican National Convention at the White House.
“Anyone can charter a train with Amtrak,” the Biden campaign responded. “Last time we checked, no one can charter the White House South Lawn for a political convention.”
Amtrak received roughly $2 billion in subsidies per year before the 2020 coronavirus pandemic drove down passenger traffic by up to 97 percent. The company received an additional $1 billion in a roughly $2 trillion coronavirus spending bill passed in March and has asked for $4.9 billion in funding for fiscal 2021 to make up for the steep decline in ridership.
The company has begun cutting its workforce by some 2,000 employees overall, and in October began reducing its daily long-distance routes to three times a week.
“We are concerned that the Biden campaign’s use of Amtrak’s charter train redirected Amtrak’s scarce resources during a time of record losses, employee layoffs, and service cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the group wrote, adding, “we are concerned that the apparent use of a struggling, resource-deprived, publicly-run service for political gain does not serve the best interests of Amtrak or the American taxpayers at this time.”
“We need to be sure that Amtrak’s resources and services have not been negatively impacted purely to benefit a political candidate,” Crawford said in a press release announcing the letter. “Furthermore, we need to be sure that private freight railroads, who operate on the same lines as Amtrak and are critical to shipments of PPEs, medical supplies, and many other essential goods, have not been needlessly delayed.”
The group said it wants to ensure that the Biden campaign “paid a full, non-discounted rate” for the service. The letter also asks for the cost of operating the Biden charter train and whether the charter received any track preference or delayed any of Amtrak’s regular passenger service or freight operations.
Democrats on the committee declined to comment on the letter.