September 24, 2002

WASHINGTON (Sept. 24)–UTU National Legislative Director James M. Brukenhoefer today called on railroad workers nationwide to contact members of the House Appropriations Committee immediately and ask them to approve funding for the full Amtrak system.

Brunkenhoefer said that unless a mass protest movement begins immediately, the Committee is likely to vote on Thursday in favor of a reduced budget that will eliminate five of Amtrak’s long distance trains.

“As we all know, Amtrak is currently facing a crisis,” Brunkenhoefer wrote in a message labeled URGENT. “In order to survive next year, Amtrak will need a minimum of $1.2 billion. On Thursday, September 26, 2002, the House Appropriations Committee is expected to take up and vote in Committee on next year’s funding for Amtrak. The Committee’s solution to Amtrak’s $1.2-billion life-or-death request is to offer $762 million and to suggest the discontinuance of the following trains: Three Rivers, Southwest Chief, Texas Eagle, Pennsylvanian and Sunset Limited.”

Actually, the problem is much more serious than the loss of FIVE trains, Brunkenhoefer said, alluding to Amtrak CEO David Gunn’s earlier warnings that he would shut down the whole system rather than permit Congress to truncate it by eliminating individual routes.

“It appears that Amtrak’s response will be a total shutdown of the Amtrak system,” Brunkenhoefer said in his Alert. “Obviously, either would be a disaster for everyone–customers using these trains, communities depending on Amtrak service, and employees. It would also have a terrible impact on the Railroad Retirement System.”

Then Brukenhoefer issued his call to action.

“It is imperative that the Members of the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee be contacted as often as possible with one clear message,” he said: “Amtrak must have $1.2 billion or it will die.

“There is no half way, no in-between choice. Amtrak must have $1.2 billion. To vote for less kills Amtrak–probably not just five long-distance trains, but the entire system.”

“Railroad workers in Illinois must respond to Broken Rail’s appeal immediately,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “Our state has two members on the Appropriations Committee, Reps. Jesse Jackson [D-Chicago] and Ray LaHood [R-Peoria]. We ask that each UTU member call, fax and e-mail each of them immediately and request that they vote on Thursday to fully fund Amtrak at $1.2 billion–no less.

Szabo said that while contacting both Committee members from Illinois is useful, getting the message through to LaHood is essential.

“Ray LaHood is very highly respected in the House for his moderate views and his long experience as a legislator,” Szabo said. “It’s not just that his colleagues esteem him. He is close to the House leadership, and his views are heeded at the highest levels. Our members need to reach out to him and let him know that an Amtrak budget of $726 is disastrously inadequate.

“Remember,” Szabo said, “$1.2 billion is the magic number. That’s the figure Amtrak CEO Dave Gunn needs to keep the whole system running.”

Szabo said phone calls directly to the Capitol Hill offices of the two Illinois congressmen are the best way to reach them, although fax messages and e-mails are useful as well–AS LONG AS THEY COME PROMPTLY.

“Cong. Jackson’s office can be reached at (202) 225-0773, and his fax number is (202) 225-0899. The e-mail address is Cong. LaHood is best reached by phone at (202) 225-6201. His fax is (202) 225-9249.

“Keep your messages short,” Szabo said. “Just tell the person who answers the phone that you want the Congressman to approve full funding for Amtrak–$1.2 billion–at the Committee meeting on Thursday. Please request family and friends, as well as fellow union members and rail activists, to call with the same message.

“We’ve saved Amtrak before,” Szabo said, “and we can do it again. We know how. The secret is to make lots of calls, make them immediately, and keep the message short and simple.”