Sen. Fischer introduces legislation to increase transparency of Amtrak board

June 17, 2024, 6 a.m. ·

Amtrak Southwest Chief train
Amtrak's Southwest Chief moving through the near western suburbs of Chicago on its way to Union Station on a summer afternoon. (Photo by Bruce Leighty/Adobe Stock)

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Amtrak received $66 billion dollars through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) Congress passed in 2021.

As the money is distributed to rail projects across the country, Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer wants to increase transparency of the national rail service.

As the money is distributed to rail projects across the country, Nebraska SenatDeb Fischer wants to increase transparency of the national rail service.

Recently, Fischer introduced the Amtrak Transparency Act, which would expand Amtrak board meetings to include additional stakeholders and require public notices 30 days prior to meetings.

The legislation would also require bonuses exceeding $50,000 dollars to Amtrak employees be disclosed to Congress.

In a statement to Nebraska Public Media, Fischer’s office wrote, “Years of poor performance and outlandish bonuses for executives at Amtrak led [to] this legislation.”

Fischer, along with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, also sent a letter to Amtrak questioning why the service paid out almost $75 million dollars in bonuses in fiscal year 2023 despite its net loss of $1.75 billion.

Rail Passengers Association President and CEO Jim Mathews said Amtrak has seen a 230% increase in its direct federal grants through the IIJA.

“With this funding, you know, there's an increased responsibility to allow the public, public officials, elected officials, greater visibility in how the railroad is investing these dollars,” he said.

Mathews said he agrees with many of the requirements in Fischer’s bill, but he has confidence in current Amtrak leadership to implement the transparency policies before Congressional action is needed.

The IIJA already requires the Amtrak Board of Directors to discuss financial performance and service results in an open meeting at least once each year.

“We believe that Amtrak has lived up to both the letter and the spirit of the law in fulfilling this requirement, as laid out in the IIJA,” Mathews said. “However, we also think Amtrak can and should take additional steps to bring its board transparency in line with industry best practices.”