The Biden administration’s five nominees for Amtrak’s board of directors are provoking strong pushback due to their lack of geographic diversity.
Just one of the five—Chris Koos, the mayor of Normal, Illinois—lives outside of the mid-Atlantic region, which is served by Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) trains. The heavy concentration of nominees from the NEC runs counter to Congress’s reform to the Amtrak Board of Directors in the 2021 infrastructure bill. It requires the board to have at least two members representing each of three constituencies: the NEC, state-supported routes, and long-distance routes.
That change was part of a set of reforms designed to reinforce Amtrak’s commitment to long-distance routes and to rural communities. For example, Amtrak’s mission statement was tweaked to include the goal of meeting “the intercity passenger rail needs of the United States.” Putting long-distance passengers on equal footing with commuter passengers—who are heavily concentrated in the NEC—”may be one of the most significant developments in the entire bill,” Railway Age noted.
Biden’s slate of nominees fails to honor that reform. As a statement from the Rail Passengers Association observed, “Amtrak’s trains run throughout the U.S. Southeast, the Southwest, our northern border with Canada, and the Pacific Coast. Where are the nominees who will serve as the voice of the passengers from these regions, which include some of the fastest growing communities in the nation?”
The board automatically includes the U.S. Transportation Secretary (Pete Buttigieg) and Amtrak’s CEO (Stephen Gardner). Senate Republicans will choose the other three nominees for the 10-member board—meaning they will be responsible for filling the three vacant board seats devoted to representing long-distance and state-supported routes.