Montana’s junior senator, Jon Tester, is looking to get a new perspective on the board that governs passenger rail travel in the United States.
Tester is urging President Barack Obama to appoint someone from the West to the open position on the Amtrak board.
“Amtrak’s importance in Western states should not be ignored,” Tester wrote in a letter to Obama. “Some of Amtrak’s busiest routes and stations are in the West — as are some of its greatest opportunities for growth and expansion.”
Amtrak, formed in 1970 through an act of Congress, is a private corporation providing rail service by means of a federal subsidy over more than 21,000 miles of track through 46 states, the District of Columbia and three Canadian provinces.
Its board oversees operations, management and budget, sets policies and establishes its goals. Congress appropriates the federal funding for the passenger rail service.
Its Empire Builder route, which runs from Chicago to the West Coast, uses Havre as one of its major stops in Montana as it passes along the Hi-Line. The train is the only long-distance east-west public transportation in the area.
Tester joined a group of other Western senators, citing a new requirement to seek balanced representation on the board, asking Obama to fill the vacant position on the board with a Westerner.
Of its eight current members, Tester said, the board comprises five from the northeast corner of the country, with three from New York. Two are from Illinois, and the last sitting member is from Texas.
The Passeng-er Rail and Improvement Act, which Tester helped pass in 2008, requires the president to try to provide representation on Amtrak’s board of the different geographic regions of the United States served by the company.
The request comes as Amtrak sees growth in ridership. After reporting a drop of more than a million passengers in 2009, with some experts citing the recession as a likely cause, the report for the first half of Fiscal Year 2010 showed record numbers.
Amtrak saw its best year for ridership in 2008, with 28.7 million passengers riding the trains.
The report for the first half of this fiscal year, from October 2009 through March of this year, showed 13.6 million passengers rode Amtrak in the period, up 100,000 from the same period in the record-breaking Fiscal Year 2008.