Amtrak Eyes Service Cuts Due to Lost Revenue, Bookings

The coronavirus pandemic may cost Amtrak “several hundred million dollars” due to cancellations and depressed bookings.

The passenger carrier has warned its employees that this may result in significant reductions in service.

Thus far Amtrak has suspended operations of three Acela Express trains and will curtail operations in its Keystone Corridor in Pennsylvania effective today.

In an announcement posted on its website, Amtrak said that in coordination with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Keystone Service will operate on a reduced schedule, with no service to the Ardmore Station.

Effective March 13 Amtrak will operate 18 daily Keystone trains (nine in each direction) along with the Pennsylvanian between New York and Pittsburgh.

All trains will remain in service on the weekend. Amtrak said this schedule reflects the “S” schedule or special schedule that Keystone Service has set for severe weather or other service disruptions.

In an email sent to Amtrak employees earlier this week, the company’s senior vice present and chief operating officer, Stephen Gardner, said the carrier has instituted “aggressive measures to cut costs.”

Gardner said future bookings are down 50 percent compared with a year ago and cancellations are up more than 300 percent.

Amtrak plans to implement a voluntary leave program for “non-mission critical employees” willing to take unpaid time off.

The passenger carrier has also said it is waiving change fees for all trip reservations made before April 30.

It is not just Amtrak that has been affected by the COVID-19 outbreaks. Airlines have reported drops in bookings and are canceling flights.

Also hit hard has been public transportation. Northestar Research Partners said a poll it conducted found that Americans are switching their travel habits from public transit to either staying home or relying more on cars to get around.

Of the 1,000 people surveyed, 48 percent indicated a belief that riding public transit poses a high health risk due to the virus, and 30 percent to 40 percent said they have reduced their use of public transportation.

“People’s movement away from public transit is likely to have long-term consequences,” said Jennifer Yellin, senior vice president and co-lead of Northstar’s transportation practice.

“The implications include lost revenue for public transit authorities, which is ultimately used to upgrade and maintain systems.”

Public transit systems have stepped up cleaning of their rail cars and buses as well as stations.

Amtrak said it will disinfect trains and stations multiple times a day, and, in some cases, on an hourly basis.

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