Amtrak Long-Distance Trains Safe for Now But Anderson Still Wants Permanent Cut in Network

Although Amtrak President William Anderson has said the long-distance network of trains will stay in place for now, he continues to argue that it needs to be reduced.

Richard Anderson

Anderson sent that message last week during an online town hall meeting with Amtrak employees.

He did note that Amtrak is cutting the capacity of long-distance trains by 40 percent of seat miles.

That has resulted in some trains operating with reduced consists including a four-car Capitol Limited.

If Congress fails to grant Amtrak emergency funding to cover revenue losses triggered by a massive downturn in ridership and revenue in the wake of the COVID-19 pandenic, Anderson said there are contingency plans in place “to further reduce the network to match capacity to demand.”

Later in the town hall Anderson reiterated a comment he’s made often that some parts of Amtrak’s national network need to be permanently discontinued.

“And given the amount of cash burn we have, I’m certain the long-distance network is going to be very different longer term,” he said. “We’d like to avoid it, but if we can’t get the kind of funding out of Congress that we need, then we need to face that issue and will have a contingency plan to do that. But that will be only a worst-case scenario because we don’t want to furlough employees.”

During the town hall session Amtrak said Amtrak has slashed capital spending from a planned $2 billion to $1 billion by focusing only on necessary “state-of-good repair” work.

Management salaries will be cut by 22 percent to 7 percent with the reductions falling as pay grades decrease.

The incoming Amtrak president, William Flynn, has agreed to forego his annual salary. He will take over for Anderson on April 18.

Amtrak has suspended its 401K retirement program match and is asking non-union employees to take voluntary time off or reduce their weekly hours to 32 per week.

An analysis of Anderson’s comments by Trains magazine said that his assertion that it takes $2 billion “over two and a half years  . . . to keep the long-distance network operating” is suggesting that expense would vanish if those trains were discontinued.

Trains said that figure is a largely allocated expense figure that Amtrak uses to to imply that they are avoidable costs.

That has been challenged by various rail passenger advocates and elected officials on routes served by those trains.

Before the pandemic began, Anderson said Amtrak had been “running 91 percent above plan” for fiscal year 2020, which ends in late September.

Overall ridership and revenue had been up by 6.5 percent.

But with both now plunging, Anderson said full year revenues are projected to be down $1 billion and Amtrak projects a $840 million loss even with expense reductions of $110-$150 million.

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One Response to “Amtrak Long-Distance Trains Safe for Now But Anderson Still Wants Permanent Cut in Network”

  1. Rail Provocateur Says:

    Ever since the media lost its knowledgeable transportation writers during the Great Recession (2007-2010), their is nobody with the skills and interest to poke around Amtrak’s sandhouse to cull out the facts from the chaff; to competently challenge Amtrak.

    Instead, under Anderson Amtrak has focused on further refining the art of accounting fluff to mask its political decisions at the expense of the National Network, including:

    1) Inability to understand or refusal to acknowledge how the long distance routes inter-connect multiple regions; the favorable impact on traffic is frequencies increased.
    2) Why the states along the NEC continue to freeload and not pay for their intercity trains between WAS-BOS, while state supported services continue to pay rack rate for their routes. How much more are states paying, as well as the overall National Network, in order to give the NEC states their subsidy?
    3) To the same extent, what would a real external forensic audit evidence on the inappropriate allocation and shifting of costs from the NEC that bury the long distance routes and overcharge the states? How is Amtrak allowed to skate around the accounting definition of GAAP?

    Just as McNamara learned how to fiddle with numbers with Ford’s Edsel, and took that expertise to craft a failed policy in Vietnam based upon body counts, it appears we’re back at an Edsel dealership with Amtrak. What should be made clear is if Amtrak continues to “cook the books” on its allocations; seeks to use that false date to kill long distance trains, it will trigger in response a demand to kill its monopoly. Indeed, the public would be better served with a national rail system based upon competitive bidding, open access, and privatization.

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