Flynn Says Little New in WaPo Interview

Amtrak President William Flynn agreed to an interview with The Washington Post this past week but the passenger carrier CEO said little that differs from public statements and letters he has written to Congress.

William Flynn

Flynn reiterated earlier comments that Amtrak’s ridership is rising but is not expected to recover this year to pre-pandemic levels.

He also declined to be more specific about what criteria Amtrak would use to determine when to resume operating long distance trains on a daily basis rather than the tri-weekly basis that Amtrak is planning starting Oct. 1.

The interview appeared to have been done before a House Appropriations Committee voted to give Amtrak additional funding for federal fiscal year 2021 with the mandate that those trains continue to operate daily.

As he has in letters to Congress, Flynn said that ridership on the long distance trains declines dramatically during the winter.

“It makes sense to us to reduce a number of the trains to three times a week, evaluate those in the winter, plan for restoration in the late spring or early summer when the ridership typically returns,” Flynn said.

He added that Amtrak is “ . . . absolutely committed to operating the long-distance network. That’s a very clear commitment on the part of the company.”

The Amtrak CEO said the carrier is currently seeking to appeal to potential new riders because it understands “that that companies and customers are going to change their travel patterns. They may travel less or differently.”

He said during a recent trip from Washington to New York the Amtrak personnel he spoke with said they are seeing many new riders, particularly young passengers who were riding a train for the first time.

“That’s exciting because an important part of our work going forward is to create new customers and not only have them be a one-time rider, but become a lifelong customer of Amtrak,” Flynn said.

Flynn justified an announced 20 percent staff reduction – which would be 3,700 of the carrier’s  18,000 workers. – as a necessary change to match the level of customer demand Amtrak expects to see in the near and immediate term.

He reiterated that Amtrak expects ridership to be half of what it was in 2019.

Flynn said Amtrak has told Congress it will be reducing costs and that includes reducing its workforce.

“That’s very painful. It’s nothing we ever want to do, but believe we need to,” he said.

Flynn declined to predict when Amtrak would return to its pre-pandemic levels of service.

He said that will hinge on “the state of the country and the state of this pandemic. Has it subsided dramatically? Has demand [for travel] begun to improve?”

The demand for travel by train and in general is something Flynn said Amtrak managers will be watching closely.

Flynn said Amtrak continues to invest for the long term, but most of the examples that he cited involve service improvements in the Northeast Corridor.

That includes the new Acela train sets, the opening of Moynihan Train Hall in New York, and a renovation of 30th Street Station in Philadelphia.

He did mention taking delivery of new locomotives used in the national network and working toward ordering new equipment to replace rolling stock other than that used by the Acela service.

Without giving any examples, Flynn said Amtrak is “very much committed to the expansion of intercity travel. We think it’s a key component of our country’s longer-term mobility strategy.”

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One Response to “Flynn Says Little New in WaPo Interview”

  1. Rail Provocateur Says:

    My response to the Washington Post story:

    If Board Chair Coscia persists in relying upon his loyal cadre of corporate EVPs to call the operational and marketing shots and to shake Amtrak’s tin cup before Congress; with CEO Flynn relegated to be the face man for the media and public, absolutely nothing will change at Amtrak. Did Flynn clearly understand during recruitment how he was to play second fiddle to Coscia’s Capos?

    Unfortunately for the taxpayer and traveling public, Amtrak lacks a broadly experienced, hands-on Board of Directors that could, like with Boeing, intercede to force out stale, malingering management that can no longer rely on deception and relationships to cover their failed actions. If Flynn signed up for a long term run, than he deserves to be his own boss; to put together his own team.

    Otherwise, we will continue to be plagued with the same old, same old double talk, as evidenced by the current swan song of re-building services to lure new passengers, when the long distance trains are overtly eliminated from the conversation. Perhaps this is “Potomac speak” to cover-up and avoid the obvious issue: deterioration of the Superliner fleet that is the backbone of the western long distance routes.

    For those who know how Amtrak studiously plays a “shell game,” it is understood that after forcing Congress to look over the precipice to force additional funding, Amtrak agreed to continue its skeletal long distance routes. However, what Amtrak was silent about was the fact as the aging Superliner fleet is run into the ground, Congress will be required to foist more funding into Amtrak’s pocket for replacements, or, for Congress to acquiesce to Amtrak’s desire to kill-off the long distance routes. But has Amtrak even run the actual numbers of the deleterious financial hit to the loss long distance connections for the state-supported corridor trains?

    Given how Amtrak persists in denying meaningful transparency, it is time for Congress to be familiar with Amtrak and demand explicit results.

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