Flynn Expects Job Cuts, Tri-Weekly Trains

Amtrak expects to furlough employees in fiscal year 2021 and expects long-distance trains to operate twi-weekly its president told Progressive Railroading magazine in an interview.

William Flynn

The job cuts and reduced service are likely because the carrier expects ridership to continue lagging into 2021.

William Flynn, who took over as Amtrak’s CEO on April 15, said ridership is now 18 percent of what it was in fiscal year 2019.

He said ridership rose between late May and early July, but has since hit a plateau due to outbreaks of COVID-19 in some parts of the country.

Although Flynn did not elaborate on how many workers might lose their jobs, he said the carrier has yet to furlough anyone in the current fiscal year, which extends through Sept. 30.

Flynn spoke in the interview as though the move to tri-weekly service by all of Amtrak’s long distance trains except the Auto Train on Oct. 1 will occur.

An FY2021 budget approved by the U.S. House of Representatives contains funding for daily service of those trains and a mandate to Amtrak not to furlough employees.

The Senate has yet to act on its own FY2021 budget proposals and the fate of the House budget proposal is uncertain.

During the interview, Flynn did not address the congressional action and continued to defend Amtrak’s plans to reduce the frequency of service of long distance trains.

“We remain fully committed to the long-distance service; that I want to make clear,” he said

“But at this point in time, the levels of ridership we expect to see in November, December, January, February and March indicate to us that moving to three-day-a-week service at that period of time is the right thing to do for [Amtrak] and for our owners, the government.”

Flynn said Amtrak will review the performance of the long-distance trains early next year, examining such things as future bookings and whether those justify restoring service to daily operation in late May or early June of 2021.

Currently, Flynn indicated that most Amtrak travel has been those traveling for personal reasons, including families. The carrier is seeing very little business travel.

Amtrak’s marketing department has been surveying its customer base to try to get a handle on what its prospective travel plans might be, including when they might travel again, how often they expect to travel and what the purpose of their travel will be.

Flynn said the carrier has been experimenting with pricing and has been able to gain many first-time customers in the Northeast Corridor.

In the meantime, Amtrak has delayed some capital projects to conserve cash and is seeking to eliminate discretionary spending as much as possible.

“We do need to resize the company to reflect the level of ridership that we anticipate in 2021, and no one has great visibility into what 2022 might look like,” Flynn said.

When asked what capital projects Amtrak has deferred, Flynn said, “It wasn’t necessarily larger projects around infrastructure.”

He said the carrier has made “huge progress on our key engineering projects on the Northeast Corridor.”

But it has put off some projects in information technology that it plans to take up later.

Flynn insisted that Amtrak’s long-term vision remains unchanged and that includes network growth.

He repeated the goals expressed by his predecessor, Richard Anderson, that Amtrak wants to provide new service or additional service to major metropolitan areas that have grown substantially in the past 40 years.

“So, it remains our strategy that we can double ridership on Amtrak over the next 20 years,” he said.

“There are key corridors that exist — many of which exist on long distance routes — that aren’t served today that would absolutely benefit from, and rightly demand, high-quality passenger-rail service.”

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