Pandemic Aid May Maintain Amtrak Status Quo

Although a bill adopted by Congress on Monday provides $1 billion in emergency pandemic relief aid to Amtrak, it remains unclear whether that will be enough to restore service suspended due to steep ridership declines.

Amtrak’s $1 billion pandemic relief grant includes $655 for the Northeast Corridor and $345 million for the national network.

Amtrak CEO William Flynn in a statement characterized the aid as a “temporary band-aid that will help Amtrak and our state and commuter partners.”

Flynn’s statement suggested that Amtrak will need additional financial assistance so that it can restore services cut during the pandemic, recall furloughed employees and move ahead on capital projects.

The statement did not indicate if any service restorations are likely between now and March.

The tenor of the statement suggested Amtrak intends to maintain the status quo, which would mean that all but one of its one-distance routes will continue operating on less-than-daily schedules.

Also in doubt is any restoration of state-supported corridor services that have been suspended during the pandemic due to steep ridership declines.

If anything, the statement hints that Amtrak will tie service restorations to receiving future emergency aid in the spring.

Flynn’s statement also resurrected the prospect of network expansion along the lines of that proposed by his predecessor Richard Anderson.

“This near-term support, coupled with significant new investments through our infrastructure or stimulus bill to expand the Amtrak network through new corridor routes, would create thousands of new jobs, reduce our nation’s carbon footprint and help the economy recover and flourish in the years ahead,” the statement said.

The legislation also included $14 million in pandemic emergency funding for public transit. Funding was also provided for bus companies, airlines and airports.

The transportation aid was part of $900 billion in pandemic relief aid.

The Rail Passengers Association on its website reported that the Northeast Corridor funding has a provision that not less than $109.8 million is to be used by Amtrak in lieu of capital payments from states and commuter rail authorities.

The funding for the national network includes $174.9 million to be made available to Amtrak in lieu of Section 209 payments from states to the passenger carrier for state-supported corridors.

The legislation bans Amtrak from making further employee furloughs or further reductions in frequencies on long-distance trains.

Currently furloughed Amtrak workers will be entitled to be recalled to the same seniority and job classification that they held prior to being furloughed when intercity passenger service is restored.

The bill prohibits Amtrak from contracting out any services that were performed by a furloughed worker.

The grant to public transit comes with a stipulation that no recipient may receive more than $4 billion when combined with money received in the CARES Act.

The bill also directs that the pandemic aid be shared with paratransit providers and rural transit providers.

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