Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Amtrak Wants $4.9B for FY2021

September 10, 2020

Amtrak has named its price of keeping long distance trains running daily and preventing employee furloughs: $4.9 billion.

William Flynn

Amtrak President told a congressional committee on Wednesday that Amtrak would need that much in federal fiscal year 2021 to avoid service cuts and job furloughs.

Flynn told the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Rail Subcommittee that Amtrak is experiencing a “cash burn” of nearly $250 million a month right now.

Without supplemental funding, Flynn said Amtrak “would have to make very dramatic reductions across the company to stave off bankruptcy.”

Those would include even more substantial service cuts than it has already imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic and the planned reductions in frequency of most long-distance trains to tri-weekly operation in October.

Flynn said some long-distance trains would cease operating “if that’s the cash burn we’re having with no supplemental funding.”

During his testimony, Flynn argued that Amtrak generates a surplus in the Northeast Corridor and breaks even on state-funded corridor service but loses money on long-distance trains.

“So the vast majority, if not all, of that subsidy, if we were to do it on a service line basis, would be on the long-distance service,” Flynn said.

Flynn faced sharp criticism from some committee members over such things as Amtrak’s plans to reinstate making contributions to the 401K plans of top managers effective Oct. 1 and a request for proposals for communications services that would allow bidders to shift jobs outside the United States.

The Amtrak president defended the 401K contributions as necessary to keep key employees from leaving the company, but agreed to withdraw the request for proposals that would allow offshoring.

Committee Chair Dan Lipinski also rebuked Amtrak for not submitting a supplemental appropriations request to Congress for FY2021 until this week.

He noted that congressional staffers have been asking Amtrak since June to no avail for a figure of how much it would take to prevent the service cuts to long-distance trains and avoid employee furloughs.

Lipinski noted that the next federal fiscal year begins in less than a month.

Earlier this year Amtrak sought $2.04 billion for FY2021. In late May the passenger carrier told Congress it would need another $1.4 billion to avoid service cuts.

However, that supplemental request was based on the premise that most long-distance trains would operate less than daily starting in October.

In the meantime, a budget for FY2021 adopted by the House includes $10 billion for Amtrak with a mandate to keep the long-distance trains operating daily.

Jim Mathews, president of the Rail Passengers Association, said in his prepared statement that reducing the frequency of operation of long-distance trains to three times a week would result in a $2 billion economic loss to the communities served by those trains.

Mathews’ figures were based on a model developed in part by Transportation 4 America.

RPA has acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has depressed Amtrak revenue by 83 percent compared with the same period last year and that travel on all modes of public transportation has fallen precipitously.

But Mathews contended that Amtrak service is essential, particularly in some of the smaller communities the intercity passenger carrier serves.

Flynn also said during his testimony that Amtrak has no plans to furlough workers at its Beech Grove shops located near Indianapolis.

He said Amtrak had to hire additional workers at Beech Grove after some employees took a buyout offer.

Some Pacific Surfliner Service to Undergo One Day Schedule Change to BNSF Freight Move

May 22, 2020

Amtrak said that a specialized equipment move by freight carrier BNSF will result in a one day schedule change for some Pacific Surfliner service.

On May 24, Train 785 will be canceled. Train 796, which normally operates between Goleta and San Diego, will terminate at Los Angeles.

Thruway Bus 3596 will provide alternate transportation between Los Angeles and San Diego, serving all intermediate stops.

Other schedule changes that day include Thruway Bus 4591 departing Los Angeles at 9:55 p.m., 2 hours and 25 minutes later than normal to connect to Train 593, operating later at all stations from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara.

Bus 5885 will connect to earlier Train 579 at Los Angeles. Bust 5710 will not stop at San Pedro or Long Beach.

VIA to Restore Some Service on June 3

May 22, 2020

VIA Rail Canada will restore on June 3 some service in Québec and Ontario that has been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Resuming service will be Trains 62 and 669 (Toronto-Kingston-Montréal) and Trains 52, 48, 59 (Toronto-Kingston-Ottawa).

The passenger carrier also said it expects to restore service in July on the Prince Rupert-Prince George-Jasper route.

In a news release, VIA said this service has been suspended due to “infrastructure and maintenance improvements” being performed by host railroad Canadian National.

Travel Downturn Keeping Some Amtrak Fares Lower

March 17, 2020

Aside from fewer people traveling, the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on Amtrak has meant greater availability of fares at lower levels, an analysis by Trains magazine has found.

The analysis found that coach and sleeping car fares are at their lowest price level on most routes.

Amtrak fares vary depending on demand on a given day. The higher the demand the more likely that fares are to be higher.

Trains reported that passengers who believe they will be able to travel during historic busy travel periods will find sleeping car fares higher than what can be had now but still lower than what those fares would be under normal circumstances when sleeping car rooms are often sold out.

A roomette this summer on the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited can be had for $310, which matches the current adult roomette fare.

On the Chicago-New York Cardinal, roomettes are selling for $595 whereas last year during the summer they sold for $900.

The Cardinal has long had less sleeping car space than other eastern long-distance trains and thus its sleeping car fares have tended to be higher and space is harder to get.

Nos. 50 and 51 typically operate with one Viewliner sleeper although in recent weeks sleeping car space on the route has increased slightly with the assignment of a Viewliner baggage-dormitory car to the train.

The Trains analysis spot check found that a sleeping car accommodation on the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief can be had this summer for $740 whereas it current is priced at $604.

The respective fares for the California Zephyr (Chicago-Emeryville, California) are $685 for the summer versus $547 now and for the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder they are $900 versus $513 now.

The COVID-19 has resulted in sleeping car accommodations being sold out northbound on the Auto Train through March 23 whereas southbound plenty of space is available.

When demand for the Auto Train is strong Amtrak has the option of expanding sleeping car consists from seven cars to eight.

The Auto Train equipment pool includes Amtrak’s only two Superliner sleepers that have only bedrooms on the upper level.

House Draft Transportation Bill Due Before Summer

January 11, 2020

A draft surface transportation bill is expected to be released by the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure before summer but not this month as reported earlier.

Committee Chair Peter DeFazio said the committee would “release more specifics in the not-too-distant future.” He did not elaborate on when that would be.

The current law that authorizes spending on highways, transit, and passenger rail programs expires on Sept. 30.

“This is like the beginning of the beginning of the year,” DeFazio said. “We’re talking about the middle of the beginning of the year. That’s earlier than June but later than January.”

In the meantime the Senate Finance Committee has been considering its own surface transportation legislation and has found finding new revenue to be a struggle.

A draft highway reauthorization bill the committee is considering calls for spending $287 billion on highways but stagnant revenue in the Highway Trust Fund means the committee is $113 billion short of paying for the proposed authorization.

Legislation in the Senate reauthorizing public transit and passenger rail is not expected to be drafted until later this year.

FRA Extends Deadline for Passenger Rail Grants

December 24, 2019

The deadline for a passenger rail grant program overseen by the Federal Railroad Administration has been extended to Feb. 5, 2020.

FRA had $24 million in Restoration and Enhancement Grants for “initiating, restoring, or enhancing intercity passenger rail service.”

The money was authorized by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.

The deadline had been Jan. 5, 2020, but was extended by a month after another $1.92 million was authorized by Congress for fiscal year 2020.

That brings the total amount of available grant money for the program to $26.3 million.

Funding in the program can be used for staffing, fuel, electricity, station expenses, rolling stock lease payments, routine planned maintenance, host railroad access costs, train yard operation and administrative costs.

Grants may be awarded to states (individually or collectively), cities and other government entities, Amtrak and other intercity passenger rail companies.

By law the FRA must give priority by application type, including those supporting projects that “foster economic development, expand transportation options in under served communities, and restore former Amtrak routes.”

Maine State Employees To Get Downeaster Discounts

December 24, 2019

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority is giving a 15 percent discount to Maine state employees who use Amtrak’s Downeaster for travel within or outside the state.

The discount is available on all Downeaster trains. State employees must purchase tickets three days in advance of travel and reference promotion code v503.

A state identification card is required for travel.

The Downeaster operates five round-trips daily between Brunswick, Maine, and Boston.

More information is available at AmtrakDowneaster.com.

“We hope this discount will encourage state employees to choose a cleaner method of travel for both work-related and personal travel,” said Natalie Bogart, marketing director at NNEPRA. “It also makes travel time more productive and less stressful than driving.”

Pennsylvanian, Keystones all Reserved in Late December

December 10, 2019

Travelers riding Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian between New York and Pittsburgh and its Keystone Service trains between New York and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, will need reservations during the Christmas holiday travel period.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said Nos. 42 and 43 as well as all Keystone Service trains will be all reserved between Dec. 20 and 30.

Reservations will not be required for monthly and 10-ride ticket holders.

On Christmas Day, Keystone Service trains will operate on a Saturday schedule.

Virgin to Start Laying Rails in January

November 27, 2019

Virgin Rails USA had told an Orlando news outlet that is will begin laying rails in January 2020 for its extension from West Palm Beach to Orlando, Florida.

The carrier said it will begin construction in February 2020 of a $70 million, 138,000 square foot maintenance center that it said will create 160 new jobs.

The 170-mile line to Orland will have 55 bridges that will cost $35 million apiece. Virgin projects that each bridge will take 12 to 30 months to build.

“Obviously our goal is to maximize mobility for the Central and South Florida communities,” said Virgin Trains USA CEO Patrick Goddard said. “We are looking at stations. We are in a dialogue with the Treasure Coast, we are in a dialogue with the Space Coast. We would like to see stations every 50 to 60 miles. I think that’s feasible and reasonable to have an express train service so we will continue to pursue to update those as we make progress.”

Virgin said the steel being used in construction of the line is being purchased from American Steel in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Approximately 1,000 will be employed to build the line.

Goddard said before building west of Orlando International Airport that Virgin must reach an agreement on a lease from the Central Florida Expressway Authority and the Florida Department of Transportation.

Virgin plans to build along existing highways between Orlando and Tampa.

Track Work Disrupts Downeasters

November 19, 2019

Track work being performed today (Nov. 19) by host railroad Pan Am Railways disrupted the operations of some Downeaster service.

Train 681, terminated at Wells, Maine, with alternate transportation provided between Wells and Brunswick, making intermediate stops at Portland and Freeport. No alternate transportation was provided to Saco.

Train 684 originated at Wells with alternate transportation provided between Brunswick and Wells, making intermediate stops at Freeport and Portland. No alternate transportation was provided at Saco.