Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak anniversary’

Amtrak to Party Like its 1979

June 8, 2020

Amtrak will observe its 50th anniversary next May and it’s anyone’s guess as to what the passenger carrier will look like as it blows out the candles on its cake.

Amtrak says its crystal ball shows there are likely to be fewer trains and ridership that will be about half of what it would be had there not been a pandemic and economic downturn.

In a letter to Congress asking for a $1.4 billion supplemental appropriation on top of the more than $2 billion it is already seeking for federal fiscal year 2021, which begins on Oct. 1, Amtrak President William Flynn said that without the additional funds its long-distance trains  are “at risk.”

Even with the additional money, Flynn said all long-distance trains except the Auto Train will operate on a less than daily schedule.

Amtrak expects to reduce its workforce by 20 percent and to consolidate three trains now using the New York-Florida route into one.

Flynn’s letter raised as many questions as it answered including what “less than daily” service would be.

Once ridership recovers, the letter said, Amtrak would increase the frequency of operation of long-distance trains and bring back some suspended corridor services.

Flynn’s dire predictions are speculative yet plausible. There is widespread agreement in the airline industry that it will take air carriers at least three years to get back to the passenger volumes and routes that existed in late February.

Amtrak expects ridership to steadily increase this summer before nose diving in the fall amid an expected second wave of the COVID-19 being predicted by most health experts.

Getting that supplemental appropriation from Congress is going to be a tough assignment

There is a long line of enterprises in America that have their hands out looking for money from Congress to tide them over during the economic downturn.

Many states are slashing spending as revenues fall far short of what has been expected. Some of those budget cuts are involving funding for Amtrak corridor service.

Election year politics and traditional ideological divides are likely to shape appropriations decisions.

Some conservatives who have long wanted to zero out Amtrak funding will see an opportunity, having a field day pointing out that Amtrak trains are running half empty.

It’s a talking point they’ve made in the past but this time they might have the facts on their side.

Although giving Amtrak nothing seems unlikely, it is not out of the realm of possibility that across-the-board budget cuts might be imposed on many federal programs, including Amtrak funding.

Flynn’s letter was a scare tactic. He is hoping the prospect of large numbers of states and congressional districts losing their trains will prompt Congress to take action. He is not the first Amtrak president to employ this strategy.

But something is different this time. Flynn’s letter hints at even the almighty Northeast Corridor being in trouble.

During past funding fights no one ever thought that ridership in Amtrak’s busiest route would nose dive. But now it has.

Things were so bad during the early weeks of the pandemic that Amtrak canceled all of its premier Acela Express service and dramatically curtailed Northeast Regional service.

There is some talk in transportation circles that the demand for intercity transportation may not going to return to previous levels, particularly among business travelers.

All of that remains to be seen and the answers are going to be years in the making.

In the short term, Amtrak can be expected to continue pretty much as it is today with most long-distance trains operating daily through the end of September.

There has been some restoration of corridor services, but the level of corridor service will be far below what it was in early March.

It may well be that some corridor trains are not coming back for a long time if at all. Some long-distance trains may be operating in their final months.

Full service dining aboard the western long-distance trains was replaced in April by the prepackaged meals that have been served for more than a year on eastern long-distance trains. Full-service dining isn’t likely to return anytime soon if at all.

Although it is not a perfect comparison, I see some parallels between the present and 1979 when several trains were discontinued after a long fight over funding.

Rail passenger advocates are already gearing up to try to save Amtrak’s status quo.

The Rail Passengers Association is urging its members to ask Congress to support the supplemental appropriation for Amtrak and to save daily service for long-distance trains.

Yet Congress is hearing from a lot of people these days because a lot of people and organizations are hurting big time.

There is a risk, though, that the voice of rail passengers advocates will be just so much more noise amid the din or those asking Congress for help.

The Amtrak that will be operating on May 1, 2021, is likely to look quite different from the Amtrak that operated on May 1, 2019, or even that of May 1, 2020.

Amtrak Anniversary Observed With Video

May 6, 2020

Amtrak marked its 49th anniversary last Friday by creating a page on its website. The page contains a video showing various scenes of and aboard Amtrak trains over the years and a message from company president William Flynn.

In the video, Flynn talks about the importance of intercity rail transportation and pays tribute to Amtrak employees for their service during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The page can be found at

A direct link to the video is


Happy 45th Anniversary, Amtrak

May 1, 2016

45 year Amtrak TT

Amtrak 1st day loco

Today (May 1) marks the 45th anniversary since the startup of Amtrak. Shown in the top image is a comparison of the passenger carrier’s first timetable and, as turns out, what will be the last system timetable that it plans to print.

A lot of changed in 45 years and not just the front covers of the system timetables. In 1971, Amtrak was just a name. It had only a handful of employees and relied on its contract railroads to perform nearly every task involved in getting the trains over the road as well as serviced and stocked.

For a first day ceremony, Amtrak had Penn Central E8A No. 4316 painted in a one-of-a-kind livery. The Pennsylvania Railroad locomotive continued to work in Amtrak service in this livery for several months.

In the photograph above, it is shown in Chicago. It would later become Amtrak No. 322 and, in 1977, Amtrak No. 461, the second locomotive to wear that number. It was retired from the Amtrak roster in July 1981.