Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak long distance trains’

Senators Push Back on Amtrak Service Cuts

June 30, 2020

Some members of the Senate have told Amtrak that they will not support its request for $1.475 in additional money in fiscal year 2021 without receiving more information about how costs and revenues will be affected by the carrier’s plans to pare service of its long-distance trains and reduce its workforce by 20 percent.

In three separate letters to Amtrak President William Flynn, 16 senators expressed concerns with Amtrak’s plans to reduce the frequency of service on nearly all long-distance trains to less than daily starting Oct. 1.

Amtrak plans in early July to reduce the frequency of operation of the Silver Star and Silver Meteor in the New York-Miami corridor to less than daily operation.

The letters were written by nine Republican and seven Democratic senators from Montana, North Dakota, West Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, Wisconsin, Mississippi and Indiana.

One of the letters, written by Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) seeks the data Amtrak is using to justify reducing most long-distance trains to tri-weekly operation as well as the benchmarks that will trigger a specific plan for reinstating daily trains.

“We would like to ensure that reductions in frequencies for long-distance routes do not unnecessarily extend beyond the COVID-19 crisis,” the letter said.

Steve Daines (R-Montana) and other senators said Amtrak’s proposal “raises serious doubts about whether a realistic plan exists for fully restoring service in a timely fashion.”

The letters have been critical of less than daily service, saying it will hurt hundreds of communities that rely on Amtrak.

Another letter asked what the passenger carrier would consider to be “adequate funding” needed to to restore frequencies.

Flynn has said little in public about the proposed service cuts, which became known when a memorandum written by Amtrak Vice President Roger Harris to Amtrak employees was leaked.

During an interview Monday morning that was livestreamed by on YouTube by The Washington Post, Flynn said little about the planned cuts.

He said Oct. 1 date was chosen because Amtrak experiences its lowest ridership during the winter in the long distance network.

Without being specific, Flynn said Amtrak will evaluate the long-distance trains, including unidentified indicators.

Flynn said this review would look at restoration on a service-by-service plan ahead. He noted that summer is when the long-distance trains enjoy their highest levels of ridership.

“We’re looking at bookings and level of ridership; we’ll just have to look at where we are in terms of COVID-19 and the pandemic — God forbid there is a second wave,” he said.

Although he didn’t provide any details, Flynn said Amtrak would be communicating to Congress its criteria and plans for restoring long-distance service.

Yes, They Might Be Out to Get Them

June 19, 2020

The service cuts that Amtrak plans to make on Oct. 1 remind me of the old phrase “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”

In the rail passenger advocacy and railfan communities – they are not necessarily the same thing even if there is some overlap – there long have been paranoid types who think Amtrak, Congress, the Department of Transportation, the highway lobby, conservative think tanks and goodness knows who else is out to kill the long-distance passenger train.

Those fears are not necessarily unfounded because there are a lot of people in government and in the transportation field who believe long-distance passenger trains long ago outlived their purpose.

Chat lists are ablaze with talk about this being the beginning of the apocalypse of the long-distance passenger train after a memo written by Amtrak vice president Roger Harris to employees was leaked.

Harris wrote in the memo that most long-distance trains will be reduced to tri-weekly operation on Oct. 1, the first day of federal fiscal year 2021. The exception is the Silver Meteor, which will operate quad weekly. The Auto Train will continue to operate daily.

The memo contends that Amtrak remains “committed” to the national network and as ridership recovers from sharp drops triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying economic recession that the intercity passenger carrier will restore daily service to the long-distance trains, possibly by next summer.

Harris framed the move as saving money and a political necessity, saying Congress will not continue to fund Amtrak if trains are running largely empty as they have in the past couple of months.

He probably fears – correctly by the way – that as Amtrak funding is debated in Congress that photographs and videos of near empty coaches will begin showing up regularly in some media channels along with talk of a colossal waste of public money.

Some have questioned whether Amtrak’s real motivation is to drive down ridership, run up losses and then point to those as justification for eliminating the long distance trains.

There is some reason to think this could be about to play out. Former Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson was outspoken in his disdain for the long-distance network even as he talked about retaining some “experiential” service that he never got around to defining.

Another Amtrak vice president, Stephen Gardner, also has been critical of long-distance trains, describing them as relics of another era.

Anderson and Gardner, and perhaps Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia, favored a different Amtrak made up of corridor services between urban areas, particularly in the South and West.

Before the pandemic began, Amtrak had done spade work in seeking to interest state legislators in supporting Amtrak’s plans to ask Congress for a pot of money to be used to seed the development of these corridors.

Amtrak would front the initial capital costs and help underwrite operating losses for a few years before the states would be expected to pay for the services in the same way that states pay for corridor services today.

But the pandemic and the recession changed everything.

There are some who believe the announcement of plans to operate most long-distance trains on tri-weekly schedules is a political ploy to prod Congress into giving Amtrak an additional $1.4 billion for FY2021 on top of what the carrier has already requested.

Amtrak CEO William Flynn said in a May 25 letter to Congress that long distance trains would operate less than daily even with the additional $1.4 billion and would be “at risk” without it.

The Rail Passengers Association has been sending out emails to its members since the Harris memo leaked asking them to demand that Congress approve the additional $1.4 billion and mandate that long-distance trains now operating daily continue to do so.

I wrote in an earlier post that getting that extra $1.4 billion is going to be tough for Amtrak to pull off during a recession when Congress is inundated with requests for money from suffering organizations and government entities asking their Uncle Sam to help them survive.

If anything, Amtrak might be denied the supplemental appropriation and forced to take an across-the-board cut in FY2021 funding as legislators talk about the need for “sacrifices for the greater good.”

State governments are already cutting spending for their next fiscal years and such programs as education are seeing funding cuts.

Some states that now fund Amtrak corridor services have reduced their spending on them.

It remains to be seen how the politics of the appropriations process will play out this summer during a presidential election year.

Congress often fails to approve a budget before the current one expires and keeps the government running through continuing resolutions that effectively maintain the status quo for a few weeks while negotiations continue.

Long-distance trains have continued to operate daily because Amtrak received emergency aid last spring. That money runs out in late September.

At this point it is difficult to see how the long-distance trains will survive the summer unscathed no matter how many letters, phone calls, texts, emails, social media posts or op ed columns that passenger train advocates create.

At some point it might get down to a choice of tri-weekly service or service suspensions.

In theory the Sunset Limited east of New Orleans was “suspended” after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

It has yet to return and probably won’t now except as maybe a state-funded service over a portion of its route.

Amtrak’s long-distance trains have survived so many budget battles over the past 49 years that it could be easy to think they will always be there because they always have been.

Maybe this will turn out to be like every other battle and the trains will somehow survive intact. And maybe there is something about this go around that is different from all of those other struggles to save the long-distance trains.

Amtrak to Cut Long-Distance Service Oct. 1

June 16, 2020

Amtrak told its employees on Monday that all long-distance trains except for the Auto Train will operate on less than daily schedules starting Oct. 1.

The carrier also said that service in the Northeast Corridor and state-funded corridor services will continue to operate at greatly reduced levels through during fiscal year 2021, which begins Oct. 1.

The message indicated that Amtrak will watch unspecified performance metrics with the idea of restoring daily service as demand warrants, possibly by summer 2021.

Amtrak has not released details of the service cuts including what days that trains would operate. Nor has it released information on the service metrics that it will be monitoring.

For example, it is unclear if the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited will be scheduled to operate on the same days or different days between Chicago and Cleveland.

The memo to employees was written by Roger Harris, Amtrak’s executive vice president, chief marketing and revenue service officer.

Harris said the Silver Meteor is expected to operate four days a week between New York and Miami while the Silver Star would run tri-weekly.

The memo indicated those trains would be scheduled so that their common stations would receive daily service.

The Meteor appears to be the only long-distance train being eyed for quad-weekly service. All other long-distance trains will operate tri-weekly.

However, operations of two trains that already operate tri-weekly, the Chicago-New York Cardinal and the New Orleans-Los Angeles Sunset Limited, will be unchanged.

Amtrak has apparently dropped an idea floated by President William Flynn in a late May a letter to Congress of combining the Palmetto (New York-Savannah, Georgia), Silver Meteor and Silver Star.

The Auto Train, which operates between Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida, will continue to operate daily.

The Harris memo said the service reductions are being made in an effort to save $150 million  during a time of expected low ridership due to the COVID-19 pandemic and an economic recession that has depressed travel demand.

Harris also argued that Amtrak’s operating loss has been more than $500 million on long-distance services.

Those losses, though, are under Amtrak’s fully allocated costs accounting method whose accuracy has been criticized by rail passenger supporters.

When pressed for details about the service reduction plans, Amtrak spokeswoman Christina Leeds said in a prepared statement that the carrier is still in the planning stages and can’t answer most questions yet about what service will look like starting Oct. 1.

Her statement said Amtrak expects during the next fiscal year to operate 32 percent fewer frequencies on the Northeast Corridor and 24 percent fewer state-supported services.

The service cuts were blasted by Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews. “Chopping back to triweekly will mute any demand signal before it gets to management,” he said in a statement. “The long-distance services remain essential to the hundreds of small communities across the United States with fewer options than Philadelphia or Boston or New York.”

Mathews said Amtrak’s two worst-performing trains are the Cardinal and Sunset Limited, which operate tri-weekly, and predicted Amtrak’s plans to operate less than daily service on long distance routes will result in a dramatic decline in ridership.

“Moreover, Amtrak may be setting itself up for failure by losing operating slots on host railroads, losing employees it will need to restore service, and possibly losing the rolling stock as well,” he said.

Ross Capon, who headed the then-named National Association of Railroad Passengers recalled that Amtrak went through a similar phase in 1995 during another era of budget austerity.

“Experience from the 1990s shows that Amtrak’s plan to run the entire long-distance network less than daily will not achieve promised savings,” Capon told Trains magazine. “It also will inhibit the return of ridership Amtrak says is prerequisite for service restoration.

Capon called on Congress to grant Amtrak the additional $1.4 billion it is seeking on top of its regular appropriation for FY2021 with the proviso that long-distance trains now operating daily continue to do so.

Amtrak has reported that although ridership and revenue remain down due to the pandemic and recession, long-distance ticket revenues rose 71 percent from $6.8 million to $11.6 million, between April and May.

In the Northeast Corridor, revenue rose about 60 percent from $1.5 million to $2.4 million, and state supported trains generated less than a 50 percent increase, from $2.3 million in April to $3.5 million in May.

The Harris memo to employees opened with a statement that Amtrak remains committed to operating a national network but “we need to be smart about how we deliver our service in this market environment.”

Harris said Congress is unlikely to support Amtrak indefinitely if it continues to operate mostly empty trains.

“We need to demonstrate that we are using our resources efficiently and responsibly,” he wrote.

The memo stated Amtrak ridership is down as much as 95 percent on a year-over-year basis.

Although it continues to rise, “it is going to take a long time to return to normal.”

Harris said the demand for long distance service is down by 70 percent and Amtrak expects systemwide ridership in FY2021to be 50 percent of what it was in 2019.

As did Flynn in his May letter to Congress, Harris said Amtrak said the potential for a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall could further reduce ridership.

Some Amtrak Trains Are ‘Selling Out’

June 10, 2020

Although Amtrak trains continue to run with loads well under capacity, an analysis published on the Trains magazine website reported that some trains are selling out as ridership slowly begins to rise.

Of course Amtrak is only selling half the capacity of its coaches as a way to enforce social distancing and the sell outs or near sellouts have resulted in some high eye popping fares.

That included a coach fare of $260 from Chicago to Dallas, but $251 from Chicago to Pontiac, Illinois, a distance of 92 miles.

Yet a coach seat between Chicago and Normal, Illinois, a distance of 124 miles was available for a fare of $124.

Blame a yield management system that increases fares for segments with the heaviest ridership.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told Trains that Amtrak consists changed little between April and May.

However, the consists of some trains have since expanded. The Lake Shore Limited has been reported to now be operating with four Amfleet coaches, two for the New York section and two for the Boston section.

That is double the number of coaches that had been carried.

The Capitol Limited has been reported to have expanded from four cars to five or six.

Trains passenger correspondent Bob Johnston rode Amtrak’s Texas Eagle recently between Chicago and Normal.

His report indicated that the bathrooms, coaches and Sightseer lounge cars were clean on both trains and although passengers wore masks while boarding the train about half removed them after settling into their seats.

Johnston wrote that most passengers wore their masks while walking through the train.

He also said some food items were out of stock in the café car, including all of the fresh deli sandwiches and cheeseburgers.

Few passengers ate their meals in the lounge car after purchasing food there.

A spot check conducted by Trains over a 15-day period found numerous instances in which coach seats were sold out or nearly sold out on some long distance trains.

The westbound Lake Shore Limited had no day-of-departure coach seats on 11 of 15 days out of New York when No. 48 operated with a single Amfleet II coach.

Some seats that were available were priced at twice the normal $112 fare.

The spot check determined that sleeping cars were rarely sold out during the 15-day period.

Amtrak has not yet increased fares for sleepers much above the usual summer rates.

Trains also reported that it has learned that Amtrak on May 29 operated a special train of 15 empty Amfleet II coaches from the Hialeah Maintenance Facility in Miami to Jacksonville, Florida, for storage.

RPA Fighting Amtrak Plans to Reduce Service

May 30, 2020

The Rail Passengers Association is launching a lobbying campaign to try to persuade Congress to approve the supplemental $1.475 billion in funding that Amtrak is seeking in fiscal year 2021 from Congress.

That money would be on top of the passenger carrier’s regular funding request for the FY2021.

The passenger advocacy group said that it will seek to prod Congress to approve the funding with statutory mandates that service continue to operate daily on routes where that is now the case.

A letter from Amtrak President William Flynn said that even with the supplemental appropriation all but one of Amtrak’s long-distance routes would be reduced to less than daily operation.

Without the supplemental funding, Flynn warned, all of the long-distance routes are “at risk,” which presumably means of being suspended or discontinued.

RPA is appealing to its members to contact members of Congress to demand daily service and to protect Amtrak’s workforce.

The carrier has said it expects to reduce its workforce by 20 percent.

Flynn’s letter has draw a sharp rebuke from Rep. Dan Lipinski, chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads.

In a statement, Lipinski was particularly critical of Amtrak’s plans to cut its workforce.

The statement cited the $1 billion that Amtrak received from the CARES Act.

“It was my understanding that Amtrak did not plan to furlough any workers due to COVID-19,” Lipinski said.

RPA said Flynn’s letter left a number of unanswered questions including how Amtrak could restore service to pre-pandemic levels if one in five employees will be gone either through voluntary retirement or furlough.

Other unanswered questions are what level of less than daily service Amtrak envisions for its long-distance trains whether it would be every other day, five days a week or tri-weekly.

RPA is calling for Amtrak to explain how much the carrier expects to save with less than daily service, how much revenue would be lost and what threshold of ridership would trigger full restoration to daily service.

The rail passenger advocacy group said Congress should up the supplemental funding for Amtrak to at least $1.5 billion for a total of $3.54 billion in total funding on the condition that clear protections for passengers and workers imposed.

Service Cuts Likely for Amtrak Long-Distance Trains

May 27, 2020

Thus far during the economic downturn that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic Amtrak’s long-distance trains have been spared service cuts.

But that will soon change.

In a letter to Congress dated May 25 Amtrak said it is seeking $1.475 billion in “supplemental funding” to maintain “minimum service levels across the rail network” and continue capital projects.

This will be on top of the $2.04 billion that it requested for its regular federal fiscal year 2021 appropriation.

Even if it gets the additional funding, Amtrak said it plans to reduce the frequency of service on most long distance routes to less than daily service.

The passenger carrier also said it may cut its workforce by as much as 20 percent.

Amtrak said during the pandemic its routes are at best handling 10 percent of the ridership that they had as recently as February and that for FY2021 the passenger carrier expects ridership to be 50 percent of what it would have been otherwise.

The letter, written by Amtrak President William Flynn, acknowledged that projecting future ridership and revenue is difficult given the unprecedented nature of the pandemic and all the unknowns surrounding its trajectory.

However, most projections anticipate a second wave of infections in the fall and Amtrak expects that to depress ridership between September and February.

Recent polling data shows half of the respondents saying they would be reluctant to ride a train in the next six months and more than a third said they it could be a year or more before they would ride a train.

“Furthermore, when demand returns, we anticipate that changed behaviors, such as increased telework and reduced discretionary income, will likely impact ridership, along with capacity limits that may be needed to achieve social distancing on our trains,” Flynn wrote.

Aside from cutting long-distance service to less-than-daily service, Amtrak said it will sharply cut Northeast Corridor service to match demand.

Flynn said Amtrak expects reduced services in state-funded corridor service and is working with the states to determine what they will be able to fund in FY2021, which begins on Oct. 1.

“While our state partners will ultimately make these decisions in coordination with us, many of them have been clear that they will not be able to maintain currently reduced service or resume suspended service without supplemental funding,” Flynn wrote.

Amtrak said it would restore service levels to what they had been once ridership recovers sufficiently to support it if adequate funding is available.

Flynn’s letter contained few details as to how much reduction in frequency of service would occur in the next fiscal year unless Amtrak receives supplemental funding.

An appendix mentions consolidation of the Silver Meteor, Silver Star and Palmetto and hints that without additional federal funding some corridor services might be suspended or discontinued.

All long-distance trains except for the Auto Train are expected to operate at a lower level of service even if Amtrak receives the supplemental appropriation.

Without the supplemental appropriation, all long-distance trains except the Auto Train are said to be “at risk.”

In a message to Amtrak employees on Tuesday, Flynn conceded that Amtrak’s planned spending cuts “will cause stress in the organization.”

He said the carrier will seek to “minimize the negative impact” by offering incentives for employees to leave the company or retire before resorting to layoffs.

Flynn said Amtrak management is still figuring out how much it plans to reduce its workforce and how to assign those who remain on the payroll.

Amtrak expects to cut $500 million in expenses as a result of reducing frequency of operation and capacity ($150 million) and workforce reductions ($350 million).

Document Gives Insight into Amtrak Summer Plans

May 12, 2020

An Amtrak planning document shows that the carrier plans to continue to operate most services this summer with reduced consists and many routes will continue to have reduced frequencies.

The document is dated May 7 and subject to change.

Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service will resume service on June 1 with one roundtrip, Nos. 330 and 339 on weekdays and Nos. 332 and 339 on weekends.

Starting June 14 service will increase to four roundtrips, Nos. 329, 331, 337, 339, 330, 332, 338 and 342.

Before the pandemic service had been seven daily roundtrips.

Lincoln Service between Chicago and St. Louis is slated to be two daily roundtrips, Nos. 300, 303, 306 and 307 with all operating with four coaches.

The corridor previously hosted four Lincoln Service roundtrips.

Chicago-Quincy and Chicago-Carbondale services will remain the same as they are now.

The Illinois Zephyr will operate with two coaches while the southbound Illini and northbound Saluki will have a Superliner consist.

The Chicago-Quincy Carl Sandburg remain suspended as does the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini.

Missouri River Runner service between St. Louis and Kansas City will also remain unchanged at one roundtrip (Nos. 313 and 314). The route previously hosted two roundtrips.

Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service corridor will continue to operate with one daily roundtrip whereas until the COVID-19 pandemic struck it had three daily roundtrips.

There will be no change in operations of the Chicago-Port Huron, Michigan, Blue Water.

The planning document shows the Chicago-Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pere Marquette not operating, but that appears to be an error.

However, the Amtrak website shows Nos. 370 and 371 as operating starting June 1 and reservations can be made.

Amtrak also plans to restore the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian and gradually ramp up service in the Keystone Corridor in eastern Pennsylvania.

Starting June 1 Amtrak will restore Keystone Service to nine roundtrips operating between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

On July 5 one roundtrip will be extended to New York. On Sept. 5 service between Harrisburg and New York will be restored to all trains.

The level of service planned this summer will be two roundtrips fewer than what Amtrak operated last summer.

Keystone Service trains will operate with their normal consists while the Pennsylvanian will have its normal consist of four coaches, one business class car, a food service car and a baggage car.

Downeaster Service is expected to return on July 1 operating only with one roundtrip on weekedays. Normal service of five daily roundtrips is expected to return on Sept. 5.

Empire Service will be six roundtrips for the summer compared to nine last year. That is an increase of one roundtrip per day compared with the spring.

Service will bump up to seven roundtrips on Sept. 5. However, the Maple Leaf will continue to operate only as far west as Niagara Falls, New York, rather than resume service to Toronoto.

The Vermonter will resume operating to St. Albans, Vermont, on June 1 while the Adirondack is shown as continuing to be suspended between New York and Montreal.

The New York-Charlotte Carolinian will resume regular operations June 1 while Piedmont Service will be one roundtrip between Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina. Piedmont Service had been three roundtrips.

As previously announced, Acela Express will return June 1 with four roundtrips, which is still way down from the normal 15 roundtrips.

Northeast Regional service will ramp up to 10 roundtrips compared to the current eight. Last summer there were 18 roundtrips.

Springfield shuttle service will be three roundtrips between New Haven, Connecticut, and Springfield, Massachusetts, with one roundtrip between Springfield and Greenfield, Massachusetts.

Previously service on this route was seven roundtrips between New Haven and Springfield. Normal service is projected to return on Sept. 5.

In the West, Cascades Service between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, will continue to be suspended.

Cascades Service between Seattle and Portland will be two roundtrips compared to the normal four. There will be one roundtrip between Portland and Eugene, Oregon, compared to two previously.

The Capitol Corridor will have eight roundtrips on weekdays and five roundtrips on weekends. Previous service was 14 weekday and 11 weekend roundtrips.

San Joaquin service will be four roundtrips with normal service of seven roundtrips returning in early September.

Pacific Surfliner service is projected to be six roundtrips through July 5. The next day service will rise to nine roundtrips. The previous service level had been 14 roundtrips.

No long-distance services have been suspended during the pandemic, but consists have been reduced in size. That is expected to change this summer.

The Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited is slated to operate this summer with three coaches, two sleepers and a diner-lounge. There will be no separate lounge car or baggage car.

Nos. 29 and 30 currently are carrying two coaches, one sleeper and a diner-lounge.

The Lake Shore Limited summer consist will be three sleepers, four coaches, one dining car for sleeper class passengers, one club dinette and a baggage car.

Nos. 48 and 49 will be the only eastern long-distance train carrying a Viewliner II dining car for sleeper class passengers only.

The Chicago-New York Cardinal will see no change this summer from its current consist of two coaches, one sleeper and a diner-lounge.

The New York-Miami Silver Star and Silver Meteor will both operate with two sleepers, a lounge car and a baggage car. The Silver Star will have three coaches while the Silver Meteor will have two.

The planning document said the Silver Meteor will have three fewer coaches and one less sleeper than it did last summer and will not have a dining car.

The New York-Savannah, Georgia, Palmetto is set to have four coaches and a food service car with tables. That is two fewer coaches than it had last summer but one coach more than it has now. There will be no baggage car as there was last year.

The New York-New Orleans Crescent will have three coaches, two sleepers and a lounge car. That is one less coach and sleeper from its previous consist.

The City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans will have it normal consist

The California Zephyr between Chicago and Emeryville, California, will have three coaches, one sleeper, a Sightseer lounge and dining car.

That is a net gain of one coach from the current consist but one less sleeper than it carried last year. There will be no baggage car.

The Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief will carry three coaches, two sleepers, a dining car and Sightseer lounge. That is a net gain of one sleeper and coach from the current consist but a loss of one sleeper and coach from summer 2019. There will be no baggage car.

The New Orleans-Los Angeles Sunset Limited will have two coaches, one sleeper, a dining car and a Sightseer lounge. That is one sleeper less than summer 2019. There will be no baggage car.

The Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle will have three coaches, two sleepers, a dining car and a Sightseer lounge. That is a net gain of one coach and one sleeper from the current consist.

However, the Chicago-St. Louis coach had operated previously continues to be suspended.

The Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder will have four coaches, three sleepers, a dining car and a Sightseer lounge.

That is a net gain of one coach from the current consist but a loss of two sleepers from last summer.

The Los Angeles-Seattle Coast Starlight will have two coaches, two sleepers, a dining car and Sightseer lounge.

That is two fewer sleepers than last summer. There will be no baggage car and the business class coach will not operate this year as it did in 2019.

It does represent an increase of one sleeper over the current consist.

The Auto Train will have four coaches, five sleepers, a dining car, a Sightseer lounge and a diner-lounge.

That is two fewer sleepers than the previous consist but a gain of one coach over the current consist.

The Heartland Flyer (Oklahoma City-Fort Worth, Texas) will have two coaches this summer  but otherwise operate as normal.

The New York-Rutland, Vermont, Ethan Allen will be operate as normal.

CONO Back to Running Full Route

May 6, 2020

Amtrak’s City of New Orleans has resumed operating its full route between Chicago and New Orleans.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has closed the Bonnet Carre Spillway whose opening earlier for flood control had led to Nos. 58 and 59 being operated between Chicago and McComb, Mississippi.

Passengers had been taken by bus to and from New Orleans.

Host railroad Canadian National by policy prohibits Amtrak operating over the spillway with passengers aboard whenever it is open.

Amtrak Long-Distance Trains Safe for Now But Anderson Still Wants Permanent Cut in Network

March 24, 2020

Although Amtrak President William Anderson has said the long-distance network of trains will stay in place for now, he continues to argue that it needs to be reduced.

Richard Anderson

Anderson sent that message last week during an online town hall meeting with Amtrak employees.

He did note that Amtrak is cutting the capacity of long-distance trains by 40 percent of seat miles.

That has resulted in some trains operating with reduced consists including a four-car Capitol Limited.

If Congress fails to grant Amtrak emergency funding to cover revenue losses triggered by a massive downturn in ridership and revenue in the wake of the COVID-19 pandenic, Anderson said there are contingency plans in place “to further reduce the network to match capacity to demand.”

Later in the town hall Anderson reiterated a comment he’s made often that some parts of Amtrak’s national network need to be permanently discontinued.

“And given the amount of cash burn we have, I’m certain the long-distance network is going to be very different longer term,” he said. “We’d like to avoid it, but if we can’t get the kind of funding out of Congress that we need, then we need to face that issue and will have a contingency plan to do that. But that will be only a worst-case scenario because we don’t want to furlough employees.”

During the town hall session Amtrak said Amtrak has slashed capital spending from a planned $2 billion to $1 billion by focusing only on necessary “state-of-good repair” work.

Management salaries will be cut by 22 percent to 7 percent with the reductions falling as pay grades decrease.

The incoming Amtrak president, William Flynn, has agreed to forego his annual salary. He will take over for Anderson on April 18.

Amtrak has suspended its 401K retirement program match and is asking non-union employees to take voluntary time off or reduce their weekly hours to 32 per week.

An analysis of Anderson’s comments by Trains magazine said that his assertion that it takes $2 billion “over two and a half years  . . . to keep the long-distance network operating” is suggesting that expense would vanish if those trains were discontinued.

Trains said that figure is a largely allocated expense figure that Amtrak uses to to imply that they are avoidable costs.

That has been challenged by various rail passenger advocates and elected officials on routes served by those trains.

Before the pandemic began, Anderson said Amtrak had been “running 91 percent above plan” for fiscal year 2020, which ends in late September.

Overall ridership and revenue had been up by 6.5 percent.

But with both now plunging, Anderson said full year revenues are projected to be down $1 billion and Amtrak projects a $840 million loss even with expense reductions of $110-$150 million.

Latest Amtrak Cuts Include Station Closings

March 21, 2020

Although no Amtrak long distance trains have thus far been spared from service suspensions, they are getting shorter consists.

An online report said the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited is operating with one P42DC locomotive, one sleeper, one food service car and two coaches.

Some Amtrak station waiting rooms are being temporarily closed.

In a service advisory posted on its website, Amtrak said waiting rooms in Kalamazoo and East Lansing, Michigan, are closed and passengers will not have access to the station restrooms.

The notice said station caretakers will be present to answer questions, provide direction and help operate wheelchair lifts.

Amtrak recommended that rather than waiting outside on the platform that passengers use the Amtrak app or other means to check train status while waiting in their personal vehicles for their train to arrive.

Other stations that are closed include those in Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, Lancaster, Altoona and Johnstown.

All Amtrak service has been suspended at those stations.

Other stations that continue to have service but which are closed include Bloomington-Normal, Illlinois; Burlington, Iowa; Dodge City, Kansas, Lincoln, Nebraska; Lawrence, Kansas; Plano, Illinois; St. Petersburg, Florida (Thruway bus service stop)

In the case of the Normal station, passengers will have access to the Uptown Garage and its complimentary one-hour parking.

Garage elevator access will lead only to the street level. Platform access will be from the exterior of the building only.

Customer Service Representatives will be present on the platform 30 minutes before scheduled departure times to continue checked baggage service, unaccompanied minor service and special services.

The service hours at the Gallup, New Mexico, station has been modified. Passengers will have access to the interior of the station for the 30 minutes before the train arrival time.

Additional service suspensions have also been announced.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation said that starting March 23 Piedmont Service trains 73, 74, 77, and 78 are suspended.

Piedmonts 75 and 76 will continue to operate as will the New York-Charlotte Carolinian.

In California, Pacific Surfliner service will be cut in half on March 23 and further reduced on March 24.

On March 23, Trains 561, 565, 579, and 593 will operate as scheduled but Trains 569, 573, 583, 591, 595, and 759 are cancelled.

Trains 763 and 777 will operate according to the schedule between San Diego and Goleta but there will be no service north of Goleta.

Trains 767 and 785 will operate according to the schedule between San Diego and Los Angeles with no service north of Los Angeles.

Trains 564, 580, and 584 will operate as scheduled but Trains 562, 566, 572, 578, 590, 782, and 792 are cancelled.

Train 796 will operate according to the schedule between Goleta and San Diego but with no service between San Luis Obispo and Goleta.

Effective March 24, scheduled will be further modified and subject to additional change based on ridership and public health conditions.

Trains 759, 561/1761, 565/1565, 569/1569, 573/1573, 583, 591/1591, and 595 are cancelled. Trains 763 and 777 will operate according to the schedule between San Diego and Goleta with no service north of Goleta.

Trains 767/1767 and 785 will operate according to the schedule between San Diego and Los Angeles but with no service north of Los Angeles.

Trains 562, 566/1566, 572/1572, 578, 782, 590/1590, and 792 are cancelled.

Train 774 will operate according to the schedule between Los Angeles and San Diego with no service between San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles.

Train 796 will operate according to the schedule between Goleta and San Diego with no service between San Luis Obispo and Goleta.

Service to San Luis Obispo will be preserved through limited bus connections from Santa Barbara. The Coast Starlight will also continue serving San Luis Obispo.

In northern California, the San Joaquins Joint Powers Authority, Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority and Amtrak have agreed on the following service reductions.

Amtrak San Joaquin service will be suspending the Emeryville and San Francisco Thruway Bus Route (Route 99) on March 21.

Passengers traveling to San Francisco are encouraged to utilize BART via the Richmond Station.

On March 26, Trains 701, 702, 703, 704, 714, and 717 will be suspended and remaining trains will not have lead service attendants or food service.
Train 719 will no longer stop at Richmond because of the BART reduction in hours.

On the east Coast, Amtrak’s Downeaster service will see further service reductions to two roundtrips a day.

On March 21 and 22, Trains 692, 694, 693 and 695 will operate.

Between March 23-27 trains operating will include Nos. 680, 682, 681 and 684.

North of the border, VIA Rail Canada has said the suspension of the Montreal-Halifax Ocean, Toronto-Vancouver Canadian, and Jasper-Prince Rupert service has been extended to May 1.

Effective March 23 Montreal-Senneterre and Montreal-Jonquiere, Quebec, trains will be cut o one round trip per week, as will Sudbury-White River, Ontario, service.

Such an-board and in-station services such as baggage handling and restaurant access will also be curtailed.