Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak service cuts’

Amtrak Lost $801M in FY2020

November 24, 2020

Amtrak warned yet again on Monday that further service cuts are possible unless Congress increases its federal funding for the passenger carrier in fiscal year 2021.

Funding for Amtrak and other federally-funded programs is currently being provided under a continuing resolution approved by Congress in late September that expires on Dec. 11.

That resolution calls for interim funding in FY2021 to be at the same levels as FY2020, which ended on Sept. 30.

“If the current level of funding is extended in a continuing resolution beyond Dec. 11 . . . and supplemental funding isn’t provided we’re going to be unable to avoid taking fairly difficult actions that could have long-lasting effects on our Northeast Corridor infrastructure and the national rail system,” said Amtrak CEO William Flynn.

Flynn said the carrier needs additional emergency funding for the remainder of the fiscal year.

If Amtrak funding continues at its current levels, Flynn said as many as 1,600 workers operating state-supported trains could be furloughed.

Amtrak Senior Executive Vice President Stephen Gardner said decisions on job and service cuts will be made based on how long the uncertainty remains.

In a news release, Amtrak said during FY2020 its operating revenue, including payments from state-supported routes, decreased 31.9 percent to $2.3 billion when compared with FY 2019.

Ticket revenue was down $1.24 billion or 47.3 percent.

During FY2020 Amtrak posted an unaudited operating loss of $801.1 million, which it attributed largely to lost ridership during the pandemic.

The carrier also reported advancing $1.9 billion in infrastructure and fleet work.

Amtrak Board Chairman Anthony Coscia said the passenger carrier projects that under current trends and future projections, ridership and revenue are expected to be down 63 percent by the end of fiscal 2021.

That would be worse than the 50 percent decline Amtrak management had predicted earlier when it announced its plans to reduce the operating frequency of most long-distance trains to tri-weekly.

Coscia said Amtrak intends to move forward on $2 billion in critical infrastructure work “that includes safety and reliability measures that we believe will permit the company to come through the pandemic with a railroad that was playing and will play in the nation’s economic recovery.”

He said Amtrak has more than $5 billion of additional investments that could contribute to recovery following the pandemic.

Amtrak said it provided 16.8 million customer trips in FY 2020, down 47.4 percent with a year-over-year decline of 15.2 million riders.

In recent months, ridership has dipped by 20 to 25 percent of pre-COVID levels.

Amtrak Warns of More Job, Service Cuts if it Doesn’t Get More Federal Funding in FY2021

October 10, 2020

Amtrak is again warning of service cuts and job furloughs unless Congress gives it more money.

The passenger carrier has notified lawmakers that it needs $4.857 billion for fiscal year 2021 on top of its earlier FY2021 budget request pf $2.040 billion that it made last February.

Amtrak President William Flynn said in a letter to congressional leaders that Amtrak has suffered a “dramatic loss in ridership and revenue” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is the second time the carrier has sought additional funding above its initial FY2021 funding request.

In late May Amtrak sought $1.475 billion in additional funding, which increased its FY2021 budget request to $3.515 billion.

“Since then, we have seen that our ridership is not returning as quickly or at the levels that we had hoped for,” Flynn said.

The letter did not identify specific trains that may be at risk of suspension and/or discontinuance, but suggested that cuts would fall on state-supported corridor services and Northeast Corridor trains.

It also warned that 2,400 jobs would be pared if Amtrak’s federal funding does not increase. Capital spending projects in the works would also have to be deferred.

An appendix to the letter said state corridor service could be reduced by up to 65 percent of pre-pandemic levels because state payments will increase to unaffordable levels.

Amtrak has contracts with 20 partners in 17 states in support of 28 state-supported routes.

Flynn’s letter also listed $5.193 billion in projects that could be part of economy stimulus programs, including major infrastructure projects, new rolling stock, and station improvements. These projects could generate more than 75,000 jobs.

Amtrak is currently receiving federal funding under a continuing resolution approved by Congress during the last week of September that funds the federal government at FY2020 levels through Dec. 11.

Flynn’s letter expressed concern that Congress may opt later this year to continue to fund the passenger carrier at that level.

 “If the [FY2020{ funding level is extended beyond Dec. 11, 2020, and supplemental funding has not yet been provided we will be unable to avoid more drastic impacts that could have long-lasting effects on our Northeast Corridor infrastructure and the national rail system,” Flynn wrote.

Of the $4.857 billion that Amtrak is seeking, $3.227 billion would go to Amtrak’s services and capital program with $1.704 billion for the Northeast Corridor, $413 million for the Amtrak share of state-supported services, and $1.110 billion for long-distance service.

The remaining $1.63 billion would support Amtrak RRIF/debt payments, state and commuter partner payments that are payable to Amtrak under Sections 209 and 212, the costs of any congressional workforce or service directives, and added revenue risk beyond our current projection.

In an unrelated development, the Senate Commerce Committee delayed a hearing that it was scheduled to hold this week to examine Amtrak’s cuts in service frequencies for its long-distance trains.

The hearing has been sought by Senator Jon Tester of Montana to review planned service cuts of the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder and other long-distance trains that are being implemented this month.

The Senate is in recess until Oct. 19 due to an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Washington.

Amtrak Execs Defend Move to Tri-Weekly Trains

August 18, 2020

Amtrak management is not counting on Congress to direct it to continue operating its long-distance trains on daily schedules this fall and winter but will maintain the status quo if so directed by lawmakers.

In an interview with Trains magazine, Amtrak President William Flynn and Senior Executive Vice President Stephen Gardner said the carrier has not developed contingency plans to operate its long-distance trains daily after October when it will be implementing tri-weekly service on all routes except the Auto Train.

“I don’t envision a situation where Congress is giving us something above the $3.5 billion,” Gardner said, “And they are not being fairly clear about what they expect in terms of operating levels.”

He was referring in part to Amtrak’s request for $1.475 billion in supplemental funding on top of the carrier’s $2.04 billion budget request for federal fiscal year 2021, which begins Oct. 1.

The House has approved $10 billion in funding for Amtrak in FY2021 along with a mandate to continue daily service on all routes that have it now.

However, the Senate has yet to act on the FY2021 appropriations bills. The Rail Passengers Association reported last week that Congressional hearings on Amtrak funding may be held in September.

“If Congress directs us to operate a seven-day service we will,” Flynn said.

But he warned that if Congress doesn’t provide suitable funding Amtrak will “have to make additional cuts to the workforce, and it would certainly affect our capital plans and suggest reductions on the Northeast Corridor and perhaps elsewhere on the national network.”

Flynn said Amtrak has not developed contingency plans for operating a daily long-distance network past October.

During the interview, both Amtrak executives defended the move to tri-weekly service with Gardner saying the situation this year is quite different than it was in 1995 when Amtrak reduced the operation of several, but not all, long-distance trains to tri- and quad-weekly after a consulting firm recommended that as a way to save money during a budget crunch.

A Government Accounting Office report later noted that the projected savings largely failed to materialize as expected because some costs did not fall as much as expected.

“We feel good about being able to save significant dollars for a limited period, and that makes sense because demand is so low,” Gardner said.

Amtrak has projected that operating long-distance trains at tri-weekly levels will yield a savings of $150 million.

Gardner, who serves as Amtrak’s chief operating and commercial officer, acknowledged that tri-weekly operation of trains is not ideal.

“Three days per week is not a good solution in a normal revenue environment [but] we’ve done our homework,” he said.

Trains also reported on Monday that earlier versions of the metrics Amtrak said it will use to determine when to return long-distance trains to daily operation were rejected by Capitol Hill staffers.

The staffers apparently proposed using metrics including airport bookings along long-distance routes and system-wide percentage drops in ridership since April.

Those suggestions also sought to chart long-distance ridership from October to May, something the Trains report said would overlook the strength of holiday-period travel.

Amtrak revenue in July was down 82 percent when compared with July 2019.

The 15 long-distance trains contributed 54 percent of the ticket revenue and long-distance trains income was down 61 percent when compared to July 2019.

Northeast Corridor revenue was down 93 percent and state-supported revenue was off 83 percent.

In the meantime, Amtrak has ceased selling sleeping car space starting Oct. 5 on the days that long-distance trains will not operate.

A statement issued by Amtrak on Monday said the carrier hopes to restore some or all long-distance service to daily operation in 2021, but that will hinge on adequate federal funding in FY2021 and at this point it is unclear how much money Amtrak will receive.

Amtrak Announces Tri-Weekly Service Schedules

August 18, 2020

Amtrak on Monday announced that it will be implementing tri-weekly service on all long-distance trains except the Auto Train starting the week of Oct. 5.

Amtrak said operations have been planned to preserve connections between long-distance trains in Chicago by having most trains originate and terminate there on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.

However, there will be no same-day connections in Chicago from the eastern long-distance trains and the westbound Texas Eagle.

In a service advisory posted on its website the intercity rail passenger carrier attributed the decreased service to depressed travel demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The advisory made no reference to saving money although that point was made in a white paper that Amtrak posted to its website more than a week ago.

No scheduled departure or arrival times at any station will change. Amtrak said all stations on all routes will continue to have service on the days that the trains operate past those stations.

The Auto Train will continue to operate daily between Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida, and the Cardinal (Chicago-New York) and Sunset Limited (New Orleans-Los Angeles) already operate on tri-weekly schedules and are thus not affected by the changes.

The Silver Meteor and Silver Star (New York-Miami) moved to less than daily service on July 6.

The carrier also said sleeping cars will continue to operate on all trains that have them now and business class service will continue to be offered on the Coast Starlight (Seattle-Los Angeles), Lake Shore Limited (New York-Chicago) and Palmetto (New York-Savannah, Georgia).

Passengers who had reservations for travel on days when long-distance trains will not be operating will be re-accommodated or given a refund.

Schedule changes that will be implemented the week of Oct. 5 include:

California Zephyr (Chicago-Emeryville, California), depart Chicago on Monday, Wednesday, Saturday; depart Emeryville on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday

Capitol Limited (Chicago-Washington), depart Washington on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday; depart Chicago on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.

City of New Orleans (Chicago-New Orleans), depart New Orleans on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday; depart Chicago on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.

Crescent (New York-New Orleans, depart New York on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday; depart New Orleans on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.

Schedule changes that will be implemented the Week of Oct. 12 include:

Coast Starlight, depart Seattle on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday; depart Los Angeles on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.

Lake Shore Limited (Chicago-New York/Boston), depart Chicago on Monday, Thursday and Saturday, depart New York/Boston on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

Southwest Chief (Chicago-Los Angeles), depart Chicago on Monday, Thursday and Saturday, depart Los Angeles on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Texas Eagle (Chicago-San Antonio (Los Angeles), depart Chicago on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday; depart San Antonio on Tuesday, Friday, Sunday.

Schedule changes that will be implemented the week of Oct. 19:

Empire Builder (Chicago-Seattle/Portland), depart Chicago on Monday, Thursday and Saturday; depart Seattle/Portland on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Palmetto, depart New York on Monday, Thursday and Saturday; depart Savannah on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

Amtrak Service Cuts Seem to be Fait Accompli

August 18, 2020

Amtrak’s announcement on Monday that all but one of its 15 long-distance trains will transition to less-than-daily service in October had a sense of finality to it.

The company had informed its employees of the move in early summer but held off announcing it to the public, presumably while it planned which trains would operate on what days.

Now that planning is complete.

Of course much can happen between now and Oct. 1 when the federal fiscal year 2021 begins. Or maybe not.

The Senate has taken little action on appropriations bills for FY 2021. This is hardly surprising given that 2020 is a presidential election year and appropriations are highly political.

The failure of Congress to reach agreement on the next year’s budget before that budget year begins is not new.

In the past, the government has been kept operating through a series of continuing resolutions that generally maintain funding at the same level as the previous fiscal year.

Although the House has approved an additional $10 million for Amtrak with a directive to maintain daily service on all routes that have it now, Amtrak management has apparently concluded that that mandate is unlikely to be adopted by the Senate and/or adopted before the start of FY2021 on Oct. 1.

It may be that the House in approving the additional $10 million was merely making a political statement.

The House members who pushed that additional funding through may have done so knowing that it was likely to be negotiated away in talks with the Senate over the FY2021 budget.

Funding for intercity rail passenger service is a mere spec in the federal budget and can easily be overshadowed by higher profile spending priorities.

This is not to say that in the end negotiators might agree to the additional money because of political pressure. Passenger rail spending has some friends in the Senate.

But none of this is guaranteed no matter how many letters rail passenger advocates write or how many phone calls they make.

The passenger train advocacy community has largely and roundly criticized the move to tri-weekly service on most long-distance trains.

Some believe it is merely the first step toward abolishing the long-distance network altogether by depressing ridership.

Yet there are scenarios in which passenger train advocates might wish they had tri-weekly trains.

Amtrak has said it needs approximately $3 billion in FY2021 to support even tri-weekly levels of service for long-distance trains.

If Congress gives Amtrak its original $2 billion budget request, Amtrak has warned that all long-distance trains will be “at risk.”

Although the carrier hasn’t spelled out what that means, it probably would lead to some trains running less frequently than tri-weekly or not operating at all.

Amtrak President William Flynn has repeatedly said Amtrak is “committed” to its national network.

He has not said, though, that Amtrak is “committed” to operating the national network in the same manner that it operated pre-pandemic.

There are a number of issues that have yet to get much discussion in the conversation about tri-weekly service.

Why will there be no same-day connections in Chicago from the eastern long-distance trains and the westbound Texas Eagle? That seems rather odd considering that connections will be available on most days to all other western long-distance trains out of Chicago.

There also has been little discussion about whether some long-distance trains might be restored to daily service late next spring or in early summer but others will not be because they failed to meet the metrics that Amtrak has published.

Trains magazine passenger writer Bob Johnston raised the question in article in the September issue the magazine of host railroads demanding expensive capital investments before agreeing to reinstate daily service on routes that have it now.

Is that a serious concern? It could be but no one at Amtrak has addressed that.

The Rail Passengers Association has raised concerns about Amtrak lacking enough personnel to reinstate daily service after several months of tri-weekly service.

A byproduct of the tri-weekly service plan is cutting Amtrak’s workforce. Engineers, conductors and on-board staff will be furloughed.

Is this a serious concern or just rail passenger advocacy talking points?

There are many scenarios that could come to pass. That doesn’t mean all of them will. But increasingly tri-weekly trains are looking to be a fait accompli.

Amtrak Releases Criteria for Service Restorations

August 12, 2020

The long-awaited criteria that Amtrak said it will use to determine when tri-weekly long distance passenger trains will be restored to daily operation was released on Tuesday.

In a statement posted on its website, Amtrak said it will use three metrics.

COVID-19 hospitalizations must be stable or declining as of Feb. 15, 2021.

Advance bookings for June 2021 must be at least 90 percent of the available seat-miles or room-miles of the figure for June 2020, as of Feb. 15, 2020.

This will take into account limits on ticket sales to promote social distancing, as well as other COVID-related measures.

Ridership in the first quarter of fiscal year 2021, which begins on Oct. 1, must be at least 90 percent of projections in Amtrak’s 2021 operating plan.

All three of the criteria must be met for a given route to be restored to daily level of service.

Amtrak said the earliest that daily service restoration will occur is next May and the latest date is June 30, 2021.

The statement said Amtrak’s goal is that all long-distance service will be restored by that date provided that the U.S. and Amtrak are “healthy, consistent with restoration metrics, and sufficient funding assistance is provided by Congress.”

Amtrak indicated sufficient federal funding would be at least $3.5 billion for FY2021.

The passenger carrier said earlier this year that effective Oct. 1 it would reduce the frequency of operation of all long-distance trains to tri-weekly.

The exceptions include the Silver Meteor (New York-Miami), which will operate quad-weekly, and the Auto Train, which will continue to operate daily.

Amtrak has said that it is making the service cuts because it expects ridership in the coming fiscal year to be only half of what it was in FY2019, the last full fiscal year before the pandemic began in March 2020.

The Amtrak statement said ridership of its long-distance trains fell by 81 percent in March and April combined.

Although Amtrak has yet to release schedule information for tri-weekly operation, it did say in the statement that it will seek to preserve “timely” connections in Chicago for long-distance travelers.

“The thrice-weekly schedules are being designed to preserve a high percentage of the existing connecting opportunities on the days that trains will operate,” the statement said.

Passengers who already hold reservations for same-day Chicago connections that will be broken by the new tri-weekly schedules will be notified in advance of travel and given the option of canceling their reservations and receiving a full refund.

The statement said, though, that passengers whose connections are taken away on their existing itinerary will also be offered a new itinerary with “valid connections.”

Silver Service Changes Coming July 6

July 3, 2020

Amtrak will implement on Monday (July 6) changes to the operations of its Silver Star and Silver Meteor trains between New York and Miami.

Currently both trains operate daily but that will no longer be the case as operation is curtailed so that there will be just one daily train between New York and Miami.

The Silver Star will depart on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; and depart Miami on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

The Silver Meteor will depart New York on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday; and depart Miami on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said each train will have five refurbished Amfleet II coaches, three Viewliner sleeping cars, an Amfleet café car and a Viewliner II sleeper lounge for the exclusive use of sleeper class passengers.

Although train service to Tampa will only operate three days a week, an Amtrak Thruway bus connection serving Tampa will connect with the Silver Meteor at Orlando.

The New York-Savannah, Georgia, Palmetto will continue to operate daily as will the Auto Train between Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida.

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.