Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak service reductions’

Next Round of Service Cuts Begin Oct. 12

October 10, 2020
Amtrak’s westbound Lake Shore Limited arrives in Waterloo, Indiana, on Oct. 8, 2020.

The next round of frequency reductions of Amtrak long-distance trains will be implemented on Oct. 12 when the Lake Shore Limited, Texas Eagle, Coast Starlight and Southwest Chief begin tri-weekly operation.

On Oct. 5 the Capitol Limited, California Zephyr, City of New Orleans and Crescent shifted to operating tri-weekly operation.

The Empire Builder and Palmetto will change to tri-weekly operation on Oct. 19.

Once that changes are made only the Auto Train will operate daily among Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

The Silver Meteor began quad-weekly operation in early July. At the same time the Silver Star shifted to tri-weekly operation.

The New York-Miami trains are scheduled to operate on separate days so as to preserve daily service on some portions of their routes.

Although some congressional leaders and President Trump continue to issue public statements expressing support for another round of COVID-19 pandemic emergency aid, differences in opinion among the parties as to the size of the aid and what would be covered have prevented any deals from being reached.

Rail passengers advocates have sought to lobby to include emergency aid for Amtrak in the next round of pandemic aid and Amtrak is seeking additional funding in federal fiscal year 2021.

The fate of those funding requests remains unclear and Amtrak president William Flynn has warned that further employee furloughs and train service cuts are likely if Amtrak doesn’t get additional funding for FY 2021.

The passenger carrier like other federally funded programs is operating with funding authorized by a continuing resolution that freezes funding levels at FY 2020 levels through Dec. 11.

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.

Additional Money for Amtrak Prompts Flynn to Back Away From Less than Daily Service

July 11, 2020

Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn told a House appropriations subcommittee that the additional funding it has proposed for the passenger carrier in fiscal year 2021 will enable it to avoid reducing frequency of service of long-distance trains and furloughing employees.

Flynn made the statement in a letter sent to House Appropriations Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies subcommittee Chair Rep. David Price (D-North Carolina) and ranking member Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Florida).

It was an about face from Flynn’s comments in late May that even with additional funding Amtrak would reduce the frequency of operation of all long-distance trains except the Auto Train to less than daily service.

The full Appropriations Committee is expected to soon undertake a markup of the appropriation bill that was introduced by the subcommittee last week.

“This historic level of investment would allow Amtrak to address the short-term operating challenges we recently highlighted in our supplemental request letter, as well as support the longer-term capital needs that are so critical for the railroad’s future,” Flynn wrote.

The Rail Passengers Association, which has been vocal in its opposition to less than daily service by long-distance trains, said Flynn’s letter took a longer view of long distance service.

It said he outlined plans to begin the next stage of fleet replacement, to expand Southeast U.S. service, to make infrastructure investments for the Southwest Chief and other national network routes.

The letter also indicated Amtrak will move ahead on restoring service to the Gulf Coast, which lost it in August 2005 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

RPA said these projects had been in the works but had been put at risk by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.

Amtrak Eyes Florida Service Cuts July 6

June 20, 2020

A Florida rail advocacy group told its members this week that Amtrak plans to reduce the frequency of operation of its Silver Service trains on July 6.

On that date, the group said, Amtrak plans to begin operating the Silver Star and Silver Meteor on alternating days between New York and Miami.

The group cited an Amtrak memo saying the Silver Meteor will depart New York on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and leave Miami on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Silver Star will depart New York on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and leave Miami on Miami on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The memo said both trains will offer expanded capacity for each departure that will include five Amfleet II coaches, three Viewliner sleeping cars, an Amfleet café car, and a Viewliner II sleeper class passenger lounge.

Daily service to Tampa will be provided by a bus connection at Orlando to and from the Silver Meteor on the days the Silver Star does not operate in Florida.

The service changes will not affect operations of the Palmetto, which will continue to operate daily between New York and Savannah, Georgia.

The Florida group is disputing assertions by Amtrak that the service reductions are temporary until ridership rebounds in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group said the planned July changes will mean that Florida stations in Tampa, Okeechobee, Lakeland and Palatka will only have tri-weekly rail service.

Amtrak has not yet announced the changes to operations of the Florida trains on its website.