Posts Tagged ‘COVID-19’

Top Amtrak Executives to Take Pay Cuts

March 23, 2020

Amtrak said over the weekend that it is taking what it termed aggressive steps in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, including reducing the salaries of its top executives.

For now Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said Amtrak will not lay off employees.

An internal memo sent by Amtrak Senior Vice President Stephen Gardner said incoming President William Flynn will not draw his Amtrak salary during the crisis.

Gardner said Amtrak faces a loss of $1 billion due to plunging bookings and widespread cancellations of existing reservations.

The intercity passenger carrier has asked the federal government for a supplemental appropriation to cover lost revenue.

The pay cuts will take effect April 1. Flynn is scheduled to replace Anderson in the CEO chair on April 15.

Amtrak will suspend its its 401(k) matching contribution for management employees through the end of the calendar year.

“We recognize these actions have a serious impact on our employees and their families,” Gardner said in the memo. “But we are taking this action to help protect everyone. We appreciate your support as we work our way through this crisis together.”

Other measures being taken by Amtrak include ending all non-safety-critical hiring; cutting discretionary travel, professional fees, and advertising spending; and deferring non-priority capital expenses.

In a dial-in town hall meeting for Amtrak workers held on Friday, Anderson said the carrier is seeking to avoid involuntary furloughs.

The carrier will meet a commitment in current labor agreements granting employees a 3.5 percent pay increase on July 1, but Anderson called for union leaders to consider delaying but not cancelling the increase until Amtrak ridership recovers.

Anderson hinted that if the unions balk at delaying the pay raise the carrier might revoke its non-layoff stance.

“General chairmen need to get engaged and figure out how to do this if we are to avoid an involuntary furlough, given that we don’t have any business anymore,” Anderson said.

“We have been through a lot of tough times with Amtrak—from host railroads that want to put us out of business, to presidents who don’t want to fund us, to [a] Congress that doesn’t always want to properly fund us, and to states and private companies that would like to take over our services,” Anderson said.

He said Acela ridership in the Northeast Corridor has fallen by 92 percent, Acela reservations are down by 99 percent and bookings for long-distance trains have declined by 64 percent.

Anderson expects those numbers to worsen as additional government imposed restrictions are placed on personal mobility.

“On 9/11, we knew specifically what the root cause of the problem was at the time, [and] the transportation system recovered fairly quickly,” Anderson said. “In this instance, we don’t have clear direction of what the end point of the coronavirus is.”

Amtrak has more than $3 billion of cash on hand but Anderson said the carrier must continue to pay operating expenses and pay interest on its existing loans.

It has halted spending on capital projects except those needed to keeping trains moving.

“By any measure, the economy is in recession,” Anderson said. “We can’t just count on Congress to close our gap.”

Saying there is no reason to operate empty trains, Anderson said Northeast Corridor service has been cut by 40 percent and 10 routes have reduced service with more service cuts coming.

Although the long-distance network will remain intact, Anderson said 40 percent of its seat capacity has been removed in the form of operating fewer rail cars.

“We need to be aggressive in preserving our cash,” Anderson said.

“I’m certain that the long-distance network will be very different longer term,” he said. “Over the past three or four years, it has taken more than $2.5 billion of federal money to keep the long-distance network operating, and if we don’t have the subsidy from the Northeast Corridor and state [supported corridor] trains bearing their share of the national network, the loss gets that much bigger.”

Anderson acknowledged that the steps Amtrak has taken are “demoralizing,” but said it would be be more demoralizing to tell people they don’t have a job anymore.

“That’s what we are working to avoid. If we just stood here and didn’t do anything, and one day in July or August we told everybody that the company was near liquidation and that we were going to lay off 10,000 or 15,000 people, that would be far more demoralizing. That would be irresponsible,” Anderson said.

In the meantime, Amtrak announced it will suspend all Acela Express service in the Northeast Corridor on Monday.

Northeast Corridor service will be covered by a schedule of Northeast Regional trains operating at 40 percent of the regular weekday schedule.

Until now Amtrak had suspended only a small number of Acela Express trains.

Acela service carried 3.5 million in 2019 of the 12.5 million ridership in the Northeast Corridor.

Other service cuts today are set to be implemented in California and North Carolina.

Midwest Corridor Services Being Curtailed

March 18, 2020

Amtrak has announced its first service reductions due to the COVID-19 virus to effect service in the Midwest.

Effective March 19 the carrier will cancel the Chicago-Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pere Marquette and reduce service on the Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) route from three daily roundtrips to two.

Service on the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service route will also be reduced to four daily roundtrips.

Wolverine Service trains will leave Chicago in early morning and early afternoon with the evening trip canceled.

Westbound trains will depart from Pontiac in early and mid morning with the evening trip to Chicago canceled.

Hiawatha Service will depart from Chicago at 6:10 a.m., 8:25 a.m., 3:15 p.m., 5:08 p.m. and from Milwaukee at 6:15 a.m., 8:05 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7:35 p.m.

There will be an 11:40 p.m. bus from Chicago to Milwaukee but not returning bus service is shown on the Amtrak website.

Amtrak earlier had announced that the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian would be canceled between March 19-29.

Other eastern corridor service has also been curtailed with some trains operating on shortened routes.

Keystone Service, Pennsylvanian to be Suspended

March 17, 2020

Amtrak said today that effective March 18 it will suspend all Keystone Service trains.

The New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian will be suspended effective March 19.

A service advisory said the decision was made in coordination with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

More Amtrak service suspensions are expected as a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. This will likely include corridor services in California and possibly elsewhere.

Also service cuts that have recently been announced include the Ethan Allen Express between New York and Rutland, Vermont.

Downeaster Service between Boston and Maine has seen the suspension of Trains 688 and 689 effective March 17.

Effective March 21 Downeaster Service will be covered by two train sets.

A news report also indicated that Amtrak will seek $1 billion in assistance to cover revenue lost from the pandemic.

The carrier said bookings are down by 50 percent and reservation cancellations are up by 300 percent.

VIA Suspends Trains, Reduces Service Levels

March 17, 2020

VIA Rail Canada has also announced that it has suspended its Canadian, Ocean and long distance eastern and western routes until March 27 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Canadian intercity rail passenger carrier has also reduced service in its corridor linking Windsor, Ontario, and Quebec City by 50 percent.

Onboard meal service has been modified to conform to social distancing guidelines.

Aditional workers are being added to conduct sanitization procedures, which may result in trip delays and late departures.

Cascades, Downeaster Latest Amtrak Service Cuts

March 17, 2020

Amtrak announced a few more service reductions on Monday due to the COVID-19 pandemic but thus far none of those involve service in the Midwest or long-distance trains.

It may be a matter of time before corridor services are curtailed. Amtrak is reportedly talking with states that fund corridor service about service reductions.

The latest cutbacks affect the Cascades Service in the Pacific Northwest and the Downeaster Service to Maine.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said the closing of Pacific Central Station in Vancouver, British Columbia, has mean that Cascades service north of Seattle has been suspended.

Daily thruway bus service between Seattle, Everett, Mt. Vernon and Bellingham will still operate.

On the Downeaster route service is being reduced between March 17 and March 22.

Amtrak Makes More Service Cuts in the East

March 15, 2020

Amtrak will be making additional service cuts in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Effective on March 15, the Maple Leaf will temporarily cease operating between Toronto and Niagara Falls, New York.

Nos. 63 and 64 will continue to operate between New York and Niagara Falls.

The Adirondack will cease operating north of Albany-Rensselaer, New York, but will continue to operate between New York City and Albany.

Effective March 16 service in the Northeast Corridor will be reduced to a typical Saturday schedule on a daily basis.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said it will continue to maintain frequent service by Acela and Northeast Regional trains to Boston, New York, Washington and Virginia points.

The service reductions in the Northeast Corridor will extend through March 29.

Amtrak earlier had announced reduction of service in the Keystone Corridor to a typical Saturday schedule with service suspended to Ardmore, Pennsylvania.

That service cut does not affect daily operation of the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian.

Also starting March 15 service on the Harford Line and the Valley Flyer will operate on a Saturday schedule on a daily basis.

Amtrak Eyes Service Cuts Due to Lost Revenue, Bookings

March 13, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic may cost Amtrak “several hundred million dollars” due to cancellations and depressed bookings.

The passenger carrier has warned its employees that this may result in significant reductions in service.

Thus far Amtrak has suspended operations of three Acela Express trains and will curtail operations in its Keystone Corridor in Pennsylvania effective today.

In an announcement posted on its website, Amtrak said that in coordination with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Keystone Service will operate on a reduced schedule, with no service to the Ardmore Station.

Effective March 13 Amtrak will operate 18 daily Keystone trains (nine in each direction) along with the Pennsylvanian between New York and Pittsburgh.

All trains will remain in service on the weekend. Amtrak said this schedule reflects the “S” schedule or special schedule that Keystone Service has set for severe weather or other service disruptions.

In an email sent to Amtrak employees earlier this week, the company’s senior vice present and chief operating officer, Stephen Gardner, said the carrier has instituted “aggressive measures to cut costs.”

Gardner said future bookings are down 50 percent compared with a year ago and cancellations are up more than 300 percent.

Amtrak plans to implement a voluntary leave program for “non-mission critical employees” willing to take unpaid time off.

The passenger carrier has also said it is waiving change fees for all trip reservations made before April 30.

It is not just Amtrak that has been affected by the COVID-19 outbreaks. Airlines have reported drops in bookings and are canceling flights.

Also hit hard has been public transportation. Northestar Research Partners said a poll it conducted found that Americans are switching their travel habits from public transit to either staying home or relying more on cars to get around.

Of the 1,000 people surveyed, 48 percent indicated a belief that riding public transit poses a high health risk due to the virus, and 30 percent to 40 percent said they have reduced their use of public transportation.

“People’s movement away from public transit is likely to have long-term consequences,” said Jennifer Yellin, senior vice president and co-lead of Northstar’s transportation practice.

“The implications include lost revenue for public transit authorities, which is ultimately used to upgrade and maintain systems.”

Public transit systems have stepped up cleaning of their rail cars and buses as well as stations.

Amtrak said it will disinfect trains and stations multiple times a day, and, in some cases, on an hourly basis.

Amtrak Still Operating Most Trains

March 12, 2020

Amtrak said this week that it will continue operating the bulk of its trains but is taking precautions to guard against coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.

The carrier said that includes increasing the cleaning of trains and stations, and stocking up on additional quantities of sanitizers and disinfectant wipes to be made available for passengers and employees.

Amtrak said it has waived change fees travel on bookings made through April 30.

Thus far the only trains that Amtrak has suspended are three Acela Express trains between New York and Washington.

In a notice posted on its website and sent out via an email blast, Amtrak said it continues to monitor the virus and is taking the advice of health experts.