Posts Tagged ‘pandemic’

Canada Federal Budget Has Funds for VIA Corridor, Infrastructure Projects

April 28, 2021

Canada expects to budget $4.4 million for planning work on VIA Rail Canada’s proposed “high frequency rail” project.

The project seeks to create a passenger-only route for part of the Toronto-Quebec City corridor.

Also in the budget proposal is $491.2 million over six years, beginning in 2021-22, for VIA infrastructure projects that would support the high frequency rail project.

The budget document said $491.2 million would “help reduce bottlenecks, improve fluidity and connectivity, and allow VIA to take an important step toward high-frequency rail in the corridor.”

In an unrelated matter, VIA said that more stringent travel restrictions imposed last week in Ontario and Quebec are not expected to effect the railroad’s scheduled service.

“Passengers are responsible to comply with provincial restrictions,” VIA said in a statement.

Ontario’s new order prohibits non-essential travel into the province while Quebec has closed its borders to travelers from Ontario, where COVID-19 cases are on the rise.

Amtrak Set to Get $1B in Pandemic Aid

April 13, 2020

The U.S. Department of Transportation said late last week that it will be conveying $1 billion to Amtrak that was appropriated as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

The funding was approved by Congress after the passenger carrier reported that it was expected to lose that amount of money due to a 90 percent plunge in bookings and a wave of cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a news release, DOT said the emergency aid will help Amtrak maintain service when the economy recovers.

DOT said the CARES funding is intended to offset the loss of ticket revenue, enable the carrier to continue to pay its employees, buy fuel for its operations and construction materials for its projects.

The CARES Act funding will grant Amtrak $492 million for the Northeast Corridor and $526 million for its national network.

At $239 million of the funding will be used in lieu of any increase in states payments for Amtrak corridor service.

Carolinian to be Temporarily Suspended

April 5, 2020

The North Carolina Department of Transportation has further reduced the number of Amtrak trains that it is sponsoring during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Effective April 6 the Carolinian, which operates between Charlotte and New York, will be suspended.

The suspension will last through at least May 4.

The department had earlier reduced Piedmont Service between Charlotte and Raleigh.

There will now be just one pair of Piedmonts, Nos. 75 and 78, operating between April 6 and May 4.

A news release from the department said Amtrak is waiving change fees on all existing reservations until May 31.

Passengers can modify their trip on Amtrak.com​, or find their reservation on the home screen in the Amtrak app. To cancel a reservation with no fee, passengers must call 800-BY-TRAIN and speak with an agent (not available via Amtrak.com or the app).

Infrastructure Funding Might be in Next Legislation to Address COVID-19 Pandemic

April 2, 2020

Congress is eyeing a fourth bill to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and it might address infrastructure funding.

President Donald Trump has signaled that he would support a $2 trillion infrastructure package as part of that legislation.

Other congressional leaders have also identified areas they would like to see funded but some observers think that whatever bill makes it through the House and Senate will be limited to health care matters.

Congress most recently approved a stimulus bill providing $2.2 trillion in funding, which is several hundred billion dollars more than the federal budget for one fiscal year.

Lawmakers are hoping that the stimulus bill will benefit the economy by as much as an additional $4 trillion.

The $1.018 billion that the stimulus bill provided for Amtrak was intended in part to limit the funding states must pay for services they support.

In an unrelated development, the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners reported that several moves of private cars via Amtrak that had been planned in March were canceled by their owners as a result of the pandemic.

AAPRCO also posted its mid-term meeting from March 23 to late July.

San Joaquin Service Being Trimmed

March 24, 2020

Amtrak service on the San Joaquin route in California will be reduced on March 26 due to COVID-19 pandemic.

A news release issued by the San Joaquins Joint Powers Authority said the changes are due to falling ridership, travel restrictions and the need to maintain appropriate social distancing aboard the trains.

Ridership of the San Joaquin route has fallen by 70 percent in recent weeks.
Trains 701, 702, 703, 704, 714, and 717 are being suspended.

This will temporarily end direct train service to Lodi and Sacramento, which will continue to be served by Thruway Buses to/from all operating trains.

For the time being café car service has ended in order to eliminate risks from food handling and reduce unnecessary onboard passenger movement. Emergency snack packs and water will be distributed to passengers at no charge.

Station lobbies are being temporarily closed at Hanford, Fresno, Merced, Modesto and Martinez but trains will continue to stop there.

Reduce station hours will be in effect at Bakersfield, Stockton, Sacramento, Emeryville and Oakland.

Tickets can be purchased via amtraksanjoaquins.com, the Amtrak app, by calling 800-USA-RAIL, and onboard from the conductor with cash.

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.