Posts Tagged ‘Roger Harris’

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.

Amtrak Taking ‘Gamble’ on Acela Reinstatement

May 15, 2020

A high-ranking Amtrak executive acknowledged to The Wall Street Journal that returning Acela Express service on June 1 is something of a gamble.

Amtrak Executive Vice President Roger Harris, who serves as the company’s chief marketing officer, said the carrier is betting that some business travel will have resumed by then or will soon resume.

But Harris acknowledged that how soon passengers will return remains unknown.

Harris told the newspaper that Amtrak fears losing premium travelers to air shuttles in between New York and Washington after competing successfully against them for decades.

Only 60 percent of the available seats aboard the trains will be available for sale.

The article also said Amtrak is talking with its unions about delaying a scheduled pay increase set to be awarded on July 1.

Amtrak Pausing Guest Rewards Deadlines

April 7, 2020

Amtrak has extended some deadlines for members of its Amtrak rewards frequent traveler program.

An email message sent to members by Amtrak’s Roger Harris, the chief marketing and revenue officer, said that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the carrier is pausing the expiration dates of coupons that members might have in their accounts to Sept. 25.

It is likewise pausing use it or lose it expiration dates to redeem points that come up in the next few months to Sept. 25.

Harris said Amtrak is evaluating potential adjustments for 2021 tier qualification and will be announcing information about that as details are confirmed.

The notice said that change fees are being waived for new or existing reservations made before May 31 and this includes reservations made with frequent traveler points.

Amtrak to Change Fare Rules March 1

February 24, 2020

Amtrak plans to make some of its most popular discounted tickets non-changeable and non-refundable on March 1.

The changes to the terms of the “saver” tickets mirror the rules applied to discounted airline fares.

Amtrak also plans to tighten the rules on standard fare tickets at the same time.

Currently, passengers buying “saver” tickets have some flexibility to change their travel plans and to get a refund if they cancel their trip.

Amtrak Executive Vice President Roger Harris, who is the carrier’s chief marketing and revenue officer, said tightening the rules for discounted tickets is a trade-off that will allow the railroad to make “the very lowest fares even lower.”

But no longer will passengers be able to get refunds for discounted tickets. “In other words, once you buy it, you use it or you lose it,” Harris said.

The changes in the fare rules had been expected after Business Insider last December published a leaked internal Amtrak memo describing plans for fare restrictions.

This isn’t the first time that Amtrak has cracked down on refunds and cancellations.

The carrier two years began imposing a 25 percent cancellation penalty.

Ticket change penalties are standard in the airline industry and in 2018 the airlines raked in $2.7 billion in reservation-change and cancellation.

Amtrak expected to gain $10 million dollars a year from the rule changes.

The new fare rules that become effective next month will affect “saver” and “value” tickets by establishing a 24-hour window for passengers to change their travel plans once ticketed.

After 24 hours, the ticket will become nonrefundable, and no changes or upgrades will be allowed.

Currently rules allow discounted tickets to be changed at any time before departure subject to a 25 percent cancellation fee.

Standard and value fares will come with a 25 percent penalty for cancellations or a 15 percent penalty for changes made within two weeks of departure, unless the passenger is changing or upgrading the reservation on the same train or day as the original reservation.

Standard fares currently are fully refundable if canceled eight days or more before departure. If canceled less than eight days before departure, the 25 percent cancellation fee applies.

Flexible, business and Acela First-Class Premium tickets are still refundable up to the moment of departures and changes can be made at any time.

Amtrak said that in the wake of its fare rule changes it will promote even more discounted fares for travel aboard its Acela and long-distance trains.

One area in which Amtrak continues to distinguish itself from the airlines is with add-on fees.

The carrier said it has no plans to charge passenger fees for baggage.

But Harris said that doesn’t mean it will never impose such fees.

“Frankly, we should review it,” he said. “But I don’t think we’re going to be like an airline that suddenly says give me $30 for your bag. I don’t think that’s the value proposition that we offer.”

Amtrak allows passengers two personal items and two carry-ons, plus two checked bags free.

Amtrak Names New Executive VP

April 3, 2019

Amtrak has named Roger Harris as executive vice president and chief marketing and commercial officer effective April 12.

He will succeed Tim Griffin, who is retiring on that date.

In a news release, Amtrak said Harris will be responsible for corporate marketing, sales distribution, network and consist planning, market research, pricing and revenue management.

He also will oversee the Northeast Corridor, state-supported and long-distance service lines.

Harris joined Amtrak in January as Vice president of long-distance service business line.

His more than 25 years in the transportation industry included serving as vice president of revenue, distribution and alliances for Aeromexico, and positions at Delta Air Lines, Sun Country Airlines, GMAC Financial Services, Northwest/KLM Airlines and Chrysler.