Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Gardner’

Amtrak Says 3C+D Could Start in 2 Years

May 21, 2021

Amtrak service between Cleveland and Cincinnati via Columbus and Dayton could be up and running in as little as two years, company executives said this week.

Amtrak Chairman William Flynn and President Steven Gardner joined several Ohio elected and civic officials in an online roundtable designed to build support for the proposed service.

However, getting the service out of the station hinges on Congress appropriating the billions the passenger carrier is seeking to develop a series of new corridors across the country.

Gardner also noted that Amtrak needs to negotiate agreements with the host railroads whose tracks it will use on the 250-mile route.

“We believe we could start initial service, maybe one round-trip or a few, without much initial investment, using current track speeds,” Gardner said. “We believe we could get started here in hopefully what would be a relatively short period of a couple of years.”

In the meantime, what was once called the 3C corridor is now being branded as the 3C+D route to include Dayton in the nomenclature.

Garnder said the length of the route is is the sweet spot for successful intercity passenger rail service.

“This service is the type of service we should have for major cities, and for an important state like Ohio,” he said. “Frankly, it should have happened a long time ago.”

The 3C+D corridor is part of an ambitious plan by Amtrak to expand intercity service.

Aside from the Cleveland-Cincinnati route, Amtrak has proposed creating additional service on existing routes through Cleveland to Detroit and Buffalo.

The passenger carrier would front the money to be used for capital costs to develop the routes and initially pay the operating costs of the trains.

But state and local governments would be expected to assume operating costs on a sliding scale with Amtrak’s share declining until states would pay all of the operating costs.

Although the proposed 3C+D service received endorsements from various mayors who joined the call, Ohio Gov. Michael DeWine has been noncommittal about it.

Last month DeWine said he was reserving judgment on the plan until he could learn more about it, including its potential cost to the state.

Although neither DeWine nor a representative of the Ohio Department of Transportation participated in this week’s online roundtable, Gardner said Amtrak is “anxious to work with the state to look at what that partnership could be and put together a model that makes sense for Ohio.”

During the roundtable, Amtrak said the3C+D route would have stations in Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati as well as at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Crestline, Delaware, Springfield and Sharonville.

Service is expected to be three round-trips per day with additional trips being added as ridership grows.

The route is expected to draw as many as 500,000 passengers annually and provide an economic impact of $130 million.

The Cleveland-Cincinnati travel time would be about 5.5 hours, but track improvements could cut that to 4 hours and 55 minutes.

Gardner said that a train does not need to be faster than car travel, but does need to be competitive. “The time on the train is productive time, which is not the same as driving time,” he said. “You can work, you can have access to wi-fi, you can socialize, you can walk around. It’s a much more comfortable and productive method,” he said.

Cleveland has the most current Amtrak service of the cities in the 3C+D corridor being served by the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited and the Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited.

Trains on both of those routes, though are scheduled to pass through Cleveland between midnight and 6 a.m.

Cincinnati has a similar situation with the Chicago-New York Cardinal. Dayton and Columbus have lacked Amtrak service since the Oct. 1, 1979, discontinuance of the New York-Kansas City National Limited.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson was one of the participants in the roundtable and gave the 3C+D a hearty endorsement.

“We simply don’t have the luxury of choosing not to do this,” he said. “It is about positioning Ohio for the future. It’s not a question of rural or urban or suburban or Democrat or Republican. It’s about do we as Ohioans want to be competitive in the world, in this nation?”

Also participating in the roundtable were Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley; Crestline Mayor Linda Horning-Pitt, and William Murdock, the executive director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.

Columbus is the second-largest metro area in the country without Amtrak service. Phoenix is the largest. 

“Not being in that network puts us at a disadvantage,” Murdock said. 

“Businesses and residents are clamoring for this,” he said. “We know the community is behind it. Investing in Ohio, it makes a lot of sense. It’s grounded not just in major cities, it’s really important to rural areas and smaller metros.”

Murdock said when young people arrive in Columbus one of the first questions they ask is, “Where’s the train stop?”

MORPC released 30 letters of support from community leaders who want expanded Amtrak service in Ohio.

Some of the funding Amtrak hopes to land to develop the 3C+D route would come from the $80 billion earmarked for Amtrak by President Joseph Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal.

However, other funding would be contained in a surface transportation bill Congress is expected to take up later this year.

That bill, though, would merely authorize spending. Other legislation would need to be adopted to appropriate federal funding for Amtrak expansion.

The 3C corridor has been the subject of numerous studies and failed attempts to launch service.

The most recent occurred 11 years ago when the state received a $400 million grant to start the route.

However, John Kasich campaigned for governor on a pledge to refuse the funding, which he made good on after being elected in 2010.

Before that ODOT proposed a Cleveland-Columbus service during a rebuilding of Interstate 71. That also failed to launch.

During the roundtable, Amtrak CEO Flynn said the carrier has spent the past three years developing a strategy to expand service.

Known as Amtrak Connect US, the expansion would touch up to 160 communities in 25 states on more than 30 routes It would be developed over the next 15 years.

Also included in the proposal is additional service between Cincinnati and Chicago via Indianapolis. That route would have an extension from Indianapolis to Louisville, Kentucky.

Although not part of the Amtrak Connect US network, studies are underway of a route between Chicago and Pittsburgh via Columbus.

Although no ODOT officials joined this week’s roundtable, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the passenger carrier has spoken with ODOT and Ohio Rail Development Commission members.

Gardner acknowledged said that much work needs to be done to bring the 3C+D service to fruition.

“These are not insurmountable challenges,” he said.

Generational Change Underway at Amtrak

January 25, 2021

Several weeks ago I conducted an online search to determine the age of Amtrak president Stephen J. Gardner.

Some believe you can find anything on the Internet. Well, almost anything.

Maybe I didn’t look hard enough but I never did find Gardner’s birth date.

But extrapolating from the years that he attended Hampshire College as an undergraduate, which are listed in the resume posted on his Linked In page, I concluded Gardner probably was born in 1976. That makes him fortyish.

He wasn’t around when the original California Zephyr made its last trips in March 1970, when South Dakota lost its last passenger train in September 1969 or when the Twentieth Century Limited succumbed in December 1967.

If his parents took him on a trip by train during his childhood, it likely would have been aboard Amtrak.

By the time Gardner was old enough to begin remember much about the world around him Amtrak was well into the transition from streamliner era equipment to Amfleet and Superliners.

He is not old enough to remember a time when the intercity rail passenger service network was far broader than it is today.

As far as Gardner is concerned there always have been between 15 plus long-distance trains in America, not dozens of them.

Likewise, Gardner’s conception of intercity rail passenger service is that it has always been funded with public money, most of it coming from the federal government.

In many ways, Gardner’s career arc seems ideally suited for working at Amtrak because much of his career has been in the public policy making arena.

He worked for a short time in his early adult years for two railroads, but much of his time has been spent working on Capitol Hill as a congressional staffer.

That gives him insights into the politics of Amtrak funding that many rail passenger advocates don’t understand or don’t want to understand.

Gardner’s vision of the future of intercity rail passenger service is something more akin to Brightline, the privately-owned Florida service that developed in a public-private partnership in a densely populated urban corridor.

Until it suspended operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, Brightlight offered frequent, fast service between Miami and West Palm Beach with modernistic equipment that looks like it has been transplanted from Europe.

In his public comments, Gardner has paid lip service to long-distance passenger trains, saying they will always be a key part of Amtrak’s business.

But he also describes a world of corridor services focused on short-distance travel.

In Gardner’s mind the market for long-distance trains is shrinking and those trains create a mismatch among population density, transportation demand and Amtrak’s existing network.

“We are trading route miles for passenger trips by serving a lot of route miles but not a lot of people,” he said in one presentation.

This doesn’t sound like someone who expects today’s long-distance trains to be around in perpetuity as many baby boomer rail passenger advocates would like.

Top executives at Amtrak come and go. Gardner is the fourth person to sit in the Amtrak president’s chair in the past five years.

How long he will continue at the helm of the intercity passenger carrier remains to be seen.

However, Gardner is part of a wave of younger managers overseeing the passenger carrier who do not have the memories of past generations who lived through the last years of the streamliner era.

When Gardner says long-distance trains will continue to be a key part of Amtrak’s business he is making a political statement.

He knows senators and congressmen from largely rural states look out for those trains and so long as that is the case they will continue to operate at some level.

But that doesn’t mean those running Amtrak are fully vested in those trains or believe they should bear a resemblance of the great streamliners of the past other than their names.

One common theme I see in the writings of some rail passenger advocates is a disenchantment with Amtrak behaving as a sort of generic transportation provider rather than acting like a railroad.

This type of change seems inevitable as those who oversaw Amtrak in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s leave.

What we have seen in the past couple years in regards to Amtrak’s national network is reflective of this transformation.

Whether you like him or not, agree with him or not, the life experiences and vision of rail transportation of people such as Stephen Gardner are the future of Amtrak.

Gardner to Become Amtrak President Dec. 1

December 1, 2020

Amtrak said on Monday that one of its vice presidents will become its president on Dec. 1.

Stephen Gardner

Stephen Gardner, currently Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief operating and commercial officer, will replace William Flynn.

Flynn, who became Amtrak’s president and CEO in April, will remain with the passenger carrier as CEO and a member of its board of directors.

The promotion of Gardner to president had been widely expected by many rail industry observers.

Railway Age reported that Gardner has been making most of the major decisions and setting policy during his time as an Amtrak senior vice president.

His elevation to the president’s chair coincides with the election of Joseph Biden as president. Gardner, like Biden, is a Democrat.

Earlier in his career, Gardner served in staff positions for Congressional Democrats on Capitol Hill, including Delaware Senator Tom Carper.

He joined Amtrak in 2009 after having helped develop railroad and transportation policy for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Before coming to Washington, Gardner worked for Guilford Rail System (now Pan Am Railways) and the Buckingham Branch Railroad.

Railway Age said Gardner is widely recognized as one of the principal authors of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.

The magazine said Gardner was unlikely to become Amtrak’s president so long as Republicans controlled the White House and the Department of Transportation.

In a prepared statement, Amtrak said the change in leadership was “part of a broader set of actions taken . . . to ensure that Amtrak is well positioned for success in fiscal year 2021 and beyond.”

The statement said Gardner will lead day-to-day operations and oversee marketing, operations, planning, government affairs, and corporate communication.

Historically, Amtrak’s president has been its top executive, but during the tenure of the late Joseph Boardman the company added the CEO title to his duties.

Amtrak’s statement said the carrier faces “two urgent challenges in 2021” including weathering the COVID-19 pandemic and bolstering Amtrak’s future.

Amtrak’s presidency has been a revolving door in recent years with no one person holding the position for more than a few years.

Charles “Wick” Moorman, a former CEO of Norfolk Southern, came out of retirement in 2016 to serve as Amtrak president and CEO in what at the time was described as a transitional appointment.

Moorman became co-CEO of Amtrak with Richard Anderson in June 2017, an arrangement that continued through the end of 2017.

Anderson, a former CEO of Delta Air Lines, served as Amtrak’s top executive until being replaced in April 2020 by William Flynn, a former CEO of Atlas Air.

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 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 Looking Toward Post Pandemic World

April 25, 2020

Amtrak management is studying a number of scenarios for ramping service back up once the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.

In the meantime, though, the passenger carrier expects to lose $700 million in adjusted operating earnings as a result of the pandemic.

Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia along with new CEO William Flynn and Executive Vice President Stephen Gardner gave those assessments during a conference call with news reporters.

Amtrak ridership across its system has fallen by 95 percent and it has suspended 57 percent of its services.

Amtrak is receiving $1 billion in emergency federal aid and Coscia said that assistance will enable Amtrak to avoid having to tap its capital reserves and avoid employee layoffs.

He said that before the pandemic began Amtrak was “on track” to break even in operating earnings by Fiscal Year 2021 for the first time in the railroad’s history.

That figure counts as revenue funding that Amtrak receives from various state governments to operate corridor service.

Flynn said the carrier has been taking advantage of the lower ridership period to perform track work and other “critical” projects.

In looking to the future, Flynn said Amtrak officials are studying touchless technology at fare gates and changing some food service.

One idea being explored is enabling passengers to pre-order food and beverages from café cars.

Flynn said Amtrak expects it will take three months or more for ridership to return to pre-pandemic levels.

It is not clear when that clock would start. Some governors have been talking in recent days about easing social distancing restrictions on or after May 1, although some forms of social distancing are expected to remain in place either by mandate or recommendation.

Flynn said Amtrak has been researching various ideas of what the pandemic recovery will look like and have created several service plans based on “surveys of customer sentiment.”

In some instances, Flynn indicated, Amtrak will “introduce product ahead of demand.”

“We have to demonstrate to our customers that we have an attractive product that they will value when they come back,” Flynn said.

Gardner said Amtrak is looking at implementing new ticketing kiosks and text messaging to inform passengers where to head once they arrive at their station.

The downloadable schedules that have been removed from the Amtrak website will be reintroduced once services are restored.

Flynn said none of Amtrak’s unions have thus far shown an interest in delaying or giving up negotiated wage increases.

“But we continue to work with union leadership so they understand where we are in this crisis and how we are going to move forward,” he said.

Trains magazine reported that Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said 58 percent of onboard service employees are on an extra board that guarantees them 150 hours per month of work.

Regularly assigned employees are guaranteed a 180-hour month, so their pay cut works out to about 16 percent.

“Engineers and conductors have a 40-hour-a-week guarantee, but many of them previously worked assignments that included overtime, which has been reduced,” Magliari said.

Amtrak Looking Beyond Pandemic

April 6, 2020

Amtrak executives expect to return service to normal levels gradually once the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

Senior Vice President Stephen Gardner told employees during a town hall meeting late last week that restoring service after the pandemic will be a challenge because the railroad doesn’t know how quickly demand will recover.

Some services might see strong demand once the public begins to travel again.

Also addressing the town hall was incoming Amtrak President William Flynn, who will replace Richard Anderson on April 15.

“We’re planning for several scenarios where the recovery pattern might be different in specific regions — gradual or a big jump,” Flynn said.

Trains magazine obtained a copy of the town hall meeting and reported some of its contents on its website on Monday.

Gardner said Amtrak will work with states that fund corridor service to determine “how much service we have on routes they help support.”

Flynn was introduced during the town hall by Anderson.

The next Amtrak CEO lauded Amtrak employees for their diligence during the pandemic, particularly those who handled the derailment of the northbound Auto Train on March 26.

Flynn pledged to avoid furloughing Amtrak workers during the pandemic.

Anderson said Amtrak’s overall bookings have plunged by 95 percent with ridership in the Northeast Corridor down 98 percent, state-supported service down 93 percent and long-distance ridership declining 87 percent.

Amtrak’s daily train frequencies have been slashed from 309 to 156, with 77 percent of the Northeast Corridor service suspended.

There are just 10 trains boarding and discharging passengers from New York to Washington and four from New York to Boston.

Gardner said Amtrak has no plans to screen passengers for COVID-19.

“We are not qualified to undertake mass testing (and) we don’t have the ability to control who is coming on board once they purchase a ticket, but we can reinforce the good guidance that’s out there and we will work with   . . . officials to help them implement health checks should they be required,” said.

With ridership on long-distance trains down Amtrak is no longer practicing communal dining in its dining cars. Gardner said there is no need to seat passengers not traveling together at the same table.

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.

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.

Pennsylvania Congressman Challenges Amtrak’s Description of How Well it is Doing Financially

March 6, 2020

An Amtrak vice president found himself under fire Wednesday by a skeptical congressman who expressed doubt that Amtrak’s finances are as strong as the carrier says they are.

Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pennsylvania) told Amtrak’s Stephen Gardner that he took issue with Amtrak’s description of its finances.

Perry said $235 million that states provide to Amtrak to operate corridor services are subsidies and not passenger revenue.

He also expressed doubt about Amtrak’s claim that it is close to breaking even on an operating basis.

In particular, Perry said Amtrak’s net revenue figures fail to account for $870 million in depreciation in 2019. “This represents a loss of over a billion dollars,” Perry said.

In response, Gardner, who is a senior vice president and chief operating and commercial officer, said the payments are “very transparent.”

He said depreciation is “a cost primarily associated with our vast Northeast Corridor infrastructure funded by the federal government.”

A analysis posted on the website of Trains magazine said Gardner was in effect admitting that the full costs of operating trains in the Northeast Corridor don’t enter into the profit-loss equation that Amtrak presents.

The exchange occurred during a meeting of the House Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee.

The committee heard from six witnesses as it continues to work toward approval of surface transportation renewal legislation. The current surface transportation law expires on Sept. 30.

Rep Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee) continued to complain about Amtrak’s onboard dining services, saying he still hasn’t received any survey data from Amtrak that justified food service downgrades on eastern trains.

That comment was in reference to Amtrak’s replacement of full-service dining cars on overnight trains in the East, Midwest and South with a service now known as flexible dining.

Sleeping car passengers are served food prepared off the train in lieu of meals freshly prepared aboard the train.

Cohen said all he has heard from Amtrak passengers is that they don’t like the food, which is heated in a microwave oven.

“Millennials may like to look at their phones, but they don’t like bad food either,” Cohen said. “You need to put that back and attract more customers.”

In response Gardner said Cohen should receive the survey information by the end of the week.

“We have a variety of different services, and that requires us to experiment and try new ways to meet the requirements and needs of our traveling public,” Gardner said.

“We will continue to experiment to find the right mix, the right balance. For sure we know passengers expect a much broader set of food options — healthier choices than the historic railroad menu that had been offered. We also know people prefer a variety of different environments to eat in; it’s become quite clear that many people prefer to be served in their own rooms or to be able to use the dining car in a more flexible way.”

During his testimony Gardner appeared to contradict the feasibility of a plan put forth recently by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao that Amtrak should repair the tunnels leading into New York City from New Jersey beneath the Hudson River before building a new tunnel.

Amtrak and various public agencies in the two states have been seeking federal funding for a massive multibillion project to upgrade infrastructure in the Northeast Corridor.

The Gateway project includes building new Hudson River tunnels.

But federal officials have been resisting giving the project federal grants and have suggested the states need to greatly increase their financial contribution to the project.

Gardner initially tried to duck being critical of Chao’s proposal before finally acknowledging during questioning that he didn’t think rebuilding the existing tunnel before building a new one was a viable idea.

“We have to be able to excavate the current track structure, repair the drainage underneath, and inspect the tunnel lining — which hasn’t been looked at, frankly, in 109 years,” Gardner said.

“To do that during a four-hour slot in the evening or on a 55-hour weekend outage scenario could present incredible difficulty … which is why we have always proposed to do a full rehabilitation of the tunnels once new tunnels are in place, allowing us to maintain all of New Jersey Transit and Amtrak service.”

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Massachusetts) ripped Amtrak for using non-union contractors at a Chicago worksite.

“It shakes my confidence in Amtrak … With all the challenges we have,” Lynch asked, “do you really want to pick that fight to try to save a couple of bucks by bringing in workers who don’t have ongoing regular training on rail systems? As an iron worker, it’s a very different environment when you’re working on a live transportation system.”

Lynch is a former iron worker and organized labor official.