Amtrak And COVID-19
September 23, 2020 | View PDF
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the decrease in travel demand, Amtrak will be making changes to their Long-Distance train frequencies in October. Many routes will be changing from daily service to tri-weekly. Those routes changing are California Zephyr, Capital Limited, City of New Orleans, Coast Starlight, Crescent, Empire Builder, Lake Shore Limited, Palmetto, Southwest Chief and Texas Eagle.
Effective the week of Oct. 19, the Empire Builder route that services Williston and travels between Chicago and either Spokane or Portland/Seattle will change from a daily route to three times per week. The Empire Builder makes several stops throughout North Dakota along its route.
On Sept. 9, Amtrak President & CEO Bill Flynn testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads. He advised the committee that the first five months of fiscal year 2020 Amtrak was in a stronger position than its soon to be 50-year history. Then, COVID-19 hit and within a matter of weeks, "Amtrak's ridership plummeted by 97%."
Amtrak has taken many actions to minimize health and safety risks to their customers and their employees, but the financial impact has been more than significant. Flynn advised that Amtrak's revenue loss from ticket sales would be $1.266 billion. Because of this, Amtrak has been forced to make several cost-cutting decisions. One of the more critical decisions has been adjustment to train service.
Flynn states, we "now anticipate needing up to $4.9 billion in funding to operate and invest in our network, support our partners, and address various congressional concerns like avoiding employee furloughs and maintaining daily long distance service."
Amtrak has stressed that the long-distance frequency adjustments will be temporary. Their intention is to re-store service frequency to previous levels when ridership returns; however, they will evaluate their numbers in Feb. 2021. They anticipate the route cuts will last until at least June 2021.
In a Q&A after Flynn's testimony, Amtrak representatives assured the subcommittee they will follow the direction of Congress and they made it clear they are seeking funds to keep the current service levels intact. Like the airlines and others who received CARES Act funding in the spring, the CARES Act monies Amtrak received will run out at the end of September.
Rail Passengers Association:
On Sept. 2, 2020, the Rail Passengers Association (RPA) put out a "Push to avert service cuts to Amtrak and public transit" letter urging passengers to keep the pressure on Congress to pass an emergency relief bill, including $5 billion for Amtrak and $32 billion for transit.
"Many passenger rail advocates believe this is the beginning of the end for Amtrak's long-distance network across the country," states RPA in their letter. They are requesting passengers email their Congressional delegation with their story of how these cuts would affect them and/or their community.
Questions for RPA should be directed to [email protected] or by calling 202-408-8362.