A Moment of Truth for Amtrak.
During the worst days of the coronavirus, people were avoiding crowds, which meant they weren’t traveling. As a consequence, ridership on Amtrak’s long-distance trains dropped to around 15% of capacity, which was pretty awful, of course. Nevertheless, those trains continued to operate daily, although with fewer coaches and sleepers.
But now, in this moment-in-time, when the possibility of a return to more-or-less normal could be just a few weeks away, Amtrak chooses to ask Congress for another chunk of bail-out cash. And, at the same time, they announce plans to lay off 20-percent of the workforce and cut back service on the long-distance trains. (That means frequency, folks; there isn’t anything else!)
Two of Amtrak’s long-distance trains, the Sunset Limited and the Cardinal, already operate three days a week and both trains lose money. While no one in authority at Amtrak has said on the record they’re going to run some or all of the other long-distance trains three times a week, that’s the obvious conclusion.
What does it take? The main reason the Sunset Limited and the Cardinal lose money is because each train operates just three days a week. Nobody is happy with that. Petitions have been circulated asking Amtrak to run the Cardinal on a daily basis and, in Texas, resolutions asking for a daily Sunset Limited have been formally adopted by the elected officials of every city and town in the State where the train stops.
The Rail Passengers Association agrees that Amtrak needs additional emergency funding, but is adamant that any new public funds should only be used . . .
- to prevent the mass elimination of jobs;
- to maintain the minimum of daily service for long-distance trains; i.e.: one train a day.
- to develop a plan to return service to pre-COVID levels.
William Flynn, Amtrak’s new president, had damn well better be a quick study.