What is Amtrak Planning … Really?

Amtrak has submitted a request to Congress for a supplementary appropriation of roughly $1.5 billion for the year 2021, bringing the 2-year total requested to $3.54 billion. This second request has long-time Amtrak observers scratching their heads. Why? Because while Amtrak says they need the additional money, at the same time they say they are going to lay off 20% of their work force and reduce frequencies for many of the long-distance trains.

.What am I missing here? When you “reduce frequency” of a train that runs only once a day, it’s a virtual guarantee that will have a negative impact on that train’s ridership. And how do we know that?

.Question: Which of Amtrak’s long-distance trains perform the worst in terms of “profitability”?

.Answer: The Sunset Limited and the Cardinal.

.Question: Which of Amtrak’s long distance trains operate less than daily?

.Answer: The Sunset Limited and the Cardinal. They each run three times a week.

.Here’s the problem: When you “reduce frequency” of a train that only operates once a day to begin with, it’s virtually guaranteed that there will be a negative impact on that trains ridership. And that means a loss of revenue!

.But there’s an even bigger issue here. It’s unfortunate, but more than a few experienced people “in the know” (including members of Congress)—have come to mistrust the financial information Amtrak has been reporting for years. The suspicion is that Amtrak has habitually allocated a disproportionately greater amount of overhead cost to the long-distance trains, the objective being to make to Northeast Corridor look better than it really is. The problem is, it unfairly makes the long-distrains look worse than they really are.

.The next several years will be critical for Amtrak. Hundreds of new rail cars are needed, mostly to replace the Superliner fleet; and the next generation of high-speed trainsets has been ordered to replace the Acela equipment. It can all be done, but it’s going to take the federal government with the courage and vision to make this major commitment to modernize and expand our national passenger rail system.

.Clearly, that kind of vision and commitment will not be forthcoming from any Trump Administration.