Amtrak warns of more cuts without additional funding

Management plans to continue 'significant' capital projects
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During a Monday conference call, Amtrak's management cited work in Baltimore's B&P Tunnel, as seen in 2013, as an example of a project it has been able to advance while rail traffic is slower because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bob Johnston

WASHINGTON — Amtrak President and CEO Bill Flynn today cautioned the passenger railroad faces cuts with long-term impact without additional funding from Congress.

“If the current level of funding is extended in a continuing resolution beyond Dec. 11, 2020, and supplemental funding isn’t provided,” Flynn said during a conference call, “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.”

He added, “Hopefully, Congress will provide additional emergency funding for the remainder of the fiscal year. And of course, we look forward to working with President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris, their teams, and Congress to address the urgent need that we have.”

Flynn’s response to a question came during the company’s annual media call announcing financial results from fiscal 2020 and the outlook for 2021.

Asked about possible additional layoffs, Flynn said as many as 1,600 workers operating state-supported trains could be furloughed if funding remained at the current levels.

“When we have to make those decisions depends on how long the uncertainty remains,” said Senior Executive VP Stephen Gardner, who was also on the call.

For the year that ended Sept. 30, Amtrak says its operating revenue, including payments from state-supported routes, decreased 31.9% to $2.3 billion from fiscal 2019 totals. Ticket revenue, however, was $1.24 billion, down 47.3%, according to full-year totals obtained by Trains News Wire.

Full-year ridership figures for long-distance, state-supported, and Northeast Corridor trains are included in an Amtrak press release. Here are the ticket-revenue figures each of those categories for the full year and the month of September, the last before systemwide reductions in long-distance train frequency:
Replacement of the Portal Bridge in New Jersey is one of the infrastructure projects Amtrak hopes to begin in 2021.
Bob Johnston

This shows the impact of Northeast Corridor ticket revenue to Amtrak’s overall results, and the relative contribution of each service category when the totals aren’t averaged with pre-pandemic operation.

Amtrak Board Chairman Tony Coscia says that given current trends and future projections, ridership and revenue are expected to be down 63% by the end of fiscal 2021. Management had earlier projected a 50% drop. But Coscia says, “We have built muscle strength to undertake significant capital investments in the railroad ... particularly at a time when lower ridership would make some of these capital expenditures more effective and efficient to undertake.”

The management team cited concrete slab, tie, and rail replacement in Baltimore’s B & P Tunnels, originally built in the 1870s. That project, which normally would stretch over years, was completed in summer 2020 with extended track outages made possible by reduced service.

Coscia told reporters Amtrak intends to move forward on $2 billion of 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 also said Amtrak has identified over $5 billion of additional investments that could contribute to recovery following the pandemic.

Flynn also said New York’s Moynahan Train Hall will finally open in January 2021. The new facility for Amtrak travelers will access Penn Station’s platforms from what used to be the Farley Post Office building across Eighth Avenue.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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