Amtrak clarifies what emergency funding would mean for frequencies, furloughs

Congress could direct passenger railroad to restore daily long-distance service as part of $1.5 billion in relief
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Helping to step up Amtrak’s cleaning protocols during the pandemic, veteran Capitol Limited sleeping car attendant J.D. Delgado picks up trash between Washington and Philadelphia on Northeast Regional train 171 on Jan. 19, 2021. He took the job to avoid being furloughed. Amtrak's request for emergency funding for Congress could allow the railroad to bring back furloughed workers.
Bob Johnston

WASHINGTON — Amtrak has clarified details of a letter sent by CEO William Flynn to all U.S. House and Senate last week, confirming to Trains News Wire that legislators have the ability to override the metrics the passenger railroad plans to use to determine decisions on long-distance train frequencies.

In an emailed statement, Amtrak said, “If Congress provides the direction and the needed funding, we would restore long-distance services to daily.” Metrics measuring public health, future demand, and current ridership for each individual train “are in lieu of such direction.”

The request for more than $1.5 billion in additional funding is one of five “wish list” items Flynn outlined [see “Analysis: Amtrak CEO Flynn sets company priorities for legislation,” Trains News Wire, Jan. 27, 2021].

Elaborating on how that money would be spent, the statement adds, “The $1.541 billion would allow Amtrak to recall employees furloughed since October 1 as a result of Amtrak’s response to COVID-19, as well as prevent furloughs that could occur if funds are not provided for the remainder of FY21 9through September 30). This applies to all of our services across the company in both the Northeast Corridor and National Network (state-sponsored and long-distance).”

Amtrak also clarified what would happen to employees normally assigned to state-supported services if those operating authorities decline to restore frequencies.

“The funding would also allow us to keep employees where trains are still not operating at pre-COVID levels. If states determine the funding from Congress or their legislatures is not sufficient or for any other reason, their services would continue to be suspended...(but) Amtrak would still recall those employees furloughed,” the statement reads. The employees “could go wherever their seniority allows them; it might not be on an extra board, but they would be recalled and employed.”

As for Acela and Northeast Regional trains operating between Boston and Washington, D.C. that have shown the most dramatic ridership and revenue drops since last March, Amtrak says, “We are closely monitoring booking and will continue to make prudent business decisions. Again, if an employee is not needed to support the operations of a train, but we are directed to recall furloughed employees, we would do so.”

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