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Amtrak reducing long-distance trains to three days a week despite promising returns
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Amtrak reducing long-distance trains to three days a week despite promising returns

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A Metra train arrives as a woman walks on Metra platform at the Glenview Amtrak/Metra Station, May 13 in Glenview, Ill.

Amtrak will cut down on daily long-distance trains and transition to a tri-weekly format through southeast Minnesota and western Wisconsin by mid-October, despite the fact the daily trains are the company’s current crutch for revenue.

Since March and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that resulted in numerous businesses suffering greatly, Amtrak’s ridership has fallen by 95%, according to All Aboard Minnesota and All Aboard Wisconsin.

Due to this drop in ridership, the company’s projected revenue for 2021 has gone down by 50%.

To remedy this, Amtrak is not only cutting the number of days it runs long-distance trains, but also cutting its workforce by 20%, which it estimates will save $213 million in costs and $500 million in cost savings.

In a recent congressional hearing, Amtrak said that in order to maintain its system as it is now — with long-distance trains and little to no layoffs — it would need $4.9 billion in additional revenue.

Amtrak CEO William Flynn even said that if Congress were to provide additional funding and instructed it to maintain its system as it is now, it would rescind the furloughs and service cuts.

Interestingly, Brian Nelson, president of All Aboard Minnesota, says Amtrak’s long-distance trains aren’t suffering as much compared to state-supported and the Northeast Corridor routes.

“When you analyze what’s happened to Amtrak during the COVID period, since March when ridership really collapsed, it is clear that the long-distance trains are holding up much better in terms of a ridership perspective and a revenue perspective,” Nelson said. “ We don’t believe that this decision to cut the long-distance trains is a wise one based off how they’ve performed in the pandemic period.”

Nelson said 45% of the revenue Amtrak has earned since March has come from the national, long-distance routes, which is higher than the 21% earned last year.

While the revenue from the long-distance trains is down 64% from last year, the other two options that Amtrak offers are down by 90%.

In fact, Nelson pointed out, long-distance trains have risen to earn more than the state-supported and Northeast Corridor trains compared to last year.

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“The long-distance trains are clearly holding up,” Nelson said. “It really enforces our belief ... that people depend on these trains. Families with kids, college students (or) people traveling to remote areas of the country... they need these trains to get around.”

When Amtrak goes through with the cuts to its long-distance trains, and if it maintains those cuts for a year, Nelson argued, the loss would be a “bomb” of $3 billion in flyover country, which includes Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Montana among others.

This doesn’t just affect Amtrak, either — it also affects the communities it serves, too; fewer trains means fewer travelers coming and investing in the communities in and around Amtrak stations.

It also means there’s the potential for certain long-distance trains going away entirely, which would make connections in Chicago, for example, require up to two days of delays between trains.

“It would be a very severe impact, especially in smaller towns,” Nelson said. “This is not something that is insignificant.”

This isn’t the first time Amtrak has cut down on the number of days it runs long-distance trains, either.

Nona Hill, the president of All Aboard Wisconsin, pointed out that Amtrak adopted a tri-weekly model for their long-distance trains in an effort cut expenses back in 1995.

While there was a 10% reduction in expenses, Amtrak reported a 50% loss in revenue.

“The truth of the matter is on any given schedule, the fewer trains you run, passengers go down more than the percentage of trains that you’re cutting,” Hill said.

Hill and Nelson emphasized how imperative it is for people to contact their U.S. senators and request that they set Amtrak appropriation at the $5 billion relief level.

Both added that the money should be contingent on Amtrak preserving the daily operation of all long-distance trains, in reference to William Flynn saying the company would rescind furloughs and service cuts if they received congressional aid.

“Congress needs to hear from you,” Nelson said. “The long-distance trains are performing well and they’re needed desperately more than ever now. They’re an important resource that we can’t let go away.”

“The long-distance trains are clearly holding up. It really enforces our belief ... that people depend on these trains. Families with kids, college students (or) people traveling to remote areas of the country ... they need these trains to get around.” Brian Nelson, president of All Aboard Minnesota

“The long-distance trains are clearly holding up. It really enforces our belief ... that people depend on these trains. Families with kids, college students (or) people traveling to remote areas of the country... they need these trains to get around.”

Brian Nelson, president of All Aboard Minnesota

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