Amtrak Service Unaffected by Fed Budget Cuts

The eastbound Lake Shore Limited idles at Cleveland on June 3, 2012, before resuming its journey to New York and  Boston. (Photograph by Craig Sanders)

The eastbound Lake Shore Limited idles at Cleveland on June 3, 2012, before resuming its journey to New York and Boston. (Photograph by Craig Sanders)

Amtrak service to Northeast Ohio and elsewhere is expected to continue as normal despite the implementation on Friday of an $85 billion sequester of the federal budget. Amtrak said that it will not reduce its schedules even though it, too, will be receiving less in federal funding.

“Amtrak is planning to take actions to allow it to withstand a funding cut and not cut service,” said Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods. “During (fiscal year) 2013, Amtrak is experiencing solid revenue growth and we have been controlling our costs and managing our budget in anticipation of a possible reduction in federal funding.”

The 2013 federal fiscal year extends through Sept. 30.

However, some maintenance work and planning to improve and expand service is expected to be hindered by the sequester.

Two Amtrak routes serve Northeast Ohio. The Chicago-Washington, D.C., Capitol Limited serves Alliance, Cleveland, Elyria, Sandusky and Toledo. The Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited serves Bryan, Toledo, Sandusky, Elyria and Cleveland.

Also serving Ohio is the Chicago-New York Cardinal, which operates tri-weekly and stops in Cincinnati.

News reports have quoted transportation officials as saying that air travel may be hard hit by the sequester as funds for the Federal Aviation Administration are reduced. The FAA operates the nation’s air traffic control system.

Also affected will be funding for airport security, which could lead to longer lines at airport security checkpoints.

By law federal workers must receive a 30-day notice of layoffs, so any problems with air travel are not expected to arise until April.

Amtrak carried more than 31 million passengers last year and covers most of its operating costs from passenger revenue.

Nearly 90 percent of Amtrak ridership since 1997 has been on trips under 400 miles. Along with a 55 percent jump in passengers, it generated a positive operating surplus of $47 million in 2011, according to a new report released by the Brookings Institution.

The report found that Amtrak has been the fastest-growing domestic transportation mode over the past 15 years. Ten metropolitan areas, mostly on the coasts, account for nearly two-thirds of Amtrak’s patronage.

The Brookings report said that the long distance routes carry less than 20 percent of Amtrak’s patronage and cost it $614 million.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers, however, noted that ridership on the 15 long-distance routes also has been growing. NARP cited figures from an Amtrak news release that in fiscal year 2012 the long-distance trains accounted for 43 percent of Amtrak’s passenger miles. A passenger mile is one passenger transported one mile.

In fiscal year 2012, Amtrak’s long-distance trains had their best combined ridership in 19 years.

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