Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak ridership’

FY2021 Figures Show How Much Ridership, Revenue Amtrak has Lost in the Pandemic

October 11, 2021

Amtrak’s fiscal year ended on Sept. 30 and information on how the passenger carrier performed during the COVID-19 pandemic is starting to trickle in and show the scope of how much revenue and ridership it lost.

The pandemic overlapped two fiscal years to date, 2020 and 2021. Amtrak’s fiscal year extends from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

In FY 2021, ticket revenue and ridership were both down 63 percent compared with FY 2019, the last “normal” year Amtrak had before the onset of the pandemic.

In FY 2021 Amtrak generated $882.8 million compared with FY 2019 mark of $2.3 billion.

Ridership in FY 2021 was 12.8 million passengers compared with 32.8 million in FY 2019.

All three of Amtrak’s services – long distance, Northeast Corridor and state-supported corridor services – lost revenue and ridership in FY 2021.

In response to the pandemic, Amtrak reduced service by offering fewer trains. Although no long-distance trains were suspended, all but the Auto Train operated on tri-weekly or quad-weekly schedules.

On a percentage basis, the long-distance trains lost the least amount of revenue with compared with FY 2019. The percentage loss was 33 percent.

State supported trains revenue fell by 61 percent while in NEC services fell by 74 percent.

Ridership on a percentage basis fell 51 percent in FY 2021 compared with FY 2019. The corresponding  percentage declines for state services and the NEC were 64 percent and 65 percent respectively.

Revenue for long distance trains for the past three fiscal years has been 330.7 million, 308.2 million and $494.6 million.

For state services it was 209.3 million, $281.7 million and 538.1 million. For the NEC the corresponding numbers are 882.8 million, 1,241.6 billion and $2.354.3 billion.

Ridership of long distance trains by fiscal year from 2021 to 2019 was 2,238.0 million, 2,689.5 million and 4,554.8 million.

For state service the ridership numbers for the same period are 5,519.9 million, 8,004.3 million and 15,438.8 million.

For the NEC the ridership numbers were 4,408.8 million, 6,417.5 million and 12,526.6 million.

It should be noted that FY 2020 straddled the pre-pandemic and pandemic eras.

Among the long distance trains, the Auto Train managed to earn more in FY 2021 (85.7 million) compared with FY 2019 (76.7 million).

One reason given for that was the fact that the Auto Train continued to operate daily between fall 2020 and late spring 2021 and high rental car prices in Florida triggered by a shortage of rental vehicles encouraged traveling to take their own vehicles on the Auto Train.

The Auto Train, though, had reduced capacity just as did other long distance trains.

Although most state corridor services that were suspended during the pandemic have been restored, corridor trains that extend in Canada are still not operating across the border due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.

This includes the New York-Montreal Adirondack, the New York-Toronto Maple Leaf and the Seattle-Vancouver Cascades. These continue operate within the United States.

Flynn Expects Job Cuts, Tri-Weekly Trains

August 12, 2020

Amtrak expects to furlough employees in fiscal year 2021 and expects long-distance trains to operate twi-weekly its president told Progressive Railroading magazine in an interview.

William Flynn

The job cuts and reduced service are likely because the carrier expects ridership to continue lagging into 2021.

William Flynn, who took over as Amtrak’s CEO on April 15, said ridership is now 18 percent of what it was in fiscal year 2019.

He said ridership rose between late May and early July, but has since hit a plateau due to outbreaks of COVID-19 in some parts of the country.

Although Flynn did not elaborate on how many workers might lose their jobs, he said the carrier has yet to furlough anyone in the current fiscal year, which extends through Sept. 30.

Flynn spoke in the interview as though the move to tri-weekly service by all of Amtrak’s long distance trains except the Auto Train on Oct. 1 will occur.

An FY2021 budget approved by the U.S. House of Representatives contains funding for daily service of those trains and a mandate to Amtrak not to furlough employees.

The Senate has yet to act on its own FY2021 budget proposals and the fate of the House budget proposal is uncertain.

During the interview, Flynn did not address the congressional action and continued to defend Amtrak’s plans to reduce the frequency of service of long distance trains.

“We remain fully committed to the long-distance service; that I want to make clear,” he said

“But at this point in time, the levels of ridership we expect to see in November, December, January, February and March indicate to us that moving to three-day-a-week service at that period of time is the right thing to do for [Amtrak] and for our owners, the government.”

Flynn said Amtrak will review the performance of the long-distance trains early next year, examining such things as future bookings and whether those justify restoring service to daily operation in late May or early June of 2021.

Currently, Flynn indicated that most Amtrak travel has been those traveling for personal reasons, including families. The carrier is seeing very little business travel.

Amtrak’s marketing department has been surveying its customer base to try to get a handle on what its prospective travel plans might be, including when they might travel again, how often they expect to travel and what the purpose of their travel will be.

Flynn said the carrier has been experimenting with pricing and has been able to gain many first-time customers in the Northeast Corridor.

In the meantime, Amtrak has delayed some capital projects to conserve cash and is seeking to eliminate discretionary spending as much as possible.

“We do need to resize the company to reflect the level of ridership that we anticipate in 2021, and no one has great visibility into what 2022 might look like,” Flynn said.

When asked what capital projects Amtrak has deferred, Flynn said, “It wasn’t necessarily larger projects around infrastructure.”

He said the carrier has made “huge progress on our key engineering projects on the Northeast Corridor.”

But it has put off some projects in information technology that it plans to take up later.

Flynn insisted that Amtrak’s long-term vision remains unchanged and that includes network growth.

He repeated the goals expressed by his predecessor, Richard Anderson, that Amtrak wants to provide new service or additional service to major metropolitan areas that have grown substantially in the past 40 years.

“So, it remains our strategy that we can double ridership on Amtrak over the next 20 years,” he said.

“There are key corridors that exist — many of which exist on long distance routes — that aren’t served today that would absolutely benefit from, and rightly demand, high-quality passenger-rail service.”

Some Amtrak Trains Are ‘Selling Out’

June 10, 2020

Although Amtrak trains continue to run with loads well under capacity, an analysis published on the Trains magazine website reported that some trains are selling out as ridership slowly begins to rise.

Of course Amtrak is only selling half the capacity of its coaches as a way to enforce social distancing and the sell outs or near sellouts have resulted in some high eye popping fares.

That included a coach fare of $260 from Chicago to Dallas, but $251 from Chicago to Pontiac, Illinois, a distance of 92 miles.

Yet a coach seat between Chicago and Normal, Illinois, a distance of 124 miles was available for a fare of $124.

Blame a yield management system that increases fares for segments with the heaviest ridership.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told Trains that Amtrak consists changed little between April and May.

However, the consists of some trains have since expanded. The Lake Shore Limited has been reported to now be operating with four Amfleet coaches, two for the New York section and two for the Boston section.

That is double the number of coaches that had been carried.

The Capitol Limited has been reported to have expanded from four cars to five or six.

Trains passenger correspondent Bob Johnston rode Amtrak’s Texas Eagle recently between Chicago and Normal.

His report indicated that the bathrooms, coaches and Sightseer lounge cars were clean on both trains and although passengers wore masks while boarding the train about half removed them after settling into their seats.

Johnston wrote that most passengers wore their masks while walking through the train.

He also said some food items were out of stock in the café car, including all of the fresh deli sandwiches and cheeseburgers.

Few passengers ate their meals in the lounge car after purchasing food there.

A spot check conducted by Trains over a 15-day period found numerous instances in which coach seats were sold out or nearly sold out on some long distance trains.

The westbound Lake Shore Limited had no day-of-departure coach seats on 11 of 15 days out of New York when No. 48 operated with a single Amfleet II coach.

Some seats that were available were priced at twice the normal $112 fare.

The spot check determined that sleeping cars were rarely sold out during the 15-day period.

Amtrak has not yet increased fares for sleepers much above the usual summer rates.

Trains also reported that it has learned that Amtrak on May 29 operated a special train of 15 empty Amfleet II coaches from the Hialeah Maintenance Facility in Miami to Jacksonville, Florida, for storage.

Service Cuts Likely for Amtrak Long-Distance Trains

May 27, 2020

Thus far during the economic downturn that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic Amtrak’s long-distance trains have been spared service cuts.

But that will soon change.

In a letter to Congress dated May 25 Amtrak said it is seeking $1.475 billion in “supplemental funding” to maintain “minimum service levels across the rail network” and continue capital projects.

This will be on top of the $2.04 billion that it requested for its regular federal fiscal year 2021 appropriation.

Even if it gets the additional funding, Amtrak said it plans to reduce the frequency of service on most long distance routes to less than daily service.

The passenger carrier also said it may cut its workforce by as much as 20 percent.

Amtrak said during the pandemic its routes are at best handling 10 percent of the ridership that they had as recently as February and that for FY2021 the passenger carrier expects ridership to be 50 percent of what it would have been otherwise.

The letter, written by Amtrak President William Flynn, acknowledged that projecting future ridership and revenue is difficult given the unprecedented nature of the pandemic and all the unknowns surrounding its trajectory.

However, most projections anticipate a second wave of infections in the fall and Amtrak expects that to depress ridership between September and February.

Recent polling data shows half of the respondents saying they would be reluctant to ride a train in the next six months and more than a third said they it could be a year or more before they would ride a train.

“Furthermore, when demand returns, we anticipate that changed behaviors, such as increased telework and reduced discretionary income, will likely impact ridership, along with capacity limits that may be needed to achieve social distancing on our trains,” Flynn wrote.

Aside from cutting long-distance service to less-than-daily service, Amtrak said it will sharply cut Northeast Corridor service to match demand.

Flynn said Amtrak expects reduced services in state-funded corridor service and is working with the states to determine what they will be able to fund in FY2021, which begins on Oct. 1.

“While our state partners will ultimately make these decisions in coordination with us, many of them have been clear that they will not be able to maintain currently reduced service or resume suspended service without supplemental funding,” Flynn wrote.

Amtrak said it would restore service levels to what they had been once ridership recovers sufficiently to support it if adequate funding is available.

Flynn’s letter contained few details as to how much reduction in frequency of service would occur in the next fiscal year unless Amtrak receives supplemental funding.

An appendix mentions consolidation of the Silver Meteor, Silver Star and Palmetto and hints that without additional federal funding some corridor services might be suspended or discontinued.

All long-distance trains except for the Auto Train are expected to operate at a lower level of service even if Amtrak receives the supplemental appropriation.

Without the supplemental appropriation, all long-distance trains except the Auto Train are said to be “at risk.”

In a message to Amtrak employees on Tuesday, Flynn conceded that Amtrak’s planned spending cuts “will cause stress in the organization.”

He said the carrier will seek to “minimize the negative impact” by offering incentives for employees to leave the company or retire before resorting to layoffs.

Flynn said Amtrak management is still figuring out how much it plans to reduce its workforce and how to assign those who remain on the payroll.

Amtrak expects to cut $500 million in expenses as a result of reducing frequency of operation and capacity ($150 million) and workforce reductions ($350 million).

Amtrak’s April Ridership Was Bad, But Bookings for Long-Distance Trains is Looking Promising

May 23, 2020

Amtrak ridership data for April was released this past week and it showed a sharp plunge compared with a year ago.

In April 2020 Amtrak handled 120,000 passengers compared to 2.7 million who rode in April 2019.

The ridership drop is attributed largely to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Northeast Corridor handled 19,000 passengers, a drop of 97.5 percent from a year earlier. It was the steepest ridership plunge system wide on a percentage basis.

Amtrak lost 87 percent of its passengers on the San Joaquin route in California.

Ridership of state-funded corridors fell 96 percent while the long-distance trains saw ridership fall 86.8 percent.

Year-to-date ridership is down 21 percent and revenues has fallen by 19 percent.

Amtrak expects those figures to grow and they might have been larger than they were but for strong ridership and revenue performances earlier in the year before social distancing measures were imposed.

In a related matter, the Amtrak vice president who oversees long-distance trains said the use of prepackaged meals for sleeper class passengers on Western trains will continue for at least another month.

Larry Chestler told the Rail Passengers Association that Amtrak has begun to see some early signs of recovery on many routes.

However, he cited safety and continued lagging ridership for waiting to restore traditional dining car service to the Western trains.

Chestler said the carrier will evaluate ridership data in late June and determine at that time whether to restore traditional dining car service.

The prepackaged meals have been served to sleeper class passengers on Eastern long-distance trains since June 2019 and were extended to all of those trains last October.

Although the long-distance trains have seen steep ridership drops, Chestler said those declines have been smaller than on other routes.

A recent rise in bookings for long-distance trains have given Amtrak some hope that higher demand is coming, Chestler said.

“Whether that means there’s more demand for summer it’s too soon to say,” he said.

In particular, bookings are trending upward for Coast Starlight and Southwest Chief with some growth also starting to show for the California Zephyr and Empire Builder.

Chestler said bookings are coming back “from the bottom of the bottom,” which Amtrak reached during the period of mid April to early May when it averaged 3,000 passengers a day nationwide.

Since then Amtrak ridership has doubled that, but it’s still well below what it would otherwise be at this time of year.

Some of the ridership of long-distance trains has occurred in regions where corridor trains have been suspended or reduced in frequency.

An example would be the Empire Builder between Chicago and Milwaukee where Hiawatha Service was suspended in favor of a once a day Thruway bus.

Before the pandemic, Amtrak operated seven daily roundtrips between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Chestler said Amtrak management considered continuing into the summer the reduced consists that began operating during the pandemic.

But management elected to move from what he termed “a kind of quasi-minimum” to restoring capacity for the summer.

“Had we reduced to the May levels [for the summer] we would have had a number of trains where we would have been essentially sold out already” in coach, Chestler said.

That doesn’t mean all of the seats would have been occupied because Amtrak for now is selling only half of the capacity of each coach assigned to a train in order to maintain social distancing.

“On the [Southwest] Chief and the [California] Zephyr and the [Empire] Builder there’s more sleepers [and] typically one more coach,” he said.

“We’ve balanced the use of baggage coaches and other kinds of cars to put an appropriate amount of capacity” in place “to capture demand signals from customers,” Chestler said.

Amtrak management is mindful that reducing capacity also could dampen the return of demand because the seats aren’t available.

Amtrak Averaging 4,000 Passengers Per Day

April 14, 2020

Amtrak is carrying an average of 4,000 passengers a day during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The carrier normally averages 100,000 passengers a day. About 57 percent of Amtrak’s departures have been temporarily suspended with the Northeast Corridor seeing a reduction of 77 percent of its scheduled trains.

“We are running trains where we have more staff than customers,” Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said during an employee town hall meeting last week.

Anderson described the $1.018 billion in emergency aid it is receiving from the federal government as essential but said “we are burning about $50 million a week in cash.”

Anderson said Amtrak’s recovery from the pandemic will proceed as travel demand grows.

“We are going to be a very different railroad when we come out the other other side of this; we will be 20% smaller,” he said.

Anderson hopes that travelers understand Amtrak doesn’t pack passengers aboard its trains as densely as airlines do in their planes.

That could favor Amtrak in shorter-haul markets, he said.

Amtrak Looking to Beyond Pandemic

April 6, 2020

Amtrak executives expect to return service to normal levels gradually once the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

Senior Vice President Stephen Gardner told employees during a town hall meeting late last week that restoring service after the pandemic will be a challenge because the railroad doesn’t know how quickly demand will recover.

Some services might see strong demand once the public begins to travel again.

Also addressing the town hall was incoming Amtrak President William Flynn, who will replace Richard Anderson on April 15.

“We’re planning for several scenarios where the recovery pattern might be different in specific regions — gradual or a big jump,” Flynn said.

Trains magazine obtained a copy of the town hall meeting and reported some of its contents on its website on Monday.

Gardner said Amtrak will work with states that fund corridor service to determine “how much service we have on routes they help support.”

Flynn was introduced during the town hall by Anderson.

The next Amtrak CEO lauded Amtrak employees for their diligence during the pandemic, particularly those who handled the derailment of the northbound Auto Train on March 26.

Flynn pledged to avoid furloughing Amtrak workers during the pandemic.

Anderson said Amtrak’s overall bookings have plunged by 95 percent with ridership in the Northeast Corridor down 98 percent, state-supported service down 93 percent and long-distance ridership declining 87 percent.

Amtrak’s daily train frequencies have been slashed from 309 to 156, with 77 percent of the Northeast Corridor service suspended.

There are just 10 trains boarding and discharging passengers from New York to Washington and four from New York to Boston.

Gardner said Amtrak has no plans to screen passengers for COVID-19.

“We are not qualified to undertake mass testing (and) we don’t have the ability to control who is coming on board once they purchase a ticket, but we can reinforce the good guidance that’s out there and we will work with   . . . officials to help them implement health checks should they be required,” said.

With ridership on long-distance trains down Amtrak is no longer practicing communal dining in its dining cars. Gardner said there is no need to seat passengers not traveling together at the same table.

Top Amtrak Executives to Take Pay Cuts

March 23, 2020

Amtrak said over the weekend that it is taking what it termed aggressive steps in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, including reducing the salaries of its top executives.

For now Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said Amtrak will not lay off employees.

An internal memo sent by Amtrak Senior Vice President Stephen Gardner said incoming President William Flynn will not draw his Amtrak salary during the crisis.

Gardner said Amtrak faces a loss of $1 billion due to plunging bookings and widespread cancellations of existing reservations.

The intercity passenger carrier has asked the federal government for a supplemental appropriation to cover lost revenue.

The pay cuts will take effect April 1. Flynn is scheduled to replace Anderson in the CEO chair on April 15.

Amtrak will suspend its its 401(k) matching contribution for management employees through the end of the calendar year.

“We recognize these actions have a serious impact on our employees and their families,” Gardner said in the memo. “But we are taking this action to help protect everyone. We appreciate your support as we work our way through this crisis together.”

Other measures being taken by Amtrak include ending all non-safety-critical hiring; cutting discretionary travel, professional fees, and advertising spending; and deferring non-priority capital expenses.

In a dial-in town hall meeting for Amtrak workers held on Friday, Anderson said the carrier is seeking to avoid involuntary furloughs.

The carrier will meet a commitment in current labor agreements granting employees a 3.5 percent pay increase on July 1, but Anderson called for union leaders to consider delaying but not cancelling the increase until Amtrak ridership recovers.

Anderson hinted that if the unions balk at delaying the pay raise the carrier might revoke its non-layoff stance.

“General chairmen need to get engaged and figure out how to do this if we are to avoid an involuntary furlough, given that we don’t have any business anymore,” Anderson said.

“We have been through a lot of tough times with Amtrak—from host railroads that want to put us out of business, to presidents who don’t want to fund us, to [a] Congress that doesn’t always want to properly fund us, and to states and private companies that would like to take over our services,” Anderson said.

He said Acela ridership in the Northeast Corridor has fallen by 92 percent, Acela reservations are down by 99 percent and bookings for long-distance trains have declined by 64 percent.

Anderson expects those numbers to worsen as additional government imposed restrictions are placed on personal mobility.

“On 9/11, we knew specifically what the root cause of the problem was at the time, [and] the transportation system recovered fairly quickly,” Anderson said. “In this instance, we don’t have clear direction of what the end point of the coronavirus is.”

Amtrak has more than $3 billion of cash on hand but Anderson said the carrier must continue to pay operating expenses and pay interest on its existing loans.

It has halted spending on capital projects except those needed to keeping trains moving.

“By any measure, the economy is in recession,” Anderson said. “We can’t just count on Congress to close our gap.”

Saying there is no reason to operate empty trains, Anderson said Northeast Corridor service has been cut by 40 percent and 10 routes have reduced service with more service cuts coming.

Although the long-distance network will remain intact, Anderson said 40 percent of its seat capacity has been removed in the form of operating fewer rail cars.

“We need to be aggressive in preserving our cash,” Anderson said.

“I’m certain that the long-distance network will be very different longer term,” he said. “Over the past three or four years, it has taken more than $2.5 billion of federal money to keep the long-distance network operating, and if we don’t have the subsidy from the Northeast Corridor and state [supported corridor] trains bearing their share of the national network, the loss gets that much bigger.”

Anderson acknowledged that the steps Amtrak has taken are “demoralizing,” but said it would be be more demoralizing to tell people they don’t have a job anymore.

“That’s what we are working to avoid. If we just stood here and didn’t do anything, and one day in July or August we told everybody that the company was near liquidation and that we were going to lay off 10,000 or 15,000 people, that would be far more demoralizing. That would be irresponsible,” Anderson said.

In the meantime, Amtrak announced it will suspend all Acela Express service in the Northeast Corridor on Monday.

Northeast Corridor service will be covered by a schedule of Northeast Regional trains operating at 40 percent of the regular weekday schedule.

Until now Amtrak had suspended only a small number of Acela Express trains.

Acela service carried 3.5 million in 2019 of the 12.5 million ridership in the Northeast Corridor.

Other service cuts today are set to be implemented in California and North Carolina.

Silent Spring

March 20, 2020

Someday trains will again roll over these rails but at the moment we don’t know when or how long it will take to recover from lost revenue and ridership.

The rails in the Cuyahoga Valley are gaining rust in the spring rain as they await the trains to resume operating.

Amtrak has curtailed service in most corridors and suspended service altogether on some routes in the face of sharply reduced bookings and skyrocketing cancellations.

Ridership of public transportation has plunged by high double digits. Most agencies continue to run buses and trains, but at reduced levels.

Tourist railroads that operate in the spring have shut down. Restrictions on large gatherings have led to cancellations of railroad club meetings and train shows.

The nation’s railroads are reporting a downturn in intermodal traffic and bracing for more traffic volume declines due to an economic downturn that is the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are likely to be fewer trains for railfans to watch and photograph. Then again this is not an ideal time to go railfanning even if you can probably get away with it.

This will be long remembered as the silent spring when such terms as “flattening the curve,” “sheltering in place,” and “social distancing” became part of the everyday lexicon.

No one can say yet when life will return to normal. Even when it does the economic effects are expected to last a while, perhaps for months.

There will be a recovery, but how long will it take?

Like the virus itself, there is much uncertainty surrounding that question, but a few conclusions seem likely.

Amtrak executives had been boldly talking about 2020 as the year it achieved the financial break-even mark from an operational standpoint.

That won’t happen now and the intercity passenger carrier is saying it needs $1 billion to overcome losing millions from lost bookings and trip cancellations as well as other expenses related to combating the pandemic.

Earlier, Amtrak has been talking up a program of service expansion if Congress would give it a dedicated pool of money to help states get corridor services in unserved or underserved areas up and running.

That proposal, which is tied in with the carrier’s fiscal year 2021 appropriation as well as a new surface transportation law that Congress needs to approve to replace the existing law that expires on Sept. 30, was always going to be a long shot. Now the odds of it receiving funding seem even longer.

Passengers will in time return to Amtrak. Suspended services will be reinstated. Many trips that were canceled or postponed will be moved to another time.

But not all of them. Some trips that were scrapped won’t be made. Those who didn’t ride during the spring will not necessarily increase their patronage to make up for missed trips.

Public transit faces a similar situation. Ridership will increase as people return to work in their offices, major public events resume, and social distancing restrictions are eased.

But it may take months for ridership and revenue to recover and budgets are going to be tight even if public money is offered to transit agencies to help them make up what was lost.

Tourist railroads, including the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, were fortunate, if that is the right word, that their shutdowns occurred in the off season.

The pain for the CVSR would be greater if the shutdown had occurred during the summer, fall and Polar Express seasons when ridership peaks.

But much of the ridership and revenue the CVSR lost this spring is gone.

People are not going to double or triple their patronage once the trains resume operating to make up what they missed in March and April.

The wild card in all of this is how the economy performs. The recession that some economists are predicting will dampen business for Amtrak, public transit and tourist railroads because fewer people will be traveling for work or pleasure.

Some predict the recession will be relatively short and the economy will be juiced by pent up demand once life returns to normal.

Railroad restoration efforts could take a hit if charitable giving falls off during a recession as seems likely. The timeline for some if not most projects will be extended.

It may be that some operations will not survive the pandemic-induced economic downturn.

Just as some with underlying health issues will die as a result of contracting the virus, some organizations that were already operating on tight margins may succumb when lost revenue pushes them over the edge.

Rail passenger advocates may find that their agenda will shift to an all out battle to save existing levels of service rather than pushing for expansion.

Congress is spending trillions of dollars on fighting the pandemic and trying to shore up the economy.

Later this year deficit hawks in Congress can be expected to take aim at such things as Amtrak and public transportation funding in the FY2021 federal budget as a way of offsetting emergency funding approved months earlier during the depths of the pandemic.

The budget process may not be business as usual.

Back at the onset of the Great Recession of 2008, I remember Henry Paulson, who was secretary of the treasury at the time, say amid the talk of what the government should be doing to bolster the economy, “first we must make it through the night.”

As I write this we are still seeking to make it through the night of the pandemic. We keep hearing medical experts say it will get worse before it gets better. It takes time to flatten the curve.

In the meantime transportation has shifted to survival mode.

We may not have been in this exact place before, but we’ve been in similar places and managed to get through the night. Yet what a long night it can be.

Ridership of Cardinal in W.Va. Fell 31% in FY 2019

December 14, 2019

Although ridership of Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal was up 12.6 percent in fiscal year 2019, it collectively fell 31 percent at the eight stations the train serves in West Virginia.

The tri-weekly Cardinal stops in the Mountain State at Huntington, Charleston, Montgomery, Thurmond, Prince, Hinton, Alderson, and White Sulphur Springs.

Those stations served 24,731 passengers in FY2019, but had handled 35,840 in FY2018.

Total ridership for the Cardinal in FY2019 was 108,935 compared with 96,710 the previous year.

That increase came despite Nos. 50 and 51 not serving the New York-Washington segment for eight a half months in 2018 due to construction at New York Penn Station.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin in a statement blamed adverse actions taken by Amtrak that have made it difficult for some to ride the train.

He singled out Amtrak’s closure of ticket offices, including the one in Charleston, the state capitol, on June 6, 2018.

No station served by Amtrak in West Virginia, including those on the route of the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited in Harpers Ferry and Martinsburg, has a ticket office.

“Without a station agent, disabled West Virginians have difficulty accessing the train, and those without access to the Internet cannot buy tickets before they arrive,” Manchin said in his statement that also pointed out that he has heard from residents of the state who have been affected by the loss of agents at Amtrak stations.

Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews said that ridership typically declines at stations that lose a ticket agent.

In Charleston, ridership fell 26 percent from 11,251 passengers in FY2018 to 8,280 in FY2019.

Ridership in Huntington fell 55 percent from 10,784 passengers in FY2018 to 4,870 passengers in FY2019, while Hinton lost 58 percent of its ridership, falling from 5,836 to 2,456.

In White Sulphur Springs ridership dropped from 5,230 to 5,191, while ridership increased at Alderson (433 to 578) and Thurmond (285 to 364). Montgomery saw ridership decline from 347 to 275.

On the Capitol Limited route, ridership at the two West Virginia stops increased by 2.2 percent.

Ridership at Martinsburg nudged up from 10,784 to 10,917, while ridership at Harpers Ferry rose from 7,638 to 7,920.

Manchin has introduced a bill that would require Amtrak to have a station agent in every state that it serves.

He attempted to add similar language to FY2019 transportation appropriations but it was amended to require part-time station caretakers.

Those caretakers do not sell tickets or handled checked baggage.

This year, Manchin introduced stand-alone legislation that would mandate station agents in each state.

The Cardinal also serves Cincinnati and Indianapolis on a route that is primarily hosted by CSX.