Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak service cuts’

Amtrak Service Cuts Eyed for January

November 30, 2021

Amtrak now expects to announce this month if it will need to impose service reductions in the wake of crew shortages that may occur if not enough employees are vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine.

Trains magazine reported Monday on its website that employees received a letter stating that they are expected to have received their first vaccination shot by Dec. 8 and to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4.

Amtrak has said employees who failed to meet the Jan. 4 deadline will be terminated. Those who miss the Dec. 8 deadline will be allowed to remain in service until early January before being let go if they remain unvaccinated.

Unions representing Amtrak workers have sued the passenger railroad over the issue.

Any service reductions will be detailed in mid December and become effective in January.

Amtrak has indicated service cuts may be needed on routes that lack enough operating personnel to move the trains.

As of Nov. 22, 88.2 percent of Amtrak workers have received at least one shot.

The schedule expected to be released this month will be based on vaccination status of operating personnel at that time.

The article can be read at https://www.trains.com/trn/news-reviews/news-wire/amtrak-limits-track-friday-sale-service-reductions-possible-in-january-as-unions-file-suit/

Long Distance Trains Vulnerable to Amtrak Staff Shortages

October 30, 2021

Yesterday it was reported in this space that Amtrak is facing having to temporarily curtail some train services in December due to a shortage of operating and on-board personnel.

A report posted on the website of the Rail Passengers Association on Friday provided more detail about what could happen and why.

The Amtrak worker shortage is linked to two factors: A COVID-19 vaccination rule and workforce reductions made during the pandemic when services were curtailed due to lack of passengers.

Amtrak plans to remove from service after Dec. 8 those employees who have not received at least their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Although Amtrak’s vaccination rule contains an exemption for workers who have a verified medical or religious exemption, a memorandum sent by Amtrak CEO William Flynn indicated that that will only mean unvaccinated workers will be placed on unpaid leave.

Those workers who are unvaccinated and don’t have an exemption by Dec. 8 will be fired. It remains to be seen how many Amtrak workers will be let go or placed on unpaid leave.

The RPA report said Amtrak has enough workers in the Northeast Corridor to cover most trains operating there. But the workers shortage may become particularly acute on long-distance route where the passenger carrier could face a shortage of qualified locomotive engineers.

That means that Amtrak might be reducing the frequency of service on long-distant routes to tri-weekly as it did in October 2020.

The worker shortage, RPA noted, is rooted in more than some workers declining to be vaccinated.

Amtrak furloughed dozens of workers during the pandemic in an effort to conserve cash. It also suspended its new employee recruitment and training programs.

Thus far Amtrak has not released details on what trains may be suspended and/or cut back to reduced frequency of operation.

The Flynn memo indicated that plan is still being worked out and the company wants to see what response it gets among its unvaccinated workers.

One report indicated that 80 percent of Amtrak workers have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The RPA report indicated without providing specifics that Amtrak is developing incentive programs designed to move workers to where they’re needed most. It also has stepped up hiring and training.

Cutting workers was not the only step Amtrak took during the pandemic to conserve cash. It also mothballed numerous passenger cars and now faces a shortage of mechanical workers to get those cars ready to return to the road.

The result has been that reduced consists persist with fewer coaches, sleepers and lounge cars in service.

RPA said Amtrak will soon graduate a new class of agents to answer the phones in its reservation center. Until they are on the job prospective passengers face long waits to talk with an agent by phone.

The service cuts, if they occur, will come just before and probably extend into if not through the busy Christmas and New Year’s travel season.

It takes at least six months to qualify new locomotive engineers and get then into place at crew bases on the long-distance networks.

The shortage staff issue is not news to Amtrak management, which RPA said has known about it for several months. But it is just now surfacing in the traveling public.

LSL to Go Tri-Weekly on Monday

October 11, 2020
Amtrak’s westbound Lake Shore Limited arrives in Waterloo, Indiana, on Oct. 8, 2020.

The next round of frequency reductions of Amtrak long-distance trains will be implemented on Oct. 12 when the Lake Shore Limited, Texas Eagle, Coast Starlight and Southwest Chief begin tri-weekly operation.

That will mean that there will be no scheduled Amtrak service in northeast Ohio on Wednesdays.

On Oct. 5 the Capitol Limited, California Zephyr, City of New Orleans and Crescent shifted to operating tri-weekly operation.

The Lake Shore and Capitol Limited will depart New York/Boston and Washington respectively on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, putting them through Cleveland on Thursday, Saturday and Monday.

That is the same schedule the westbound Cardinal follows at Cincinnati.

Nos. 30 and 48/448 will depart Chicago on Monday, Thursday and Saturday, putting them into Cleveland on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.

However, the eastbound Cardinal departs Chicago on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and reaches Cincinnati on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

The Empire Builder and Palmetto will change to tri-weekly operation on Oct. 19.

Once those changes are made only the Auto Train will operate daily among Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

The Silver Meteor began quad-weekly operation in early July. At the same time the Silver Star shifted to tri-weekly operation.

The New York-Miami trains are scheduled to operate on separate days so as to preserve daily service on some portions of their routes.

Although some congressional leaders and President Trump continue to issue public statements expressing support for another round of COVID-19 pandemic emergency aid, differences in opinion among the parties as to the size of the aid and what would be covered have prevented any deals from being reached.

Rail passengers advocates have sought to lobby to include emergency aid for Amtrak in the next round of pandemic aid and Amtrak is seeking additional funding in federal fiscal year 2021.

The fate of those funding requests remains unclear and Amtrak president William Flynn has warned that further employee furloughs and train service cuts are likely if Amtrak doesn’t get additional funding for FY 2021.

The passenger carrier like other federally-funded programs is operating with funding authorized by a continuing resolution that freezes funding levels at FY 2020 levels through Dec. 11.

Amtrak Execs Defend Move to Tri-Weekly Trains

August 18, 2020

Amtrak management is not counting on Congress to direct it to continue operating its long-distance trains on daily schedules this fall and winter but will maintain the status quo if so directed by lawmakers.

In an interview with Trains magazine, Amtrak President William Flynn and Senior Executive Vice President Stephen Gardner said the carrier has not developed contingency plans to operate its long-distance trains daily after October when it will be implementing tri-weekly service on all routes except the Auto Train.

“I don’t envision a situation where Congress is giving us something above the $3.5 billion,” Gardner said, “And they are not being fairly clear about what they expect in terms of operating levels.”

He was referring in part to Amtrak’s request for $1.475 billion in supplemental funding on top of the carrier’s $2.04 billion budget request for federal fiscal year 2021, which begins Oct. 1.

The House has approved $10 billion in funding for Amtrak in FY2021 along with a mandate to continue daily service on all routes that have it now.

However, the Senate has yet to act on the FY2021 appropriations bills. The Rail Passengers Association reported last week that Congressional hearings on Amtrak funding may be held in September.

“If Congress directs us to operate a seven-day service we will,” Flynn said.

But he warned that if Congress doesn’t provide suitable funding Amtrak will “have to make additional cuts to the workforce, and it would certainly affect our capital plans and suggest reductions on the Northeast Corridor and perhaps elsewhere on the national network.”

Flynn said Amtrak has not developed contingency plans for operating a daily long-distance network past October.

During the interview, both Amtrak executives defended the move to tri-weekly service with Gardner saying the situation this year is quite different than it was in 1995 when Amtrak reduced the operation of several, but not all, long-distance trains to tri- and quad-weekly after a consulting firm recommended that as a way to save money during a budget crunch.

A Government Accounting Office report later noted that the projected savings largely failed to materialize as expected because some costs did not fall as much as expected.

“We feel good about being able to save significant dollars for a limited period, and that makes sense because demand is so low,” Gardner said.

Amtrak has projected that operating long-distance trains at tri-weekly levels will yield a savings of $150 million.

Gardner, who serves as Amtrak’s chief operating and commercial officer, acknowledged that tri-weekly operation of trains is not ideal.

“Three days per week is not a good solution in a normal revenue environment [but] we’ve done our homework,” he said.

Trains also reported on Monday that earlier versions of the metrics Amtrak said it will use to determine when to return long-distance trains to daily operation were rejected by Capitol Hill staffers.

The staffers apparently proposed using metrics including airport bookings along long-distance routes and system-wide percentage drops in ridership since April.

Those suggestions also sought to chart long-distance ridership from October to May, something the Trains report said would overlook the strength of holiday-period travel.

Amtrak revenue in July was down 82 percent when compared with July 2019.

The 15 long-distance trains contributed 54 percent of the ticket revenue and long-distance trains income was down 61 percent when compared to July 2019.

Northeast Corridor revenue was down 93 percent and state-supported revenue was off 83 percent.

In the meantime, Amtrak has ceased selling sleeping car space starting Oct. 5 on the days that long-distance trains will not operate.

A statement issued by Amtrak on Monday said the carrier hopes to restore some or all long-distance service to daily operation in 2021, but that will hinge on adequate federal funding in FY2021 and at this point it is unclear how much money Amtrak will receive.

Amtrak Announces Tri-Weekly Service Schedules

August 18, 2020

Amtrak on Monday announced that it will be implementing tri-weekly service on all long-distance trains except the Auto Train starting the week of Oct. 5.

Amtrak said operations have been planned to preserve connections between long-distance trains in Chicago by having most trains originate and terminate there on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.

However, there will be no same-day connections in Chicago from the eastern long-distance trains and the westbound Texas Eagle.

In a service advisory posted on its website the intercity rail passenger carrier attributed the decreased service to depressed travel demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The advisory made no reference to saving money although that point was made in a white paper that Amtrak posted to its website more than a week ago.

No scheduled departure or arrival times at any station will change. Amtrak said all stations on all routes will continue to have service on the days that the trains operate past those stations.

The Auto Train will continue to operate daily between Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida, and the Cardinal (Chicago-New York) and Sunset Limited (New Orleans-Los Angeles) already operate on tri-weekly schedules and are thus not affected by the changes.

The Silver Meteor and Silver Star (New York-Miami) moved to less than daily service on July 6.

The carrier also said sleeping cars will continue to operate on all trains that have them now and business class service will continue to be offered on the Coast Starlight (Seattle-Los Angeles), Lake Shore Limited (New York-Chicago) and Palmetto (New York-Savannah, Georgia).

Passengers who had reservations for travel on days when long-distance trains will not be operating will be re-accommodated or given a refund.

Schedule changes that will be implemented the week of Oct. 5 include:

California Zephyr (Chicago-Emeryville, California), depart Chicago on Monday, Wednesday, Saturday; depart Emeryville on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday

Capitol Limited (Chicago-Washington), depart Washington on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday; depart Chicago on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.

City of New Orleans (Chicago-New Orleans), depart New Orleans on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday; depart Chicago on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.

Crescent (New York-New Orleans, depart New York on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday; depart New Orleans on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.

Schedule changes that will be implemented the Week of Oct. 12 include:

Coast Starlight, depart Seattle on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday; depart Los Angeles on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.

Lake Shore Limited (Chicago-New York/Boston), depart Chicago on Monday, Thursday and Saturday, depart New York/Boston on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

Southwest Chief (Chicago-Los Angeles), depart Chicago on Monday, Thursday and Saturday, depart Los Angeles on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Texas Eagle (Chicago-San Antonio (Los Angeles), depart Chicago on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday; depart San Antonio on Tuesday, Friday, Sunday.

Schedule changes that will be implemented the week of Oct. 19:

Empire Builder (Chicago-Seattle/Portland), depart Chicago on Monday, Thursday and Saturday; depart Seattle/Portland on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Palmetto, depart New York on Monday, Thursday and Saturday; depart Savannah on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

Some Amtrak Service Cuts Take Effect in July

June 23, 2020

Amtrak’s plans to reduce the frequency of operation of its New York-Miami trains will mean there will be no connections to and from Florida on some days in Washington  and New York.

The passenger carrier plans on July 6 to begin operating the Silver Meteor four times a week and the Silver Star three times a week.

It is the first step of a larger plan to reduce operations of all long-distance trains except the Auto Train to less than daily service on Oct. 1.

The Silver Meteor will depart New York Monday through Thursday, and Miami Sunday through Wednesday.

The Silver Star will operate Friday through Sunday southbound and Thursday through Saturday northbound.

The New York-Savannah, Georgia, Palmetto will for now continue to operate daily.

The July schedule changes will preclude connections on some days to Florida from the Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited, and Cardinal.

Cross-Florida travel and service to South Carolina’s state capital, Columbia, will only be possible on different days around weekends.

A Trains magazine analysis noted that during May the combined ridership of the Silver Star and Silver Meteor was 7.2 million passenger miles generating $1.4 million of revenue.

That compares to 5.2 million passenger miles and $2.4 million in revenue for all Northeast Corridor trains between Boston and Washington.

Amtrak has said it it reducing the frequency of operation of its long distance trains due to steep ridership declines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The carrier also projects that ridership during federal fiscal year 2021 will be half of what it normally would be.

Amtrak to Cut Long Distance Service on Oct. 1

June 16, 2020

Amtrak told its employees on Monday that all long-distance trains except for the Auto Train will operate on less than daily schedules starting Oct. 1.

The carrier also said that service in the Northeast Corridor and state-funded corridor services will continue to operate at greatly reduced levels through during fiscal year 2021, which begins Oct. 1.

The message indicated that Amtrak will watch unspecified performance metrics with the idea of restoring daily service as demand warrants, possibly by summer 2021.

Amtrak has not released details of the service cuts including what days that trains would operate. Nor has it released information on the service metrics that it will be monitoring.

For example, it is unclear if the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited will be scheduled to operate on the same days or different days between Chicago and Cleveland.

The memo to employees was written by Roger Harris, Amtrak’s executive vice president, chief marketing and revenue service officer.

Harris said the Silver Meteor is expected to operate four days a week between New York and Miami while the Silver Star would run tri-weekly.

The memo indicated those trains would be scheduled so that their common stations would receive daily service.

The Meteor appears to be the only long-distance train being eyed for quad-weekly service. All other long-distance trains will operate tri-weekly.

However, operations of two trains that already operate tri-weekly, the Chicago-New York Cardinal and the New Orleans-Los Angeles Sunset Limited, will be unchanged.

Amtrak has apparently dropped an idea floated by President William Flynn in a late May a letter to Congress of combining the Palmetto (New York-Savannah, Georgia), Silver Meteor and Silver Star.

The Auto Train, which operates between Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida, will continue to operate daily.

The Harris memo said the service reductions are being made in an effort to save $150 million  during a time of expected low ridership due to the COVID-19 pandemic and an economic recession that has depressed travel demand.

Harris also argued that Amtrak’s operating loss has been more than $500 million on long-distance services.

Those losses, though, are under Amtrak’s fully allocated costs accounting method whose accuracy has been criticized by rail passenger supporters.

When pressed for details about the service reduction plans, Amtrak spokeswoman Christina Leeds said in a prepared statement that the carrier is still in the planning stages and can’t answer most questions yet about what service will look like starting Oct. 1.

Her statement said Amtrak expects during the next fiscal year to operate 32 percent fewer frequencies on the Northeast Corridor and 24 percent fewer state-supported services.

The service cuts were blasted by Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews. “Chopping back to triweekly will mute any demand signal before it gets to management,” he said in a statement. “The long-distance services remain essential to the hundreds of small communities across the United States with fewer options than Philadelphia or Boston or New York.”

Mathews said Amtrak’s two worst-performing trains are the Cardinal and Sunset Limited, which operate tri-weekly, and predicted Amtrak’s plans to operate less than daily service on long distance routes will result in a dramatic decline in ridership.

“Moreover, Amtrak may be setting itself up for failure by losing operating slots on host railroads, losing employees it will need to restore service, and possibly losing the rolling stock as well,” he said.

Ross Capon, who headed the then-named National Association of Railroad Passengers recalled that Amtrak went through a similar phase in 1995 during another era of budget austerity.

“Experience from the 1990s shows that Amtrak’s plan to run the entire long-distance network less than daily will not achieve promised savings,” Capon told Trains magazine. “It also will inhibit the return of ridership Amtrak says is prerequisite for service restoration.

Capon called on Congress to grant Amtrak the additional $1.4 billion it is seeking on top of its regular appropriation for FY2021 with the proviso that long-distance trains now operating daily continue to do so.

Amtrak has reported that although ridership and revenue remain down due to the pandemic and recession, long-distance ticket revenues rose 71 percent from $6.8 million to $11.6 million, between April and May.

In the Northeast Corridor, revenue rose about 60 percent from $1.5 million to $2.4 million, and state supported trains generated less than a 50 percent increase, from $2.3 million in April to $3.5 million in May.

The Harris memo to employees opened with a statement that Amtrak remains committed to operating a national network but “we need to be smart about how we deliver our service in this market environment.”

Harris said Congress is unlikely to support Amtrak indefinitely if it continues to operate mostly empty trains.

“We need to demonstrate that we are using our resources efficiently and responsibly,” he wrote.

The memo stated Amtrak ridership is down as much as 95 percent on a year-over-year basis.

Although it continues to rise, “it is going to take a long time to return to normal.”

Harris said the demand for long distance service is down by 70 percent and Amtrak expects systemwide ridership in FY2021to be 50 percent of what it was in 2019.

As did Flynn in his May letter to Congress, Harris said Amtrak said the potential for a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall could further reduce ridership.