September 11, 2020 – Lombard, IL. The following is a memo issued today from MIPRC regarding the potential for the Amtrak Empire Builder and other Long Distance trains being reduced to three trains per week in October. Please check other posts regarding contact information for Senators Baldwin and Johnson.
Dear MIPRC allies,
MIPRC today sent the email below to all Midwestern Members of Congress (and their transportation staff), urging them to support Amtrak’s request for $4.9 billion for FY 2021. If this request is met, Amtrak has promised not to cut long-distance service to 3/x week on most routes, nor furlough employees, on Oct. 1.
We strongly encourage you to reach out to your Members of Congress (both House and Senate) to reiterate this critically-important request.
Laura Kliewer, Director – Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission
From: Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission
Sent: Friday, September 11, 2020 12:01 PM
Subject: Funding for Amtrak needed this month in order to avoid cutting long-distance service and furloughing employees!
To: Midwestern Members of Congress Fr: Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission
Date: September 11, 2020
Re: Funding for Amtrak needed this month in order to avoid cutting long-distance service and furloughing employees!
The Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission (MIPRC) is a compact among Midwestern states to promote, coordinate and support passenger rail development in our region. We write today to urgently ask for your support of additional funding to maintain Amtrak’s national network of long-distance trains at its current level of service.
As you may be aware, effective October 1 Amtrak plans to reduce service on these trains from daily to three times per week until ridership recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. On Sept. 1, Amtrak said it will also furlough 1,950 employees, 698 of whom are on-board staff for long-distance trains.
While we don’t dispute the drastic losses in ridership caused by the pandemic, daily Amtrak service is essential for many Midwesterners, especially those who live in rural areas. We are concerned that this service cut would strand thousands of riders in smaller cities and communities who have no other form of intercity or interstate transportation. It would also adversely affect the already tenuous economic vitality of dozens of rural communities that are station stops for Amtrak and benefit greatly from the impact of that status. And while Amtrak states its benchmarks for restoring service will be examined as early as the first quarter of calendar year 2021, we are concerned this cut is one from which long-distance service may never recover.
In a recent analysis, the Rail Passengers Association noted that the National Network (long-distance trains) have provided Amtrak more ridership revenue than the Northeast Corridor or the state-supported services since the pandemic period began in March. Among its findings:
· During the pandemic period since March, the National Network’s routes have contributed 45% of Amtrak’s revenues, compared with 21% a year ago during those same five months.
· Since March, Northeast Corridor and state-supported corridor service revenues are down 90% compared with a 64% decline for the National Network.
· In all of calendar 2020, NEC ridership is down 66%, and during the pandemic period ridership is down 88%. By contrast, the National Network’s ridership is only down 53% in 2020, and 68% during the pandemic period.
We should note that revenue and ridership numbers for Amtrak’s state-supported services have tracked very closely those for the Northeast Corridor. But unlike the NEC and the long-distance network, the states – not Amtrak – will decide when to increase, or reinstate, more frequent services on those routes.
As Senators Bennett, Braun, Cramer, Danes, Heinrich, Hoeven and Udall noted in their June 24 letter to Amtrak president and CEO William Flynn: “Amtrak’s plan to terminate one out of every five employees would put thousands of Americans out of work at a time when millions of Americans have lost their jobs. This severe reduction in workforce raises serious doubts about whether a realistic plan exists for fully restoring service in a timely fashion. Your plan also calls for reducing the frequency of all National Network long distance trains, while consolidating three routes into one, thus greatly reducing Amtrak’s ability to operate its Network at full capacity. These actions will eliminate thousands of points of connection and dramatically reduce the utility of Amtrak as a transportation provider, irrevocably hurting hundreds of communities and small towns already devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
We appreciate and are thankful that Congress has already provided Amtrak with $1 billion in emergency funding through the CARES Act. But, as we noted in our June 29 letter to Congress regarding the TRAIN Act within H.R. 2: “Amtrak has informed MIPRC that in order not to make planned cuts to long distance service starting on Oct. 1, it would need to receive $4 billion in federal funding … for FY 2021.”
During the House Transportation and Infrastructure rail subcommittee’s Sept. 9 hearing on Amtrak’s response to COVID-19, Amtrak CEO William Flynn said that after further analysis, and with ridership still down 80 percent from pre-pandemic levels, Amtrak has updated that figure to $4.9 billion.
Therefore, we now ask that Amtrak be authorized and funded at $4.9 billion for FY 2021 before Sept. 30. We also request that this additional funding which Amtrak says it needs in FY 2021 to maintain daily service on the National Network come with a Congressional directive that it must be used to maintain long-distance service and the related employment of workers at FY 2020 levels.