In a Monday memo to employees, Amtrak announced it is ending daily service to hundreds of stations outside the Northeast and warned that more job cuts are looming as the novel coronavirus pandemic persists.
Although he did not elaborate on the full impact of potential cuts, Executive Vice President Roger Harris told employees the company “will work quickly to determine what staffing reductions or furloughs will occur.”
Meanwhile, reducing frequency of many of its long-distance routes is expected to save the rail network $150 million, CNN reported.
According to The Washington Post, Amtrak plans to shift daily routes from most of its long-distance trains to three times per week beginning Oct. 1 as well as reduce frequencies in its busiest corridor and across its state-funded routes.
“Congress is not going to support us indefinitely to run mostly empty trains,” Harris said in the memo to employees. “We need to demonstrate that we are using our resources efficiently and responsibly.”
Amtrak has requested more than $3.5 billion from Congress this year, including a special $1.47 billion request to help with coronavirus-related losses and costs, but none of that figure is earmarked to preserve jobs, CNN reported.
The Amtrak employee unions, which represent more than 15,000 of the rail network’s roughly 18,000 employees, are asking Congress to intervene. In a Friday letter to Congress, a coalition of 14 unions requested $350 million to prevent layoff, arguing the rail line will “use the pandemic as an excuse to permanently and artificially cut its workforce, eliminate or reduce routes and on-board or other customer services, or replace furloughed Amtrak employees with outsourced contractors,” CNN reported.
Meanwhile, ridership plummeted during the height of the pandemic, and the company estimates recovery might only restore the figures to 50% of pre-pandemic levels, or roughly 16 million riders in fiscal 2021, the Post reported.
The company’s Long-Distance Service, for which ridership has decreased by 70%, includes 15 routes. Only the Auto Train, which travels from Lorton, Virginia, outside Washington, D.C., to Orlando, will continue running daily. Likewise, Amtrak’s two existing triweekly trains – the Sunset Limited (New Orleans to Los Angeles) and the Cardinal (New York-Washington-Chicago) will maintain their triweekly runs, the Post reported.
The routes transitioning from daily runs to three times per week are as follows:
• California Zephyr (Chicago to San Francisco)
• Capitol Limited (Washington to Chicago)
• City of New Orleans (Chicago to New Orleans)
• Coast Starlight (Seattle to Los Angeles)
• Crescent (New York City to New Orleans)
• Empire Builder (Chicago to Seattle)
• Lake Shore Limited (New York to Chicago)
• Palmetto (New York to Savannah, Georgia)
• Silver Star (New York to Miami)
• Southwest Chief (Chicago to Los Angeles)
• Texas Eagle (Chicago to San Antonio)
“Our goal is to restore daily service on these routes as demand warrants, potentially by the summer of 2021,” Harris wrote.