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Amtrak's latest projections are that the railroad ended fiscal-year 2020 on Sept. 30 with $1.24 billion in annual ticket-sales revenue, just 53 percent of what it had been in the previous fiscal year, President and Chief Executive Officer William Flynn told a U.S. Senate committee this week.
Flynn on Oct. 21 provided members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation an update on the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on Amtrak's finances and operations, as well as the railroad's measures to address the drastic loss in ridership and revenue over the past several months.
Prior to the pandemic's onset, Amtrak in early March had been on track to generate FY2020 passenger revenue greater than operating costs for the first time in the railroad's history, Flynn said. Now, Amtrak officials are projecting only 9 million passenger trips and $598 million in revenue for all of FY2021, down from over 32 million passenger trips and nearly $2.4 billion in revenue in FY2019.
The FY2021 projections assume a widely distributed vaccine will become available by the middle of calendar year 2021, "which we know is not a guaranteed outcome," Flynn said, according to his written testimony.
Flynn reiterated earlier statements that Amtrak anticipates needing up to $4.9 billion in federal funding to operate and invest in the rail network, support state Amtrak routes, avoid employee furloughs and maintain daily long-distance service.
Earlier this year, Amtrak announced a plan to reduce most of its long-distance routes to three days a week. The railroad also reduced train frequencies on the Northeast Corridor.
Flynn said it was "disappointing" that Congress was unable to pass FY2021 appropriations bills before Oct. 1 and instead passed a continuing resolution (CR), which continued funding at FY2020 levels through Dec. 11.
"Given the low ridership and revenue projected over the next few months, a CR at this level will put Amtrak in a precarious position as we await final decisions on our annual funding levels and our COVID-19 supplemental funding request," Flynn said.
Amtrak will adjust its operating and capital spending plans during the CR. But if the funding level is extended beyond Dec. 11, "we will be unable to avoid more drastic impacts that could have long lasting effects" on the railroad, Flynn said.
Amtrak officials are now looking at specific capital projects and procurements that will be deferred until future funding levels are known, he said. Among projects that may be deferred: key aspects of the Gateway Program, early Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel work and property acquisition; a "refresh" of aging long-distance train equipment; several New York Penn Station improvements; and other engineering and mechanical projects on the Northeast Corridor and national network.
Such project deferrals could impact Amtrak's engineering and mechanical workforce, Flynn added.
"While there are no plans to adjust train service beyond the already announced changes to the long distance trains, we will reevaluate this in December when the level of funding available to us for the remainder of the year becomes clear," he said.