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Just prior to the pandemic hitting the United States in March, Amtrak was on track to break even financially for the first time in its history and achieve record ridership in fiscal-year 2020.
Instead, facing unprecedented challenges related to the pandemic, Amtrak posted a fiscal-year 2020 operating loss of $801 million on total operating revenue of $2.3 billion, down 32 percent compared with FY2019 revenue. The national intercity passenger railroad provided 16.8 million customer trips in FY2020, a year-over-year decrease of 15.2 million trips compared with last year.
Amtrak worked steadily over the past fiscal year to prioritize rider safety, advance infrastructure and fast-track technology improvements, even as the pandemic caused unprecedented declines in ridership and revenue, Amtrak officials said yesterday during a press conference.
The railroad pivoted quickly to ensure riders and employees remained healthy, while also continuing to focus on improving intercity passenger rail for the future, they said. A restructuring during FY2019 helped put the railroad in a position to deal with its current pandemic-related challenges, said Amtrak Chairman Tony Coscia.
"Prior to the pandemic and with strong support from our partners, Amtrak set new records for ridership, revenue and financial performance on its path to achieve operational break-even in FY2020, further demonstrating the country's growing need for rail," Coscia said. "We are continuing to make advancements so when customers return, they will find an even better Amtrak."
Business remains at about 25 percent of pre-pandemic levels, Amtrak officials said. Based on the current forecast, ridership and revenue is expected to improve to about 37 percent of pre-COVID levels by the end of FY2021, they said.
"Our dedicated employees continue to work tirelessly through the pandemic to keep this country moving, advance critical infrastructure and update technology and services, and provide safe transportation to customers," said Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Flynn.
However, without urgently needed additional funding from Congress, the railroad will be forced to further reduce service, defer critical capital projects and implement job cuts, Flynn noted.
Amtrak officials are hoping Congress will soon pass pandemic relief and economic stimulus legislation, but negotiations on Capitol Hill have stalled. The railroad is seeking up to $4.9 billion in federal funding to help the railroad get through the unprecedented crisis. Typically, Amtrak receives from Congress about $2 billion annually toward its operations.
Despite the pandemic, Amtrak did achieve several goals during FY2020, such as:• completing positive train control implementation on all Amtrak-owned and controlled track;• implementing initiatives to improve workforce diversity and inclusion;• advancing testing on its the new Acela trains that are expected to start carrying passengers on the Northeast Corridor by the end of 2021;• starting to refresh major stations across the country;• completing infrastructure work early due to reduce train volumes on the network; and• improving and expanding its website and mobile platforms.