Amtrak CEO on Service Cuts, Furloughs: ‘These Are Temporary’

An Amtrak conductor steps off the Empire Builder at Essex, Montana on August 31, 2020. Photo by Justin Franz. 

Amtrak CEO on Service Cuts, Furloughs: ‘These Are Temporary’

By Justin Franz

WASHINGTON — Amtrak is losing $250 million a month during the COVID-19 pandemic and it would be forced to declare bankruptcy if it does not get financial assistance from Congress or make drastic cuts to service. On Wednesday, Amtrak President and CEO Bill Flynn and labor officials spoke at a Congressional hearing about how the ongoing pandemic is impacting America’s passenger railroad.

The hearing comes less than a month before Amtrak is set to make drastic cuts to service and its ranks. On Oct. 1, nearly 2,000 frontline employees will be furloughed and throughout October, most long-distance passenger trains will be reduced to three days a week

During the hearing, Flynn said that the cuts were not permanent and that service and employee levels would go back to normal once ridership increases. He said that also includes long-distance passenger services. 

“These adjustments are temporary,” Flynn said. “And there is no secret plan as some critics have suggested (to end services). I am 100 percent committed to the long-distance network.”

Flynn and others said all cuts could be avoided if Congress gives it additional financial assistance. The House of Representatives has passed legislation that would give the railroad $4.9 billion but the Senate has yet to do the same. 

Not everyone thinks the long-distance cuts are a good idea. Jim Matthews, president and CEO of the Rail Passenger Association, said that while Amtrak will save money by running few long-distance trains, it would have a big impact on rural communities and do more to depress ridership. He said shorter daily trains should be run on the long-distance routes. He also said that past service reductions have proved that these cuts would not work. 

“Amtrak tried this in the 1990s,” he said. “It didn’t work then and it will not work now.” 

This article was posted on: September 9, 2020