UPDATE: MIPRC asks Congress to fund restoration of daily service on Amtrak’s long-distance trains

Biden Administration's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill includes $1.5 billion for Amtrak

February 9, 2021

UPDATE: The current version of the U.S. House THUD COVID-relief legislation (S. Con Res 5), contains $1.5 billion for Amtrak, specifically $820,388,160 for the Northeast Corridor and $679,611,840 for the National Network.

The bill requires Amtrak to use no less than

  • $165,926,000 to restore — within 90 days of enactment — daily long-distance service and recall employees furloughed on or after October 1, 2020;
  • $109,805,000 in lieu of capital payments from States and commuter rail providers that are subject to Amtrak’s cost allocation policy; and
  • $174,850,000 to offset amounts required to be paid by States for state-supported services.

The House’s Transportation & Infrastructure Committee is scheduled to mark up the transportation portion of the relief bill on February 10.

Original story:

MIPRC is asking Midwestern members of Congress to support $1.54 billion in additional FY 2021 funding for Amtrak as part of their pending COVID-19 relief legislation to restore daily service on the national passenger railroad’s long-distance train routes.

In an email sent January 28, the Commission asks them to support Amtrak President William Flynn’s Jan. 22 request for the additional money and to mandate that as a condition of such relief funds, Amtrak restore daily service on its national network of long-distance trains.

The company cut service on all daily long-distance routes except the Auto Train (Lorton, Virginia-Sanford, Florida) to three times per week starting October 1, 2020, citing COVID-related drops in ridership. Amtrak officials said at the time that key factors in restoring daily service would include
•    Public Health – COVID-19-related hospitalization rates in areas served by the trains must be stable or in decline;
•    Future Demand – the number of available seat and room-miles booked in February 2021 for operating services in June 2021 must be comparable with at least 90 percent of tickets booked for those services in June 2020, taking account of the currently reduced timetable; and
•    Current Performance – projected network ridership for the fall of 2021 must be at least 90 percent of figures estimated in Amtrak’s 2021 financial year operating plan.

In September 2020, Flynn told a Congressional committee that Amtrak would need a total of $4.9 billion in FY 2021 to restore daily long-distance service and rehire workers furloughed in 2020 . In addition to the $2 billion Amtrak initially requested for FY 2020, the company received $1 billion in April from the federal CARES Act, passed during FY 2020. It also received $1 billion in the FY 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act which passed in late December.

“As we noted in our letter to Congress of Dec. 15, 2020, Amtrak’s reduction of long-distance service from daily to three times per week, beginning Oct. 1, not only adversely affected the regional mobility of elderly and rural citizens who rely on the service, it has meant substantial losses to local communities already suffering economic losses due to COVID,” MIPRC’s message to Congressional members says. “Local communities within our Midwestern states could lose over $573 million due to these service cuts, demonstrated by this chart.”

“Intercity passenger rail services will be an important component of the overall transportation system’s role in supporting the economic recovery in the Midwest,” the email states.