Amtrak requests $1.5 Billion in emergency funds for Northeast Corridor
Amtrak’s CEO, William Flynn, testified last week that the loss of ridership and revenue during the pandemic would force “drastic measures” unless Congress approves nearly $5 billion in relief by Oct. 1.
More than $1.5 billion of the request is emergency funding to maintain the Northeast Corridor trains (versus $467 million for maintaining daily service on the long distance trains).
The Northeast Corridor is a critical part of the nation’s transportation network, linking our political and economic capital with several of the nation’s largest cities. It hosts the nation’s fastest and most frequent trains and underpins multiple commuter rail networks.
The NEC has been hit hard as COVID-19 slashes travel demand. In July, Acela and Northeast Regional trains saw just 13% of ridership compared to July 2019 (versus 39% on the long distance trains).
Beyond the drop in passenger revenue, local commuter railroads likely will be unable to pay Amtrak for operating their trains on the Northeast Corridor. Called 212 payments, these fees represent $173 million of the emergency request.
Amtrak has also requested funds to cover loan payments on the Acela II trainsets. We are excited about the upcoming launch of these trainsets, which will be the first North American trains capable of exceeding 170 mph. Unfortunately, they will be introduced during the downturn and may not generate the additional ticket revenue right away.
Clearly, the travel market has changed. Amtrak must rethink its strategy and service offerings across the country. In the short term though, the foundation needs to be maintained. We fully support Amtrak’s request for emergency funding for the Northeast Corridor and the rest of the network.
Given the recent ridership data, Amtrak must also maintain daily operations for the long-distance trains. Its insistence on gutting them makes little sense. Why force Congress to focus so much energy on the part of the network that is still performing relatively well—at a time when the need is so great in the NEC?
These trains might also offer valuable insights on how to reconfigure the NEC as Amtrak transitions to a new, post-pandemic operating model.