U.S. railroad Amtrak urges new emergency government assistance

David Shepardson
·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: An Amtrak train is parked at the platform inside New York's Penn Station, the nation's busiest train hub, which will be closing tracks for repairs causing massive disruptions to commuters in New York City
FILE PHOTO: An Amtrak train is parked at the platform inside New York's Penn Station, the nation's busiest train hub, which will be closing tracks for repairs causing massive disruptions to commuters in New York City

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The chief executive of Amtrak urged lawmakers on Wednesday to approve over $2 billion in new emergency assistance as the U.S. passenger railroad expects travel and revenue to fall by more than 70% from pre-coronavirus levels in 2021.

Amtrak projects just 9 million passenger trips and $598 million in revenue for the budget year that began Oct. 1, down from over 32 million trips and $2.35 billion in the 2019 budget year and $1.24 billion in the 2020 budget year that ended Sept. 30, according to testimony from CEO Bill Flynn.

The absence of new government assistance, Flynn warned, would "essentially reduce the company to a very, very precarious state."

"There aren't any good options" without new assistance," he added.

Ridership and revenue are down more than 80% and Flynn told the Senate Commerce Committee the railroad's budget forecasts assume a vaccine by middle of next year.

In February, Amtrak carried more than 80,000 passengers a day, a number that fell to under 4,000 in April. On Tuesday, Amtrak carried 17,000 passengers nationwide, Flynn said.

The U.S. government-supported passenger railroad earlier this month warned that without a new government bailout it could be forced to cut more spending and train services that could lead to the loss of 2,400 jobs.

In September, Amtrak told Congress it needs up to $4.9 billion in government funding for the 2021 budget year, up from the $2 billion in annual support it usually receives.

Flynn said without new government assistance Amtrak, which has already cut back on train services across the United States, may need to defer key aspects of a series of improvements in the New York City area and some New York Penn Station improvements and make other painful cuts.

In September, Amtrak said it was eliminating 100 management positions and furloughing 1,950 union employees as a result of the steep decline in revenue.

U.S. transit and airline demand has been devastated by the pandemic.

In April, Congress gave Amtrak $1 billion in emergency assistance after daily ridership fell by 97%.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Richard Pullin and Tom Brown)