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in-focus

Amtrak says additional 2,400 jobs will be cut without more federal aid


WASHINGTON - Days after President Donald Trump abruptly cut off talks on a broad coronavirus relief package, Amtrak shifted its focus to Congress, pleading for funding to keep its trains running and pay front-line workers.

In a letter sent to House and Senate leaders Thursday, Amtrak urged swift passage of legislation that would extend government support for the passenger railroad, warning that without additional funding by the end of the year it would need to cut more than 2,000 jobs, further reduce service and defer major capital projects.

"We will be unable to avoid more drastic impacts that could have long lasting effects on our Northeast Corridor infrastructure and the national rail system," Amtrak chief executive William Flynn said in the letter. "Insufficient funding levels could force Amtrak to reduce its workforce by an additional 2,400 jobs."

The company further slashed operations this month and furloughed 2,050 workers. Amtrak said the 11% reduction in its workforce came as a direct result of the coronavirus crisis, which has substantially cut into its revenue.

Amtrak said it needs up to $4.9 billion in federal assistance - including nearly $2.9 billion in supplemental funding - to help make up for losses caused by the pandemic and "stave off bankruptcy."

The House included $2.4 billion in emergency supplemental funds for Amtrak in an updated version of the Heroes Act. 

"While we were grateful for this sign of support, at this time, there is no clear path to finalize such supplemental funding in Congress and the Administration," Flynn's letter said. "Therefore, given this uncertainty, as well as the low levels of ridership and revenue projected over the next few months, and the limited funding provided under the short-term continuing resolution, Amtrak is in a very precarious position as we await final decisions on our funding levels." 

Ridership fell 97% in the weeks after the pandemic hit, and Flynn said it and revenue remain down 75% compared with a year ago. The company has lowered its projections for recovery, now estimating that ridership and revenue will improve to about 40% of pre-pandemic levels this fiscal year. 

"It is critical that the federal government act soon to preserve our nation's passenger rail system," Amtrak said in a statement this week. The company urged Congress and the Trump administration to act on its emergency funding request "by no later than December of this year when the current stopgap measure that provides our annual funding is set to expire."

The Rail Passengers Association joined the Transportation Communications Union and other labor and trade groups in a letter to House leadership earlier this week urging a stimulus package that includes Amtrak. The groups said Amtrak serves small communities across the country with few transportation alternatives and is an economic force in the 500 communities it serves.

"Amtrak's long-distance network alone generates $4.8 billion in economic benefits to the U.S., which are widely distributed throughout America's heartland," the groups said in the letter. "And that does not even include additional billions generated by the State-supported trains or our nation's economic aorta, the Northeast Corridor." 

More service and workforce reductions and the deferral of critical capital projects would result in fewer travel options for passengers in coming months, Amtrak warned. 

The railroad said it has identified $5.2 billion in capital projects that could be part the nation's economic recovery. They include critical projects such as replacing bridges and tunnels in the Northeast Corridor and the purchase of new trains. The additional investment could result in the creation of 75,000 jobs, Amtrak said. 

Scaling back capital projects would have "long lasting effects" on the rail network. Among projects at risk of being scaled back or delayed are planned improvements at Washington's Union Station and New York's Penn Station and the replacement of the Civil War-era Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel. 

An additional 1,625 jobs would be cut from state-funded routes, the company said.

Amtrak received just over $1 billion as part of the first coronavirus relief package.

Published : October 09, 2020

By : The Washington Post · Luz Lazo · NATIONAL, BUSINESS, POLITICS, COURTSLAW, TRANSPORTATION