Amtrak reported today preliminary results for fiscal year 2020 (October 2019-September 2020), including an operating loss of $801.1 million due to the pandemic. Operating revenues were $2.3 billion, a decrease of 31.9% over FY 2019. It also reported advancing $1.9 billion in infrastructure and fleet work.
Amtrak provided 16.8 million customer trips in FY 2020, down 47.4% with a year-over-year decline of 15.2 million riders, due to “pandemic-related travel demand reductions.” Acela ridership was down 52.5%. (For more details, see chart below.)
Overall ridership for the past several months has been about 20%-25% of pre-COVID levels, according to President and CEO Bill Flynn, who took over Amtrak leadership April 15, succeeding Richard Anderson.
Based on Amtrak’s current forecast, it expects ridership and revenue to improve to about 37% of pre-COVID levels by the end of FY 2021.
On Sept. 30, Congress passed a continuing resolution to provide Amtrak funding at the FY 2020 rate of $2 billion until December 11. Amtrak has advised Congress that it needs a total of $4.9 billion in FY 2021.
“Our dedicated employees continue to work tirelessly through the pandemic to keep this country moving, advance critical infrastructure and update technology and services, and provide safe transportation to customers,” Flynn said. “However, without additional funding for 2021, we will be forced to further reduce service, defer critical capital projects and make more job reductions despite this important progress.”
Among Amtrak’s other FY 2020 highlights:
• In response to COVID-19, Amtrak—with a medical director and partnership with the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health—studied, analyzed and made improvements for employee health and safety. It also implemented a variety of cleaning, contact-free and safety measures, including requiring face masks at all times, limiting bookings and using signage to promote social distancing. Through a partnership with RB, the Lysol manufacturer, Amtrak said it enhanced its cleaning and disinfection measures. (The Federal Railroad Administration made more than $1 billion under the CARES Act available to Amtrak “to support the railroad’s activities to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. and its impacts on operations and business.”)
• On the safety side, Amtrak completed Positive Train Control (PTC) installations on all of its managed tracks. It also continued work on its Safety Management System, “resulting in improvements in a broad range of safety metrics.”
• On the equipment side, Amtrak advanced testing of its next-generation Acela trainsets, which are expected to begin service by the end of 2021. (Amtrak released a video in October, taking viewers on a tour of the onboard amenities and features.) Efforts also included “gathering necessary data needed to meet regulatory requirements, improving infrastructure and facilities, and developing training.” By the end of FY 2020, prototype trains had been on the Northeast Corridor and at the Transportation Technology Center in Colorado. Amtrak said they topped 20,000 miles on the test track and reached a speed of 166.8 mph at TTCI. Additionally, Amtrak’s state partners in the Midwest and California have started accepting new railcars, which will begin service in 2021 and offer riders “touchless features and updated amenities including more space for bicycles.”
• For stations, Amtrak reported that it began upgrading major stations across the country. In the Northeast, work included updating the ticketed waiting area at New York Penn Station; a major construction project that will increase rail capacity at Washington Union Station; working with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Transit (NJT) on the Penn Master Plan and Penn Expansion projects to upgrade and add more tracks and platforms to the existing station; selecting a team with international expertise to form a master development partnership via ground lease for the renovation of William H. Gray III 30th Street Station in Philadelphia; collaborating with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and NJT on construction work at the New Brunswick, Trenton Transit Center, Princeton Junction and Elizabeth stations; and a construction project to improve accessibility and safety at the Amtrak stop in Ashland, Va.
• For accessibility, Amtrak invested $109 million on Americans with Disabilities Act- (ADA-) related design and construction improvement projects at more than 159 locations nationwide. Accessibility projects in Montgomery, W.Va., and Picayune, Miss., were recently completed, and $29 million in improvements to the platforms and station at Homewood, Ill., are under way with Metra.
• Amtrak reported additional infrastructure work was completed this summer due to reduced train volumes. For example, concrete slab, tie and rail replacement work at the B&P Tunnel in Baltimore, Md., would normally be completed during extended weekend outages. However, an estimated two to three years of work was finished with extended outages during the summer. Additionally, crews accomplished some 20% more Sperry rail testing at night over the Northeast Corridor. Amtrak also accelerated data collection efforts in performing LiDAR mapping of infrastructure: What had originally been planned to take four months working around train operations was reduced to three weeks of continuous measuring. (In a report released in September, Amtrak’s Office of Inspector General found that while Amtrak has built a more disciplined process to plan and coordinate major track outages, including those along the Northeast Corridor, more steps could be taken to reduce service disruptions and maximize the amount of time it has access to tracks.)
• Amtrak launched and expanded several programs to improve rider amenities, including introducing the carry-on bike program on the Pennsylvanian (and increasing the program for most Northeast Regional departures, and Northeast state-supported Keystone Service, Downeaster and Amtrak Hartford Line trains); broadening reserved seating to all Acela Business Class and Palmetto, Vermonter, Carolinian and Northeast Regional Business class customers; upgrading bedding, pillows, towels, linens and other goods in private rooms on the Auto Train; expanding the pet program to allow riders to travel with their dogs and cats (up to 20 pounds) onboard weekday Acela trains; and debuting the RideReserve program to reduce rider crowding.
• Amtrak improved and expanded its website and mobile platforms. Updates included allowing riders access to information and services on their mobile devices, such as gate and track notifications at select stations to reduce crowding around station departure boards and a capacity indicator icon allowing riders to see how full a train is before booking.
• On the sustainability side, Amtrak reported that it quantified financial impacts to ridership and revenue due to storms and severe weather; developed a greenhouse gas emissions calculator comparing the impacts of rail vs. other travel modes; and identified inundation and flood mapping training with instruction from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Since 2010, Amtrak said it has reduced emissions by 20% and targets a 40% reduction by 2030 (from 2010 baseline figures).
• For state-supported services, Amtrak, in partnership with the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation and other stakeholders, “committed to creating a new passenger-dedicated rail infrastructure between Washington, D.C., Richmond [Va.], and the North Carolina border to allow for quicker and more predictable trips.” Additionally, Amtrak and partners are making “continued progress toward extending 110-mph service in Michigan and adding 90-mph service in Illinois, both to improve travel times and productivity.”
• Amtrak said it worked closely with its contract commuter service customers to “adapt many aspects of their operations, ranging from the frequency of departures to customer-facing processes, to sustain essential services and provide them with the flexibility they needed.”
• Amtrak implemented initiatives to improve diversity and inclusion, such as hosting listening sessions with employees, creating a Diversity & Inclusion Council, and offering “unconscious bias” training to all employees.
“Prior to the pandemic and with strong support from our partners, Amtrak set new records for ridership, revenue and financial performance on its path to achieve operational breakeven in fiscal year 2020, further demonstrating the country’s growing need for rail,” Amtrak Board Chair Tony Coscia said. “We are continuing to make advancements so when customers return, they will find an even better Amtrak.”