Amtrak to Congress: We Need $10B

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor

Amtrak, updating its forecast for fiscal year 2021, anticipates needing up to $4.857 billion to support the company and employees due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, as Congress considers programs for stimulating the economy, Amtrak has identified $5.193 billion in additional need as part of an economic recovery proposal to help the nation recover from the impacts of the pandemic. The combined requests total $10.050 billion.

In an Oct. 8 letter to Vice President Michael Pence, in his capacity as Senate President, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President and CEO William J. Flynn formalized the $4.857 billion funding request. He noted, “We have seen that our ridership is not returning as quickly or at the levels that we had hoped for.”

According to Amtrak, business remains at about 25% of pre-COVID levels, and FY 2021 ridership and revenue are forecast to improve to about 40% of pre-COVID levels—“weaker than anticipated.”

The funds would be allocated as follows:

• $3.227 billion to “preserve Amtrak’s services and capital program in response to the dramatic loss of revenue due to the pandemic.” Of that figure, $1.704 billion would be used for the Northeast Corridor (NEC), $413 million for the Amtrak share of State Supported services, and $1.110 billion for Long-Distance service.

• $1.63 billion to “support Amtrak RRIF/debt payments, state and commuter partner payments that are payable to Amtrak under PRIIA Sections 209 and 212, the costs of any congressional workforce or service directives, and added revenue risk beyond our current projection.”

In a recent message to employees, Flynn explained:

“If we received this funding, we would be able to operate train service and invest in capital projects. This means we would restore Long Distance service to seven days a week as we operated in FY 2020. Furloughs associated with these lower service levels would be reversed. We anticipate that our state partners would have the resources they need to continue State Supported routes.”

Flynn also identified $5.193 billion in additional need. He recommended in his letter to Congress that it “be included as part of any economic recovery proposal enacted by Congress before the end of the term to help the nation recover from the impacts of the pandemic.”

The $5.193 billion includes:

• $642 million for fleet replacement (Amfleet and Superliner).

$1.242 billion for NEC infrastructure (Hudson Tunnel Project, Portal North Br., Sawtooth Bridge, East River Tunnel, B&P Tunnel, Susquehanna River Bridge, Pelham Bay Bridge, Connecticut River Bridge).

$1.893 billion for national network infrastructure (Southeast Corridor Expansion, Gulf Coast, Southwest Chief, Chicago Gateway, and new and expanded routes).

• $809 million for major stations (Chicago, Philadelphia, New York Penn, Baltimore Penn, Washington Union and others), and ADA compliance/improvements.

$607 million for other key initiatives (PTC and safety improvements, workforce development and apprenticeship, and RRIF and other debt payments).

“When considered in their totality, our FY 21 needs and our economic recovery proposal equal a total federal investment of $10.050 billion, an amount equivalent to the total appropriation for Amtrak included in the House of Representatives’ FY 21 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill (H.R. 7616),” Flynn wrote. “These funding needs have been shared in detail with the House and Senate Appropriations and relevant authorizing committees during recent months. Such funding could be provided in the annual appropriations bill, as part of a COVID-19 relief bill, in an economic stimulus bill, or via any other legislative vehicle.”

While Congress on Sept. 30 passed a continuing resolution (CR) to provide Amtrak funding at the FY 2020 rate of $2 billion until December 11, and the House on Oct. 1 passed an updated version of the HEROES Act including $2.4 billion in emergency supplemental funds for Amtrak, there is “no clear path to finalize such supplemental funding in Congress and the Administration,” Flynn wrote.

(Earlier this week, President Trump shelved talks for a large-scale COVID-19 relief package until after the election, but would reportedly consider other stand-alone measures, such as $1,200 stimulus checks for Americans.)

Given these factors and Amtrak’s “low levels of ridership and revenue projected over the next few months,” Flynn wrote, “Amtrak is in a very precarious position as we await final decisions on our funding levels.

“To manage this situation, Amtrak will work to adjust its operating and capital spending plans during this short term CR, with the aim of minimizing further impacts on our customers and employees. However, if the FY 20 funding level is extended beyond December 11, 2020, and supplemental funding has not yet been provided, 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. For example, insufficient funding levels could force Amtrak to reduce its workforce by an additional 2,400 jobs as we scale back capital projects (approximately 775 jobs) and because our state partners have advised us that they would likely further reduce their train service (approximately 1,625 jobs).”

For more on Amtrak, Railway Age Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono recently interviewed Flynn and Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Operating and Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner in this Rail Group On Air Podcast.

Download Amtrak’s letter to Congress:

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