This year, Americans held what may have been the most subdued observance of the Fourth of July in the nation’s history. There were few parades, town celebrations or fireworks displays in recognition of the nation’s birthday. In short, there were essentially no parties or events, so few people had reason to go anywhere.
This writer began working on this series on June 19. It was Juneteenth, the day an increasing number of Americans of all colors and heritages now view as an occasion to celebrate freedom. Part of the freedom that many Americans treasure is the freedom to travel, as stated in the First Amendment of the Constitution. The “right to travel” is one thing, in the sense that government cannot unduly restrict travel (as questionable as that assumption may appear these days), but there is also the issue that this sacred “right” can be limited if access to mobility is also limited. Millions of Americans who depend on Amtrak for part of their travel are about to lose a significant portion of the mobility they have today.
Citing a “need to be smart about how we deliver our service in this market environment” as well as “to demonstrate that we are using our resources efficiently and responsibly” because “Congress is not going to support us indefinitely to run mostly empty trains,” Amtrak Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing and Revenue Officer Roger Harris, in a June 15 letter to employees, announced drastic service cuts taking effect Oct. 1, 2020, the beginning of the railroad’s Fiscal Year 2021.
Amtrak submitted a letter to Congress outlining an additional $1.475 billion in supplemental funding needed in FY 2021. The additional funding is necessary for Amtrak to operate minimum service levels across the passenger rail network and continue capital investments for the future, the letter said.
As Amtrak enters it 50th year, many of its schedules bear little resemblance to the service that was offered a mere two months ago. President and CEO Richard Anderson is out (though serving in a transitional role), and William Flynn is in. Will that change at the top mean much to Amtrak customers and supporters? The COVID-19 pandemic has knocked out a large portion of Amtrak service, as well as much local transit. Still, the nation will come back to life in some fashion, someday. How will Amtrak participate in the recovery? Anything can happen in these unpredictable times. What could happen in Amtrak’s possibly most-pivotal year?
Amtrak’s new Acela fleet, scheduled to enter service on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) in 2021, continues to progress with its high-speed testing at Transportation Technology Center near Pueblo, Colo., as the first Acela prototype completed another milestone by traveling at speeds up to 165 mph, although the train’s initial top operating speed will be 160 mph.
As states begin or continue the process of allowing more businesses and public facilities to open, some members of the traveling public wonder how many trains Amtrak will run this summer. Amtrak is running fewer trains than ever on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) and other corridors, as part of the shutdown of much of the nation’s activity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At this writing, a few places have loosened some of the virus-related restrictions, while others are planning how and when to do so. Amtrak will probably return to a level of service approaching the schedule at the beginning of March someday, on some lines if not all of them, but nobody knows when. Apparently not even Amtrak is sure and, for some trains, Amtrak lacks the authority to make those decisions.
President Donald J. Trump on May 18 announced his intent to nominate Sarah E. Feinberg and Chris Koos to Amtrak’s Board of Directors.
Highlights from Amtrak’s April 23, 2020 press conference with new President and CEO Bill Flynn, Board Chair Tony Coscia and Senior Executive Vice President Stephen Gardner. The three answer questions about Amtrak’s
Amtrak, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), NJ TRANSIT, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and other regional bus and ferry operators have launched #SoundTheHorn—a coordinated effort to simultaneously sound their vehicle horns at 3 p.m. ET on Thursday, April 16 to honor heroic transportation and other essential workers across the country.