August 11, 2020 - Amtrak white paper on reducing, then eventually (if that would happen) restoring long distance services during the pandemic.
June 26, 2020 - Article from the Havre (Montana) Daily News
June 15, 2020 - Long Distance Business Line – Service Update A Message from Roger Harris To All Amtrak Employees, We remain committed to operating a national network that serves our customers across America. However, we need to be smart about how we deliver our service in this market environment. Congress is not going to support us indefinitely to run mostly empty trains. We need to demonstrate that we are using our resources efficiently and responsibly. Amtrak has made the decision to operate with reduced capacity through FY21. We are planning 32% fewer frequencies on the Northeast Corridor, 24% fewer for our state-supported service and plan to reduce most long-distance trains to three days per week, beginning October 1, 2020. This is an appropriate response, given the current and near-term market conditions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our ridership has been down by as much as 95% year-over-year. It’s climbing back slowly – and it is going to take a long time to return to normal. The demand for our Long Distance service is down by 70%, even as some U.S. states begin to reopen. We expect our systemwide ridership in Fiscal Year 2021 to be only 50% of what it was in 2019. Low ridership on long-distance trains has significantly increased our operating losses, which already exceeded $500 million annually on these services before the pandemic. We expect these long-distance frequency reductions will save as much as $150 million in FY21 vs. the losses that would have been incurred with daily service. These savings are part of our pledge to Congress to reduce costs by $500 million. Our goal is to restore daily service on these routes as demand warrants, potentially by the summer of 2021. We recognize these changes will impact our employees who support the Long Distance Service Line. While we have a broad plan on our FY21 service frequency, we still have work to do to determine how that will impact the employees who support this work. We are sensitive to the uncertainty that this announcement brings to our Long Distance team. We will work quickly to determine what staffing reductions or furloughs will occur, and we will communicate these changes to you as soon as possible. A few additional points: The Auto Train is an exception to Amtrak’s long-distance reduction plan and will continue its daily operation. The Sunset Limited and the Cardinal are currently tri-weekly and will remain tri-weekly. We expect to run the Silver Meteor four times a week so the stations that are common between it and the Silver Star have daily service. Amtrak remains concerned about the potential for a second wave of the pandemic in the fall, which could further impact demand across the system. Amtrak is developing specific and measurable metrics to guide our restoration of frequencies and service, and we will share those with you, Congressional staff and other stakeholders. To ensure all stakeholders understand changes to our service, we will continue to communicate with our union leadership, our state partners, the federal government, the Rail Passengers Association, host railroads, our customers and you. We appreciate your continued support as we work together to manage Amtrak through this difficult period. Roger Harris EVP, Chief Marketing and Revenue Officer
May 22, 2020 - Amtrak is honoring the congressionially-mandated reinstatement of customer service representatives at Havre, Shelby, and 13 other stations which lost staffing in 2018.
May 22, 2020 - A second daily train to Chicago, with stops in St. Paul, Red Wing and Winona, is closer to reality following news of a grant worth more than $12.5 million to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
May 22, 2020 - Empire Builder ridership FY2020 (October 2019 through February 2020): 150,000
May 22, 2020 - Empire Builder ridership FY2020 (October 2019 through March 2020): 166,200. (Only 16,200 riders in March)
November 29, 2019 - Article in the Havre (Montana) Daily News
November 11, 2019 - Amtrak has published its ridership (by route) for fiscal year 2019.
November 8, 2019 - Op-Ed on Amtrak removing National Park Service guides from the Empire Builder.
June 28, 2019 - Tester defends long-distance Amtrak service for rural Montana
June 27, 2019 - Article on the Empire Builder's 90 birthday from the Flathead Beacon (Kalispell, MT).
April 19, 2019 - Senators Push Transportation Department, Amtrak for Answers on Future of Empire Builder
April 12, 2019 - Article on proposed passenger trains between Chicago and St. Paul/Minneapolis to supplement Empire Builder service.
March 2, 2019 - 91 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have written to Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson with regard to recent and expected changes at Amtrak.
December 13, 2018 - An interesting interview with Matt Rose, Executive Chairman of BNSF Railway. An excerpt about Amtrak (and specifically referencing the Empire Builder): "Public policy needs to determine who pays for this stuff, and what is the role of Amtrak. It’s not for the railroads to determine, and quite frankly, it’s not for the Amtrak board to determine. Do we want a national system? Do we want just a regional system? What is the value of having passengers being able to utilize that system in the middle of North Dakota? If you’re living in the state of North Dakota, it’s a high value. If you’re living in L.A. and want to get to Chicago, it’s probably not a huge value."
December 7, 2018 - This week, Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia wrote to Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews outlining real steps to pursue many of your Association’s customer-focused priorities. Coscia’s letter was a response to Mathews’ October open letter calling on Amtrak’s Board to embrace a bold growth plan for Amtrak focused on serving the entire country. While we must remain vigilant and keep working closely with our partners in Congress, along with our Mayors and other elected and appointed officials, Amtrak confirmed its broad agreement with us on the need for aggressive action on On-Time Performance, restoration of at least daily service system-wide, growth and expanded service, and the need for new and upgraded rolling stock. “As you are aware, several of our fleets are close to the end of their useful lives; therefore, Amtrak has begun formulating a comprehensive fleet strategy and is now taking critical steps toward re-fleeting, both on the Northeast Corridor and the National Network,” Coscia said in his letter to Mathews. “...we will soon begin to evaluate the appropriate strategy for our bi-level equipment; your thoughts and recommendations on this important topic would be greatly appreciated.” Members should know that we are regularly and frequently meeting with Amtrak on all the issues we have outlined in our letter, and that advocacy -- your voice -- is working. We are scheduled to meet next month with Amtrak in the first of several meetings to provide input to the re-fleeting plan and the bi-level equipment strategy. Amtrak is also well aware of our hopeful and grand vision for more and better service and commitment to the National Network. “We are eager to grow and expand service to currently underserved cities, corridors and communities across the country,” Coscia wrote. “We are hopeful there will be opportunities for expansion onto new routes in places like Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.” Coscia also specifically acknowledged your Association’s continued call for restoration of daily service on the Cardinal and Sunset Limited routes. “You’ve raised valid concerns about thrice-weekly service which is consistent with the Company’s own view as set forth in our PRIIA-required Route Improvement Plans,” Coscia wrote. “We are looking again at the opportunity for daily service for both the Cardinal and the Sunset Limited. Of course, to do so will require reasonable cooperation from our Host Railroads and available equipment.” Amtrak also sent Mathews’ letter and Coscia’s response to all employees through a company-wide memo, emphasizing the role our organization plays in advocating for robust investment in passenger rail: “RPA spends most of its time educating members of Congress and their staffs about the value of passenger rail. This work is important to Amtrak, as the company relies on Congress for significant funding for capital investments. Earlier this year, Amtrak received $1.9 billion from Congress, the largest annual appropriation in the history of the company.” Coscia’s comprehensive response, and the broad distribution it saw across the railroad, is encouraging; advocates should recognize that they’re playing a role in advancing a vision for a modern rail network. At the same time, we have to be the watchdogs of Amtrak. We have to ensure they do not become too “efficient,” because we know what that really means, and it’s not good for passengers. We should be wary of “rider choice.” Nickel-and-dime fees are the hallmarks of the worst airlines and Amtrak should know this as well as anyone. If they don’t know it, we will be there to remind them, again and again. Bad service is the scourge that will absolutely push people into their cars. Bad food, no food, old equipment, less frequent services, exorbitant fees or price: these are unacceptable anywhere, whether on the Northeast Corridor or on the rest of the Interstate Passenger Rail System. We can also never allow prioritization of — or discrimination against — one region over another. Amtrak can’t be allowed to choke the life out of certain routes, intentionally or not. But that also means advocates need to stop choosing sides, arguing for or against the Northeast Corridor -- which remains a vital part of the overall National Network. We should never take from elsewhere to boost the Corridor, but we should welcome any effort to improve service and the customer experience on any route, and then use that success to push further so that passengers riding anywhere in the Interstate Rail Passenger System get the benefits. More to the point, riders from Boston and NY and Washington will add to our voice on OTP, Private Right of Action, regular, frequent, safe and reliable service, new and better equipment, and so forth. When Amtrak wants to downgrade food and beverage options, NEC riders will be right there with us and in great numbers. (The link to the actual letter from Mr. Coscia is above).
August 30, 2018 - Amtrak officials say Empire Builder service will not change, but some worry about health of national network
August 30, 2018 - A white paper issued by the Rail Passengers Association, “Amtrak’s Route Accounting: Fatally Flawed, Misleading & Wrong,” contends that Amtrak’s fully allocated cost methodology “grossly exaggerates the cost of operating the national passenger train system. This, in turn, has lead to the conclusion adopted by many elected leaders and other affected stakeholders that abandonment of key long-distance trains will save Amtrak significant sums and lead to a more financially secure national passenger operation.”
July 26, 2018 - Trains News Wire