Amtrak is asking for funding to keep running
WASHINGTON — Amtrak is asking Congress for $1.475 billion in funding to help keep their rails running in 2021. The company says the pandemic has drastically cut ridership, and without those riders, they’ll need the extra funding to keep their services running through the next year.
For the first fiscal quarter of 2020, Amtrak says they were on pace for a record-breaking year, but as the country started to shelter-in-place for the pandemic, ridership plummeted. In Washington, 96 percent fewer passengers are riding the Amtrak Cascades compared to the same time last year.
On Thursday, April 9, a record low 34 passengers rode the Cascades, compared to 1,746 passengers the same Thursday a year before. Other transit agencies have seen similar drops in riders, but none to the extent of the railway: the state’s ten largest transit agencies have seen an average 51 percent dip in ridership. State ferries have seen 64 percent fewer passengers.
Amtrak says they expect to recover next year, but not entirely. They’re forecasting around half of their regular riders will return in 2021.
“It is clear that Amtrak faces daunting challenges in the Fiscal Year 2021, which will require us to take action to protect our rail network, our critical capital assets, and the livelihoods of our employees,” said Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn in the letter to Congress.
The company says the extra funding would also help their 17 state partners on the National Network and nine commuter partners on the Northeast Corridor. Amtrak already receives an annual $2.040 billion grant to maintain its operation.
The company also says they are planning to cut their operating expenses by $500 million by cutting down on the number of trains to match demand, restructuring their workforce, and clamping down on discretionary spending. Here in Washington, Amtrak Cascades has already cut their travel to two daily round trips between Portland and Seattle.