November 25, 2020 - TRA News Analysis -

Amtrak's long-distance network trains continued to outpace the Northeast Corridor and state-supported trains again in September, with numbers supplied by the passenger rail agency. This despite the fact that Amtrak executives cut 4/7th of the trains that run in intercity service.

Long-distance trains, including the Texas Eagle and Sunset Limited, produced almost half of Amtrak's ticket revenue in September, which continues to be depressed during the China virus pandemic.

Train ticket revenue on the lightly traveled Northeast Corridor was down 88.7% in September to a paltry $12.9 million. The Boston-New York-Washington line is usually described as the crown jewel of Amtrak's services.
State-supporter corridor trains were down 76.4% in revenue, coming in with $10.2 million in ticket sales. Many state-supported trains like the Fort Worth to Oklahoma City HEartland Flyer rely on connections with long-distance trains when passengers must connect to their final destination.
Long distance national network trains that serve many small and medium markets continued to lead revenue tracking with $19.4 million in ticket sales, down less than half of normal at 47.6%. In October Amtrak executives decided to cut daily network service to only three days a week and shortened the number of cars on longer distance trains.

"Even during a peak holiday travel period like Thanksgiving I have been told that Amtrak has refused to add extra capacity to their long distance trains", according to Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody. "Today the long haul trains are operating with only two coaches, one food service car and one sleeping car only three days a week. That's a substantially smaller train with drastically less capacity. Coach seats are selling OK but I've been on trains lately and the sleeping cars are filling up because you have a private room to yourself. I don't understand why Amtrak management won't take the extra sleeping cars sitting in their railyards and run them, especially during prime holiday travel time."

With fewer travelers on board both trains and planes the entire industry is struggling to make ends meet. Amtrak has put protocols in place to limit coach seats to 50% of capacity, assuring an empty seat next to each rider. There are no middle seats on Amtrak trains. Passengers that choose a sleeping car compartment on long distance trains can easily separate themselves from other travelers.

LeCody said that the cutback to only three Amtrak trains a week on the national network has passengers scrambling to understand how to connect to other trains at hubs like Chicago. "The 3-time weekly schedule now means that passengers can't travel past Chicago and connect with other long distance trains at least one of the three days a week and in one case, can only connect to another service once a week. It's time for Amtrak's board and executives to realize that the revenue right now is being generated by the long haul trains and they must get them back to daily service at once", according to the rail advocate.