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Amtrak Benefits From Relief Bill

The recent passing of the COVID-19 relief bill included additional funding for Amtrak, but those funds probably won’t translate into additional route days for the Empire Builder.

Amtrak’s reduction from seven days a week to three days a week for the Empire Builder went into effect on Monday, Oct. 19. Currently, the eastbound Empire Builder stops in Wolf Point on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. The westbound train stops in Wolf Point on Fridays, Sundays and Tuesdays.

The stimulus bill included $1 billion for Amtrak to assist the railroad system. According to Sen. Jon Tester’s office, $345 million of the $1 billion is reserved for long-distance routes.

Amtrak spokesperson Mark Magliari said the bill notes that Amtrak can not do further layoffs or further reduce services during this time.

“We thank Congress for passing the annual spending and COVID relief bill that will provide an additional $1 billion in emergency funding. While this COVID funding is intended to be a temporary band-aid that will help Amtrak and our state and commuter partners, it is critical for minimizing negative impacts to our customers, employees and service between now and the end of March,” Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn said in a press release. “We look forward to working with the next Congress and new Administration on additional FY21 funding so we can restore service, bring back furloughed employees and continue our progress on vital capital projects. This near-term support, coupled with significant new investments through an infrastructure or stimulus bill to expand the Amtrak network through new corridor routes, would create thousands of new jobs, reduce our nation’s carbon footprint and help the economy recover and flourish in the years ahead.”

As far as increasing route days, Magliari said Amtrak officials will review data in February to make such decisions for the future months. William Floyd, president and CEO of Amtrak, testified during a Congressional hearing in October, “We are committed to operating our long distance system and, as ridership returns, we intend to restore service frequency to previous levels. Assuming we receive the necessary federal funding to continue our planned operations in FY 2021, we will evaluate three metrics throughout the year with our initial plan to decide in February whether to restore daily service on each affected long distance route for summer and beyond.”

The metrics that Amtrak plans to follow include: Public Health: Is the COVID-19 pandemic under control? Future Demand: Are customers booking trips near the same rate as in 2020? and Current Performance: Is ridership close to our projections in our operating plan? “If all three conditions are met for a given long distance route, we will restore daily service along that route between late May and June 2021,” Floyd testified.

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