U.S., Amtrak: Congress gave them the money, the national network will soon be daily, again

By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; March 10, 2021

It’s here – Amtrak announced today, thanks to the congressional passage of the COVID-19 relief bill it is restoring 12 long distance routes to daily service over a period of time from May 24th to June 7th. Included on the list are the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Texas Eagle, Capitol Limited, City of New Orleans, Lake Shore Limited, Southwest Chief, Crescent, Palmetto, Silver Meteor and Silver Star.

Auto Train stayed daily throughout the pandemic; no changes there, plus the Sunset Limited and Cardinal will remain tri-weekly, as they have been for decades.

Here is part of Amtrak’s press release:

Slated to debut this summer, new schedules offer the most departures since June 2020

WASHINGTON – As part of its COVID-19 recovery efforts, Amtrak announces full restoration of daily service for 12 long distance routes following pandemic-related schedule reductions in 2020. Providing customers significantly more departures for the upcoming summer travel season, the new schedule has been updated on all Amtrak reservation systems, including Amtrak.com and the Amtrak app.

Due to COVID relief funding, Amtrak will sustain and restore operations and recall the more than 1,200 furloughed employees through the remainder of FY21 and into FY22. The funding is pending President Biden’s signature on the final bill.

“Offering daily long distance service represents a vital step in our road to recovery,” said Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn. “Recognizing the immense value of our employees, we’d like to thank Congress for enabling service restoration and helping us recall furloughed employees.”

Because Amtrak has probably the most sophisticated public relations team it has had in decades, they attached the following information to the press release:

All destinations and scheduled departure/arrival times served by the long distance network will be maintained. Additionally, Amtrak will continue to operate the Auto Train daily and the Cardinal and Sunset Limited trains tri-weekly, as it has been done historically.

The schedule restoration is a critical part of Amtrak’s strategy for investing in long distance service. Other components include:

• The debut of the new Viewliner II sleeping cars on the Silver Service, the first addition to the Amtrak sleeper fleet in over two decades

• Upgraded bedding, towels and linens in private rooms aboard the Auto Train, with additional routes rolling out starting in summer

• Fully-refreshed Amfleet II cars for Coach class routes along East Coast, including new seating cushions, carpets, curtains and LED reading lights

• Multi-year interior refresh program for Superliner and Viewliner I equipment—including new seating cushions, carpet and curtains—beginning to enter service this summer

• New Amtrak ALC-42 diesel-electric locomotives with higher performance and lower emissions will begin to replace the current long distance engine fleet this year

• Improved lounge experience for all private room customers—including the debut of the Metropolitan Lounge in the Moynihan Train Hall at New York Penn Station

• Enhancements to the Auto Train customer experience

From New York City to the California coast; from Florida beaches to the Sierra Nevada; and from the Windy City to heart of the Big Easy, Amtrak’s world-famous long distance routes offer countless itineraries to over 500 destinations from coast to coast. Customers traveling aboard these trains can expect the following:

• Private Rooms: For a truly unique experience, private rooms offer the perfect option for customers seeking privacy and space on a short trip and added comfort and amenities when traveling overnight. All customers traveling in private rooms enjoy complimentary lounge access in stations and meals onboard. Amtrak recently launched the addition of private rooms on select Northeast Regional trains operating overnight between Washington, D.C., New York and Boston.

• Best Baggage Policy in Travel: Customers can bring up to two checked bags, two carry-on bags and two personal items, free.

• Destination: National Parks Amtrak offers access to and through several U.S. National Parks, including Glacier National Park and Harpers Ferry. Amtrak Vacations also offers numerous National Parks-themed packages to choose from.

• Several Ways to Save: Saver Fares are available on each route and customers can save 20% over the standard Coach fare when booked 14 days in advance. Kids ride for 50% off every day while seniors can save 10%. Customers can be among the first to learn about upcoming flash sales and other ways to save by subscribing to emails from Amtrak Guest Rewards or following @Amtrak on social media.

One thing Amtrak is not talking about is the long distance/inter-regional/national network is the most productive sector of Amtrak, providing the highest amount of transportation output – the long distance fleet turns in better numbers than both the Northeast Corridor and the state-subsidized routes for passenger miles traveled.

It’s not a matter of how many people/riders are transported; it’s a matter of passenger miles traveled. The long distance fleet is the workhorse of Amtrak.

Amtrak has been given a great opportunity by the pandemic and congress to demonstrate the importance of its network and how appealing train travel is/can be to the traveling public. Now is not the time for Amtrak to remain “America’s Best Kept Secret.”

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