June 16, 2020
Yesterday afternoon Amtrak announced in a service advisory that all long distance trains, with the exception of the Silver Meteor and Auto Train, will be cut from daily service to three times a week. The Silver Meteor will run four times a week and the Auto Train will still run daily. Amtrak is stating this will reduce costs by $150M in the next fiscal year due to drastic drops in ridership. Amtrak tried this plan in the 1990's, and what happened was that costs were cut by about 15%, but revenues plunged by more than 50% as riders found it difficult to adjust to the reduced schedules. We fear the same thing will happen now.
When ridership does return, as Amtrak is hoping, they have announced they will return to daily schedules but have not announced how they will decide that. It may be difficult to get the daily slots back on frieght railroads, get employees back, and idled equipment up and running again. We fear this could seriously damage the long distance network, and it might never return to the state we have now.
We urge you to call Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, and tell them that Amtrak needs to run a daily service, as many people in rural areas as we know depend on these trains.
Trains News Wire ran a story - which is posted here. Thank you for your support.
WASHINGTON — Amtrak plans to reduce most long-distance trains to three-day-a-week service as of Oct. 1, according to an internal message obtained by Trains News Wire.
In an internal “Service Update,” Amtrak Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing and Revenue Service Officer Roger Harris told employees today that the goal would be “to restore daily service on these routes as demand warrants, potentially by the summer of 2021.”
Amtrak’s two existing triweekly trains, the New York-Washington-Chicago Cardinal and the Los Angeles-New Orleans Sunset Limited, will continue on current schedules. The New York-Miami Silver Meteor is being cut to four times per week; it will alternate departure days with the Palmetto, which operates to Savannah, Ga., on the same route, and with the New York-Miami Silver Star, which serves some of the same cities as the Meteor but runs via Raleigh, N.C., and Columbia, S.C.
Auto Train, which carries passengers and their cars between Lorton, Va., and Sanford, Fla., is the lone long-distance train which will continue to operate daily.
Harris justifies the impending cutbacks to employees by claiming the reductions “will save as much as $150 million [in fiscal 2021] vs. the losses that would have been incurred with daily service.” He also asserts “low ridership on long-distance trains has significantly increased our operating losses, which exceeded $500 million annually on these services before the pandemic.”
The “operating losses” Harris cites include allocated costs attributed to those services. Amtrak has historically declined to provide line-item dollar amounts which would detail these costs for any train.
Trains News Wire asked Amtrak:
— Whether a specific days-of-week operating plan had been devised for each train;
— If some trains will remain daily on certain route segments;
— What criteria Amtrak will use to restore daily service on any given route; and
— If state-sponsored service allocated costs will change on routes shared with reduced long distance trains.
In response, Amtrak spokeswoman Christina Leeds said in a statement, “We are still in the planning phase, so we can’t answer most of your questions at this time. Due to the long=term impact of COVID-19 on ridership, Amtrak has made the decision to operate with reduced capacity through FY21. We are planning 32% fewer frequencies on the NEC, 24% fewer for our state-supported, service and plan to reduce most long-distance trains to three days per week, beginning Oct. 1, 2020. Our goal is to restore daily service on these routes as demand warrants, potentially by the summer of 2021. We will use specific and measurable metrics to guide our restoration of frequencies and service.”
The New Orleans-bound Crescent pulls into Meridian, Miss., in May 2014. Amtrak says it has not yet finalized plans for cuts to its long-distance service and so did not say whether some portions, such as the New York-Atlanta segment of the Crescent, might still run daily.
The plan received swift and harsh criticism. In a statement, Rail Passengers Association president and CEO Jim Mathews predicts, “Chopping back to triweekly will mute any demand signal before it gets to management. The long-distance services ... remain essential to the hundreds of small communities across the United States with fewer options than Philadelphia or Boston or New York.”
He adds, “It's no coincidence that the worst-performing trains in Amtrak's system are the two less-than-daily long-distance services. Remaking the entire National Network to emulate this failure is no solution to a temporary — if dramatic — decline in ridership. Working with legislators and policymakers to find a way through is the right answer.
“Moreover, Amtrak may be setting itself up for failure by losing operating slots on host railroads, losing employees it will need to restore service, and possibly losing the rolling stock as well.”
Ross Capon, the passenger association’s president emeritus, recalls Amtrak’s attempt to save money with similar cuts in 1995. He tells Trains News Wire, “Experience from the 1990s shows that Amtrak's plan to run the entire long-distance network less than daily will not achieve promised savings. It also will inhibit the return of ridership Amtrak says is prerequisite for service restoration ... [just when it is] likely to recover. Amtrak should get the supplemental funding it has requested but with a requirement to maintain existing daily service on the long-distance network.”
While ridership and revenue remains suppressed because of the pandemic, long-distance ticket revenues climbed 71%, from $6.8 million to $11.6 million, between April and May. Operating with approximately the same frequencies, Northeast Corridor billing rose about 60% from $1.5 million to $2.4 million, and state supported trains generated less than a 50% increase, from $2.3 million in April to $3.5 million in May. So existing long-distance service, mostly operating seven days a week, provided almost double the May revenue of Corridor and state-supported operations.
April 20, 2020
Minnesota House Capitol Investment Committee has sent its Bonding Bill (HF 2529) to the Ways and Means Committee in April. We were very pleased that $15M is proposed for the 2nd Train Frequency between the Twin Cities and Chicago, Twin Cities to Duluth Service (NLX), and extending Northstar Commuter Rail service between Big Lake and St. Cloud. An additional $25M is also included for design and engineering of a passenger mail track between BNSF's Northtown yard and St. Paul Union Depot, which would benefit the 2nd Train terminating in Minneapolis ( versus St. Paul Union Depot ) and enabling NLX frequencies between Minneapolis and St. Paul Union Depot. This dedicated passenger main is something MnDOT has long wanted, and would benefit frieght trains as well, which would alleviate passenger trains on freight tracks.
This House bill as of this date has not yet been transmitted to the Senate. We understand that the Senate is currently working on thier Bonding Bill version, and as we've mentioned before, we've sent a communication package to Senator David Senjem, which his staff did acknowledge. We will definitely keep you posted on the progress of both versions, and let you know how you can help at the appropriate time. Thank you!
Speaking of progress, Terry Brown of the Wisconsin Association for Railroad Passengers recently interviewed Arun Rao, Passenger Rail Planner for WisDOT, and made a video of that interview. Very informative interview about all the projects/progress going on in Wisconsin, mostly around the 2nd Train, and the additional planned Hiawatha frequencies. Well worth watching.
April 7, 2020
Derrick James, Senior Manager of Government Affairs in Chicago sent All Aboard Minnesota a letter from Richard Anderson recognizing our work to voice support for Amtrak during these times, and Congress including $1B for Amtrak in the stimulus relief bill. We are truly grateful for the recognition of our work. Here is Derrick's note to us and you can read the letter from Richard Anderson, click on the pdf link below.
In these challenging times, please accept this note of thanks from Amtrak for All Aboard Minnesota’s help conveying the importance of Amtrak to members of the Minnesota and Wisconsin Congressional delegations.
Take care and stay safe,
Amtrak Government Affairs
March 23, 2020
Tell Congress to Save Amtrak and Public Transportation. As millions follow directions from public health professionals and stay home from work and school, public transportation and Amtrak ridership are plummeting. Combined with increased costs for additional cleaning and with the economy quickly coming to a halt, transit is facing an economic apocalypse—unless Congress decides to make it a priority in their proposed economic stimulus. The time is short—please send a message now to your representatives to include funding for public transportation and Amtrak in any relief or stimulus package(form is provided by our partner Environmental Law and Policy Center). https://p2a.co/f4uDGWw
In need of $1 billion, Amtrak cuts management pay as it faces ‘unprecedented’ ridership loss. In need of about $1 billion in supplemental funding to battle an “unprecedented” drop in ridership, Amtrak has now taken “aggressive" steps to cut the pay of top staff and other measures, the company confirmed Saturday. Daily ridership is down 90% systemwide while future bookings are down 85% year-over-year, according to Amtrak. “Amtrak and our state partners estimate we need approximately $1billion in supplemental funding through the remainder of the year to make up for the unprecedented loss of ridership and revenue and to minimize employee and service impacts,” an Amtrak spokesperson said in a statement.
December 30, 2019
Thank you to all of our members, friends, supporters, alliance organizations, donors, and followers this year! All of you have helped to spread the word about how more passenger rail service in Minnesota can hugely benefit citizens of this state.
This next legislative session will be a bonding bill year for the state, and we have a good opportunity to educate legislators and get some bonding bill money for passenger rail service! There have already been bills introduced in the House and Senate:
1. HF 1804/SF1975, which would provide $4M for the MnDOT Phase II and Final Design work for the Second Twin Cities to Chicago train out of the general fund.
2. HF 1493/SF1866 which would provide $15M for the entire MnDOT State Rail Plan out of bonding funds.
Contact your legislators now about these bills and voice your support!
We will be hosting a Rally at the State Capitol on March 11 ( more information is on our Events page ) to educate legislators about how more passenger rail service can provide economic, mobility, and environmental benefits for Minnesotans as part of a balanced transportation system. Join us!
Thank you all for a great 2019, and we look forward to working with you in 2020 to get more rail passenger service!
November 4, 2019
We have a chance to make a real difference!
Funding for the second Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago train could be included in the Governor’s bonding bill if he receives input from Minnesotans. This would be a huge win and could really propel this service to reality!
To provide a second train frequency, $10 million in state funding (a small drop in the bucket) is needed to match a federal grant application to upgrade the railroad allowing for more passenger train service in Minnesota. Wisconsin will request funding from their legislature, and we need to work together!
Provide your opinion before Nov. 30.
Fill in your name, email, and zip code.
Select “Ramsey County” under Q4, Local entity requesting funding
Select “Ramsey County – Twin Cities Milwaukee Chicago Second Train”
Fill out the last three questions and click submit.
It takes about a minute to do this! Please do this today!
(From the Minnesota Management and Budget website) Earlier this year, local governments submitted more than 200 requests for investment in their communities, totaling more than $1.3 billion, for consideration during the 2020 Legislative session. We want your input! Fill out the online form to comment on local government investment projects up for consideration in the 2020 capital budget (bonding) bill. Governor Walz will review this information with Minnesota Management and Budget staff as they develop his capital budget proposal which will be submitted to the Legislature in January 2020. The public comment period will be open through Nov. 30.
November 2, 2019
On Wednesday Oct 30 All Aboard Minnesota conducted two public meetings in Fargo/Moorhead to educate and advocate for daytime rail service between there and the Twin Cities. We conducted an afternoon forum for business, civic, government and other community leaders and out of the 100 we invited, 42 showed up! Showing great interest, these community leaders asked a number of questions and there was definite support for this service. AAMN presented what the service could look like, along with the economic and mobility benefits the new service could offer the area.
The evening public forum was also very well attended, with an estimated crowd of 85. Support was also very enthusiastic while some were disappointed about how long it would take to implement the service. Frank Lotterlie from the MnDOT State Rail Office was also on hand to answer questions.
We felt like the word is getting out for what more rail service can offer and momentum is building. Press coverage was good, with interviews by WDAY, and KVRR TV stations, along with the Fargo Forum which ran this article; https://www.inforum.com/business/transportation/4747474-A-passenger-train-that-doesnt-leave-Fargo-Moorhead-in-the-middle-of-the-night-Residents-show-their-support
October 15, 2019
Taking the title from Alfred Hitchcock's movie "North by Northwest", here is a good human interest article about riding the Empire Builder. Why on earth would anyone ride this train end to end when you can fly so much faster? This article explains why the experience alone is worth it! Well worth reading, enjoy!
August 12, 2019
Andrew Sheldon recently published a great article in Railway Age about why Amtrak's new business model won't work. As we are becoming aware, Amtrak wants to focus on short haul "city pairs" routes, largely paid for by the states, and the North East Corridor, to the detriment and perhaps elimination of the long distance trains. All Aboard Minnesota is very supportive of short haul routes, such as the establishment of the 2nd train frequency between the Twin Cities and Chicago, and this trains hopeful extension beyond the Twin Cities to the Fargo/Moorhead area. We are in fact holding a public forum in Fargo/Moorhead on Oct 30 to educate the public on the mobility, economic, and environmental benefits this additional rail service will offer. But we will adamately oppose any service reduction or elimination to the long distance trains, espcially the Empire Builder.
Here is a link to Andy's excellent article, well worth your time: https://www.railwayage.com/passenger/intercity/deciphering-the-amtrak-puzzle/?fbclid=IwAR2yX2v_DvdWG7scV8tNWAAu9bvQcis90kgLkrYScwP0stcp_8Vq-blNLbY
August 7, 2019
An article was published in Crain's New York Business magazine about the business model that Amtrak wants to move towards. Thisnew business model focuses on of course, the North East Corridor, and short "city pairs" of 400 miles or less, basically state supported corridor services. In this article long distance trains are citied as losing money, and need to be "remade" while the NEC makes a profit, which is absolutely not true. Bottom line, for rail advocates, we could have a real fight on our hands to save the long distance trains like the Empire Builder. Fortunately, in the US Congress there appears to be bi-partisan support for a national network. Here is a link to that artice (be prepared, we may need to call on you to call your US House Rep and our two Senators to save the long distance trains!)https://outline.com/jNNJ7k