WINTER HAVEN – Amtrak staff said they were on the verge of their first ever “break-even year” when the pandemic reached the United States.
Last year, 32 million Americans rode Amtrak — an all-time high. This year, train travel is projected to be cut in half and the effects of that drastic decrease will be felt locally.
Starting July 6, interstate Amtrak services through Winter Haven, Lakeland and Sebring were reduced roughly by half – down from twice daily. Long distance routes nationwide were reduced to “less than daily services.”
The federal government and state governments have subsidized Amtrak service since the day it was created. Last year, Amtrak asked for just over $2 billion in federal subsidy and then accepted another $1 billion in federal CARES Act money.
In a May 25 letter to Congress, Amtrak President and CEO Wiliam J. Flynn said next year Amtrak will likely need around $3.5 billion in federal subsidies.
Flynn said without that subsidy, “We will be forced to make even more severe adjustments to our workforce, train services, and commitments to critical capital projects.”
Rep. Darren Soto said he is looking into what happened with the federal aid.
“This week we began gathering background from rail worker unions on these proposed cuts,” Soto said. “I am in the process of drafting a letter for next week to oppose these cuts and request they draw down all available CARES Act funds to continue service.”
In a statement, leadership from the Florida Coalition of Rail Passengers disputed the reasoning for such cuts and encouraged local rail passengers to contact their elected officials.
“It's been proven time and time again that scaling back daily trains to tri-weekly train service costs Amtrak more than it saves by driving away revenue needed to cover fixed costs. That will definitely happen with the intrastate Florida market,” read the statement. “Amtrak's management has stated that these cuts are ‘temporary.’ However, all of us remember that Amtrak service between New Orleans and Florida was ‘temporarily suspended’ for Hurricane Katrina back in 2005 — and has yet to return.”
In a joint press release dated April 10, 2020, and signed by Amtrak Senior Executive Vice President Stephen Gardner and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao, $1 billion in CARES Act funding was allocated specifically to offset the loss of ticket revenue.
Around half of the $1 billion was specifically allocated for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.