NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, March 10th, 2021

Amtrak restores daily service on long distance routes thanks to the American Rescue Plan

With the Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan on its way to Pres­i­dent Joe Biden, agen­cies and com­pa­nies that are due to get sore­ly need­ed relief funds have begun announc­ing their plans for revers­ing ser­vice cuts and bring­ing back fur­loughed work­ers. Among them is Amtrak, Amer­i­ca’s pas­sen­ger rail­road sys­tem, which sig­nif­i­cant­ly scaled back its long dis­tance ser­vice last dur­ing when the pan­dem­ic hit.

In a few weeks, Amtrak intends to resume dai­ly depar­tures on most of its long dis­tance routes, thanks to fund­ing from the Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan. Ser­vice had been scaled back to three days a week due to sharply low­er demand.

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

The num­ber of fur­loughed work­ers who will be brought back begin­ning in April to help get Amtrak back to reg­u­lar order num­bers over 1,200.

The timetable calls for dai­ly ser­vice to be resumed on the fol­low­ing routes:

May 24thMay 31stJune 7th
Cal­i­for­nia ZephyrCapi­tol LimitedCres­cent
Coast StarlightCity of New OrleansPal­met­to
Empire BuilderLake Shore LimitedSil­ver Meteor
Texas EagleSouth­west ChiefSil­ver Star

The two long dis­tance routes that serve Seat­tle are the Coast Starlight and the Empire Builder. They’re both set to go back to a nor­mal timetable on May 24th, just in time for sum­mer. The Coast Starlight con­nects Seat­tle to Los Ange­les, while the Empire Builder con­nects the Emer­ald City to Chicago.

“All des­ti­na­tions and sched­uled departure/arrival times served by the long dis­tance net­work will be main­tained,” Amtrak says.

Unlike air­lines, Amtrak offers pri­vate rooms on its long dis­tance trains. It is thus pos­si­ble to prac­tice phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing while tak­ing a train across the country.

While it does cost more than sim­ply rid­ing in a coach seat, meals are includ­ed, and Amtrak’s din­ing cars have a rep­u­ta­tion for mod­est excellence.

Amtrak's Empire Builder in Montana

Amtrak’s Empire Builder in Mon­tana, head­ing east­bound at Two Med­i­cine Tres­tle (Pho­to: Loco Steve, repro­duced under a Cre­ative Com­mons license)

“This is a real win for Amer­i­ca’s pas­sen­gers and for the hun­dreds of com­mu­ni­ties served by Amtrak’s long-dis­tance trains, com­mu­ni­ties which suf­fered eco­nom­ic pain when they lost their ser­vice last sum­mer,” said Jim Math­ews, Pres­i­dent & CEO of Rail Pas­sen­gers Asso­ci­a­tion, in a state­ment.

“We extend our thanks to the many cham­pi­ons of pas­sen­ger rail in Con­gress who helped make this hap­pen. We worked tire­less­ly with exec­u­tive agen­cies, con­gres­sion­al lead­ers and, yes, Amtrak itself, to cre­ate urgency around the need to restore dai­ly ser­vice just as soon as pos­si­ble. Whether in tes­ti­mo­ny before House law­mak­ers or in pri­vate meet­ings with con­gres­sion­al lead­ers on both sides of the aisle, this Asso­ci­a­tion worked over­time to cre­ate the pre­con­di­tions Amtrak need­ed to restore ser­vices and recall its workforce.”

Amtrak is an Amer­i­can trea­sure, and it would have been a shame for its long dis­tance routes to have become vic­tims of the pandemic.

Amtrak will need addi­tion­al fund­ing in the future to con­tin­ue mod­ern­iz­ing trains and work­ing with local part­ners to save and upgrade his­toric stations.

For now, this jolt in the arm will get the rail­road back on track to recovery.

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