Amtrak overcoming the Pandemic; back to tri-weekly service?

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There is a really good article in the November Trains magazine discussing the current state of Amtrak and how they are recovering from the Pandemic. It seems like management over reacted at the beginning with too drastic cutbacks in equipment and personnel. Now we are paying for this in some trains that are under equipped, overcrowded and overpriced.
But on a bright note, it looks like things should be getting better.
 

PaTrainFan

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In fairness, this pandemic was unprecented, certainly with respect to its impact on the economy and the government response to it. When it struck with a fury a year ago in March, nobody could foresee how the pandemic would unfold, how severe it would get, how many would die etc. So, yes, I can be as critical as anyone about Amtrak's initial response, but they did not have a crystal ball. But, deefiniely agree their recovery from it is clunky at best, but most travel companies have suffered.
 

west point

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Amtrak suffered from what almost all RRs go thru during downturns. Furlough too many persons. Hindsight tells us that Amtrak would have been off to offer part time work , keeping some benefits, etc. I feel that Amtrak is not recruiting enough now. There are not enough operating persons openings to really increase service. There is needed a different approach to management instead of pushing cost reductions instead of revenue increases over costs.

Just for information last checked showed some 283 vacancies but only about 16 of those for operating persons T&E and OBS.
 

Bostontoallpoints

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I don’t know if the Northeast corridor will ever be the same. Business travel and working in downtown offices along with corporate meetings might be a thing of the past. Or severely limited. It’s all meetings remotely now and for the foreseeable future. Those packed early morning trains to New York are now all empty.
 

enviro5609

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Amtrak suffered from what almost all RRs go thru during downturns. Furlough too many persons. Hindsight tells us that Amtrak would have been off to offer part time work , keeping some benefits, etc. I feel that Amtrak is not recruiting enough now. There are not enough operating persons openings to really increase service. There is needed a different approach to management instead of pushing cost reductions instead of revenue increases over costs.

Just for information last checked showed some 283 vacancies but only about 16 of those for operating persons T&E and OBS.
I've been checking the postings out of curiosity, and they actually seem to get posted quite frequently and then taken down quickly as well-- presumably because they are filled? Perhaps each cohort is a trainee class?

I haven't done much in the way of recruiting in my role, but I do imagine there is the additional bottleneck of how many new hires you can onboard at once.
 

saxman

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I'm surprised this hasn't been discussed here yet. I've seen several sources that Amtrak is planning to reduce back to 3 day a week operating schedule due to staffing issues. Expect an announcement later this month.
 

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I'm surprised this hasn't been discussed here yet. I've seen several sources that Amtrak is planning to reduce back to 3 day a week operating schedule due to staffing issues. Expect an announcement later this month.
By "staffing issues" do you mean the mandate wars? Supposedly the meltdowns at AA and WN were for this reason. I believe the federal mandate has been pushed back to January, which should help keep things running for the holidays, but at some point the remaining antivaxxers will presumably choose unemployment over inoculation and Amtrak will need time to hire and train replacement staff.
 
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By "staffing issues" do you mean the mandate wars? Supposedly the meltdowns at AA and WN were for this reason. I believe the federal mandate has been pushed back to January, which should help keep things running for the holidays, but at some point the remaining antivaxxers will presumably choose unemployment over inoculation and Amtrak will need time to hire and train replacement staff.
We’ll, this would be a giant step backwards if service on LD trains were to be reduced to 3 times a week. Hopefully if an antivaxxer quits their career over not complying with this vaccine vs all the other vaccines we have had in the past, unemployment will not be available to them. We need to get over this!
 

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We’ll, this would be a giant step backwards if service on LD trains were to be reduced to 3 times a week. Hopefully if an antivaxxer quits their career over not complying with this vaccine vs all the other vaccines we have had in the past, unemployment will not be available to them. We need to get over this!
Agreed, and just to be clear I meant unemployment as not being employed rather than payment for losing a job. Where I come from most Amtrak jobs would be considered good employment and too valuable to simply throw away.
 

Tlcooper93

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I don’t know if the Northeast corridor will ever be the same. Business travel and working in downtown offices along with corporate meetings might be a thing of the past. Or severely limited. It’s all meetings remotely now and for the foreseeable future. Those packed early morning trains to New York are now all empty.
Personally, I don’t think this will last. The value of in person interaction and work is just too great, and this terrible zoom way of doing things will go the way of the dodo.

Instead, I think productivity and efficiency will go up with the possible tool of remote work. It will simply be another weapon in the arsenal, not a full on replacement for in person work.

In 5 years, I think business travel will be back. For arts and music industry, it is a must.

with that said, I imagine the NE corridor will return to its former glory soon, if not with the possible upgrades in the next 5-10 years.
 

Amtrakfflyer

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This alone is just cause for new management If they go through with it. Management of any company has to deal with and mitigate external factors, not throw in the towel. As messed up as the airlines are they are expanding service not proposing to reduce service 60 percent. Yes there’s a huge labor problem, but in Amtrak’s case it’s been self induced for the most part.

How can we keep giving these people the benefit of the doubt, we don’t know for sure if 3 day service or no service on the network is actually their ulterior motive. If they decimate the holiday travel period this close in I think it’s safe to assume they don’t care about long term service.
 

mlanoue

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Not defending the idea of reducing service to 3x a week, but Amtrak does have a lot of constraints that the airlines don't have to deal with--like freight railroads that hate them. And many legislators who hate them.
 

Amtrakfflyer

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Throwing in the towel is not an option because people hate you as a company.

They may have freight railroads that hate them but as of now Congress is on Amtrak’s side.

Unlike the airlines Amtrak doesn’t have to deal with competitors. An airline like UA, has 3 other major airlines if you count WN and countless low cost carriers to try to outwit and outperform on a daily basis.

Amtrak management can’t even figure out how to run a monopoly that’s been given payroll support by the government to keep employees on the payroll.

Not defending the idea of reducing service to 3x a week, but Amtrak does have a lot of constraints that the airlines don't have to deal with--like freight railroads that hate them. And many legislators who hate them.
 
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SarahZ

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Did Amtrak cut back service/personnel during the H1N1 pandemic also?

I know social media wasn't QUITE as big of a thing back then......... 😁
Approximately 12,000 Americans died during the entirety of the H1N1 pandemic (2009 - 2010).

Over 750,000 have died of Covid-19 so far.

We exceeded the H1N1 death count by the first week of April 2020.

It has nothing to do with social media and everything to do with severity.
 

Bostontoallpoints

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Personally, I don’t think this will last. The value of in person interaction and work is just too great, and this terrible zoom way of doing things will go the way of the dodo.

Instead, I think productivity and efficiency will go up with the possible tool of remote work. It will simply be another weapon in the arsenal, not a full on replacement for in person work.

In 5 years, I think business travel will be back. For arts and music industry, it is a must.

with that said, I imagine the NE corridor will return to its former glory soon, if not with the possible upgrades in the next 5-10 years.
If what you say about productivity and efficiency increasing with remote work then zoom is not going away with the dodo. I actually go to work every day and see the empty meeting rooms as people prefer to zoom call from their desks. The commuter rail into Boston is virtually empty for all trains. In fact on a recent rush hour commuter train I was on, if not for the conductor only opening one car, all passengers could have had their own car to themselves. My friends in finance have gone from monthly business trips to New York to zero for the last 2 years. The last batch of Amtrak numbers for the Northeast reflect this with loads of 30% or less. I’m not a fan of remote work but plenty are. And as long as business is getting done then I think it is here to stay. Offices are going to shrink and business travel of yesteryear is going to go the way of the dodo bird as you say.
 

IndyLions

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I think you both make some good points. There’s no question that the pandemic has been a watershed moment in business as it relates to commercial office space as well as business travel.

I can absolutely see companies shrinking their commercial office space and going to a hybrid environment, where they have flexible office space where some employees work part time, and some employees work full-time. In the short term, this will greatly impact commercial real estate owners.

Another thing I’ll be watching closely is the pre-Covid trend of younger people wanting to live downtown. There has been a lot of speculation that the pandemic will cause a permanent rush to the suburbs and wide open spaces. While I’m sure that has happened during the pandemic, it’ll be interesting to see if that holds once the pandemic winds down. If young people return to the cities for their living environment, I could see that empty commercial office space getting filled by additional companies that would like to have a small, flexible office space of their own to offer young people looking to live in the city. That would eventually fill the commercial office space back up again, but with more tenants requiring less space each – instead of ginormous corporations taking up all the space.

From a business travel standpoint, I agree that high levels will return within about five years, but I also agree that business travel as we knew it pre-Covid will probably go away forever. CFOs have proof now that even with smaller expenditures on travel the job still got done - at least in most industries. But there still are plenty of industries were the only way business truly gets done is in person - and nearly all industries have some in person element to them that will return post-pandemic.
 

John Bredin

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If what you say about productivity and efficiency increasing with remote work then zoom is not going away with the dodo. I actually go to work every day and see the empty meeting rooms as people prefer to zoom call from their desks. The commuter rail into Boston is virtually empty for all trains. In fact on a recent rush hour commuter train I was on, if not for the conductor only opening one car, all passengers could have had their own car to themselves. My friends in finance have gone from monthly business trips to New York to zero for the last 2 years. The last batch of Amtrak numbers for the Northeast reflect this with loads of 30% or less. I’m not a fan of remote work but plenty are. And as long as business is getting done then I think it is here to stay. Offices are going to shrink and business travel of yesteryear is going to go the way of the dodo bird as you say.
My experience going into Chicago on Metra is somewhat different. Ridership was as sparse as you say the few times I went downtown during 2020, but since the vaccines, ridership is rising. Now when I go downtown once or twice a week, it's gone from nearly empty cars to a passenger for each four-seater to nearly a passenger for each two-seat bench. The parking lots nearest to the stations I pass have gone from nearly deserted to more like 1/3 to half full. Mind you, the farther lots that also filled pre-Covid are still empty, but the increase is noticeable.

I also don't think business travel is dead. It'll be reduced as many meetings that were held in person will be done on Zoom and the like. But there are benefits to meeting in person that mean it won't simply disappear. I particularly feel that conventions fill a need that can't be met online.
 

brianpmcdonnell17

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Regarding the potential service reductions, I'm curious why all LD services would be reduced to tri-weekly. If it is strictly because of crew shortages, it seems doubtful that they would be uniform on each route or that they would all warrant a service reduction of over 50%. Even 5 days weekly for example would be sigmicantly better than tri-weekly. Also, would the Auto Train be reduced this time alongside the other LDs?
 

MARC Rider

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with that said, I imagine the NE corridor will return to its former glory soon, if not with the possible upgrades in the next 5-10 years.
During my recent trips on the Northeast Corridor, the trains were pretty crowded. I took the Acela last June, and the first class car was full, at least to New York. And as far as the effect of remote work, well, I was sitting next to a guy who was having a Zoom meeting. So maybe people work remotely, but not always just sitting at home. (In fact, I myself participated in a teleconference back in 2018 while riding the Acela, so maybe things haven't changed as much as many people think.)
 

MARC Rider

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From a business travel standpoint, I agree that high levels will return within about five years, but I also agree that business travel as we knew it pre-Covid will probably go away forever. CFOs have proof now that even with smaller expenditures on travel the job still got done - at least in most industries. But there still are plenty of industries were the only way business truly gets done is in person - and nearly all industries have some in person element to them that will return post-pandemic.
The decline in business travel has been going on for years, maybe decades, before COVID came along. The big change, I think, was when long-distance telephone calls started being essentially cost-free and setting up conference calls didn't need a lot of special attention from the telephone company. At EPA, they had teleconferencing from the time I came there, which was in 2000), and as our shop had people in both DC and Michigan, as lot of business was conducted over the telephone lines. But there was a still a lot of stuff we did, like on-site supervision of engineering tests, that needed to have people on location.

My take on it was that you can do a lot of routine stuff with teleconferences, but if you really need to agree to something important, you need to have the in-person meeting, preferably with some informal quasi-social interaction outside of the actual meeting. Conference calls are weird, sometimes it's difficult to figure out who's talking. As for videoconferencing software, like Zoom, it's definitely more difficult to get one's voice heard without excessively detailed formal meeting process, which requires a good teleconference leader, a rare species, indeed. All of that isn't considering the very common occurrence on Zoom of dropped lines ("your internet connection is unstable"). There's nothing like missing some key point made by an important player because the screen freezes up and the audio goes dead for a few seconds.
 
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My thought is that the Covid Pandemic was and still is a serious threat to public health. Could it have been handled better ? YES. Disruption of rail travel is slight compared to Ocean Commerce. I retired well before this disruption, but holding the line on the spread of disease. Historically and at present the Q flag flown to alert the Captain of the Port to send out the doctor and check for Yellow Fever. All of the crews & myself have been checked by Port Doctors as a matter of course for my entire career at sea. The Economic blow back has been uneven globally. I will not be traveling Amtrak until mask mandate goes by the boards...made several east to west coast and back trips but it was very tiring keeping the mask on. Only met one Amtrak Mask *****... on the Cardinal WAS to CHI. All my travel has been via Roomette. Have my shot card up to date but @ 73 it can be a task instead of a Joy. I will continue to be a fan of rail travel. And when the Mask comes Down I will be able to finish my Rail Travel bucket list...
 
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