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Some Trains Begin to Return To Daily Service
March 3, 2022 by Jim Mathews

Amtrak is slowly, agonizingly, restoring daily service on trains that lost it in January due to staffing shortages. They’ve announced this morning that they only have enough staff qualified and available to restore five long-distance trains to daily service: the AutoTrain, the Capitol Limited, the Coast Starlight, the Texas Eagle, the Palmetto, and the Silver Star.


We all understand how we got here, but it’s still frustrating to see. We warned Amtrak repeatedly in 2020 and again in 2021 that Covid-related cutbacks would make it extremely hard to “turn the lights back on” when it was time to do so. And here we are, a few months after Congress passed passenger-rail funding of the likes we haven’t seen in many generations, and eager passengers can’t even take a basic daily service in most parts of the country. Humpty Dumpty is standing up on his own feet now, but he’s still broken.

“We continue to work on further frequency additions for the coming months as staffing and other resources allow,” Amtrak said this morning.

If you want to check schedules, there’s still no regular PDF timetables like we had before. The latest up-to-date schedules can be found at Amtrak.com/schedules. Pro tip: if you want to see the entire route in an approximation of the previous full timetable, you can enter the two endpoints and a date. It’s still not the right answer, and we’re working with Amtrak on that issue as well. And of course, you can always visit our Rail Passengers repository of timetables here: railpassengers.org/timetables.

As for the implications from today’s announcement? Yes, I’ve already received dozens of emails and calls asking me whether Amtrak is serious about restoring daily service on long-distance trains. Amtrak will say up down and sideways that they're committed to restoring long-distance service. And every conversation with top leadership, both on the record and off-the-record, suggests to me that they really are sincere. However, (and I think this is ten times more important), Congress gave them a boatload of money and wrote into law a requirement that they restore long-distance service and cooperate in efforts to bring even more service online. So, not to be blunt, what they want to do is, frankly, irrelevant. The people have spoken, through their elected representatives writing a law, and through us as an Association, goading the Congress to act.

Another question I’ve received in my inbox seven times in the past 60 minutes: “are they using staffing as an excuse?” I don't see it that way. I sit on a FEMA/Homeland Security emergency working group right now about the surface transportation networks and their Covid response, and we had our regular meeting just yesterday afternoon. I’m not permitted to share the discussions or the slides, but I can say here that the staffing problems are 100-percent across the board: ports, warehouses, freight rail, long-haul trucks, drayage trucks, you name it. Amtrak is definitely not alone.

I’ve vociferously criticized Amtrak before for ill-advised cutbacks, both in public and in Congress (click on the links to look here from last Fall, or here a year earlier). Amtrak right now is doing the best it can with a bad hand, replacing unpredictable ad hoc service disruptions when staff call in sick with an orderly reduction that won’t leave passengers stranded high and dry. Could Amtrak have avoided at least some of this disruption? It’s hard to say, but quite probably yes. Can we do anything about that reality on March 3, 2022? No, not really. The best we can do is keep up the pressure from passengers to pick up the pace of hiring and to make sure you make those Amtrak employees you encounter on your travels feel good about coming to work that day.

(The parts highlighted in green above are links to additional material. Many of you have emailed me asking for additional information when I write about it in a blog, but more often than not I link to it in the blog. Just click through and you can have it at your fingertips!)

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