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The Flyer Remains Daily, Yet Patronage Is Expected to Decline.
September 25, 2020
The pandemic has changed little on The Flyer route. The train continues to operate daily, as it has throughout the pandemic. We have heard of no plans to cut frequency below daily. However, not all is good.
Beginning next month, Amtrak will reduce frequency on ten long-distance routes from daily to three-days-a-week. Long-distance trains, those defined as operating on routes of greater than 750-miles, depend upon federal dollars. Amtrak controls scheduling.
The Flyer operates on a 206-mile route. It is; therefore, classified as a short-distance train, overseen by the states of Oklahoma and Texas. As long as the states pay the bills, Amtrak will continue to operate The Flyer daily, but no train operates in a vacuum.
Two of the ten long-distance trains affected by frequency cuts include Flyer connections, specifically, the Texas Eagle and the Southwest Chief. Both are slated to begin tri-weekly operation the week of October 12. Frequency reductions will directly affect The Flyer by eliminating connecting traffic four days a week. Patronage of the connecting trains will also suffer as patrons must use a calendar rather than a clock to schedule travel.
Consider this. Thirty-percent of Flyer passengers make connections in Fort Worth with the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle. Others continue north of Oklahoma City using a thruway-bus service to connect with the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief north of Wichita in Newton, Kansas.
The ill-advised cuts come at a time when long-distance passengers are returning to the rails. Some question why the frequency reductions were not implemented in March at the height of pandemic uncertainty. Others who have followed Amtrak over decades believe the cuts are intended to ultimately dismantle the national network.
Long term rail advocates remember a 1995 decision to save funding. In practice, the cuts did the opposite. Trains cut to tri-weekly operation wound up incurring seven days of costs while collecting only three days of revenue. Those that survived were eventually restored to daily operation.
Yet this is a different Amtrak. Amtrak’s current Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Wiliam Flynn, is the second consecutive former aviation CEO to run the railroad. He succeeded an abrasive Richard Anderson on April 16. Neither remember the 1995 cuts. This inexperience has allowed two individuals to maliciously take control of the company.
Flynn, like his predecessor, leans on the highly suspect guidance of Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Stephen Gardner. Gardner arrived at Amtrak in 2009 following a lengthy stint on Capitol Hill as a congressional staffer. Gardner is not alone in his pursuit to eliminate the national network.
Amtrak Board Chairman Anthony Coscia is another player. Look at his resume for evidence. Coscia and Gardner seek billions of federal dollars to bring the 457-mile Boston-Washington D.C. Northeast Corridor (NEC) into a state of good repair. The national network be damned.
Both Gardner and Coscia act as entrenched lobbyists serving northeast commuter rail interests. This is evidenced by pleas from both to bring billions in federal dollars just to replace tunnels under the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York City even when less costly repairs have been proposed.
So, expect a rocky road for The Flyerover next few months as members of Congress sort out the mayhem spawned by Gardner and Coscia. Ultimately, the Gardner-Coscia plan has nothing to do with COVID. It is a meticulous plan to destroy the national network, thus redirecting all federal dollars to the NEC.
Gardner has been at Amtrak since 2009. This is in our view eleven years too long. Fortunately, Coscia will term out in December. Both were no doubt instrumental in identifying and hiring former aviation CEOs, as in Anderson and Flynn. Both Anderson and Flynn were hired because they are short on institutional knowledge and heavy on business practices that do not work at Amtrak.
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