Amtrak Chief Pleads for Nearly $5 Billion to Survive Pandemic

William J. Flynn, the agency’s chief executive, warned of additional cuts to Amtrak’s service and work force to “stave off bankruptcy” if Congress did not provide any additional emergency funding.

By Pranshu Verma

WASHINGTON — Amtrak’s chief executive, William J. Flynn, urged House lawmakers on Wednesday to provide $4.9 billion for the national passenger rail agency, warning that additional cuts to its service and work force would be needed to “stave off bankruptcy” if Congress did not provide any further emergency funding.

Mr. Flynn’s warning, during a hearing before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure that lasted more than two hours, came as his response to fiscal challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic had come under intense scrutiny from rail advocates and federal lawmakers.

His request for funding is an increase from previous levels. In May, Mr. Flynn requested nearly $1.5 billion in emergency funds in addition to the $2 billion in annual funds that Amtrak receives from Congress. The rail agency receives federal funding but is independently run.

Last week, Mr. Flynn announced the agency was furloughing over 2,000 workers by October, which represents nearly 10 percent of Amtrak’s 20,000-member work force. In June, Mr. Flynn announced daily service on Amtrak’s long-distance routes that span America’s heartland would be reduced to three times per week.

Critics have said Amtrak’s personnel cuts disproportionately hurt union workers, who will have difficulty finding jobs during a pandemic where unemployment stands at over 8 percent. Rail experts also warn that service cuts on long-distance routes will hurt riders and local economies where Amtrak is often the only mode of public transportation.

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