WASHINGTON – Amtrak will discontinue shipping mail for the U.S. Postal Service, saying the decision will improve passenger service.
“Mail and express no longer makes business sense for Amtrak and has negatively impacted the quality of our passenger service, so the decision has been made to exit the business,” Amtrak President & CEO David L. Gunn said in a message to employees. “It is my intention to have all mail and express activity concluded by early October.”
In addition to a notification given last week to the Postmaster General, Amtrak is advising officials in Florida, Ohio and Indiana that a limited number of stations will no longer be served by passenger trains as a result of the railroad’s withdrawal from mail and express hauling.
Amtrak has also been in communication with labor unions that represent Amtrak employees affected by the decision.
Amtrak’s mail and express business was marginal and did not justify the toll it took on passenger operations. The slower schedules necessitated by longer trains and the switching of express and mail cars at terminals and en route caused passenger dissatisfaction and increased costs. The cost to lease or maintain ag-ing equipment was another factor in the decision to exit the business.
In Chicago, Toledo, Philadelphia, Washington, St. Paul-Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Jacksonville and other cities, train delays due to mail handling will be eliminated.
Amtrak is making arrangements to dispose of the specialized mail and express handling equipment and the passenger railroad will also reduce the number of loco-motives it needs by shortening trains to and from Chicago. Also, maintenance forces can concentrate on re-turning other elements of the railroad to a state of good repair without the additional equipment required by the mail and express business.
Related to this action, Amtrak’s New York-Miami Palmetto will serve New York-Savannah, starting Nov. 1, 2004. Also starting Nov. 1, Amtrak will eliminate the Chicago-New York Three Rivers, substituting in its time slot the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian, extending that service to Chicago until the spring.
Approximately 300 employees are affected by this action, primarily at terminals and stations. “I realize that this will be painful for some employees, but we will make every effort to provide opportunities for affected employees to remain with the company,” Gunn said.
Some workers are expected to exercise their seniority rights for jobs elsewhere in the corporation, including the package shipping business that will continue on trains with checked baggage.
The current Palmetto runs overnight New York-Tampa-Miami as a coach-only train, on a schedule driven by the needs of the mail business. After Nov. 1, it will become a New York-Savannah daytime service, as it was until 1994, and operate on a faster schedule.
The Florida cities of Lake-land and Tampa, now served by the Palmetto, will be served instead by the New York-Orlando-Miami Silver Star. Sleeping car and dining car service to Tampa will be restored, with First class passengers from St. Petersburg, Sarasota, and Fort Myers having a much shorter bus ride to Tampa instead of Orlando.
Rail service will be withdrawn from four Florida stations: Waldo, Ocala, Wild-wood and Dade City – all served at night. A daytime motorcoach service will connect those cities plus Gainesville with the Silver Star both at Jacksonville and Lakeland.
The New York-Pittsburgh-Chicago Three Rivers was extended from Pittsburgh to Chicago in 1996 and scheduled to meet the needs of the bulk-mail business that Amtrak is now exiting. Changes will come in three phases.
Effective Nov. 1, 2004, the Three Rivers (New York-Pittsburgh-Chicago) and Pennsylvanian (New York-Pittsburgh) will be replaced by one New York-Pittsburgh-Chicago train offering Coach and Business Class service. It will operate on a schedule nearly one-hour faster than the current Three Rivers.
On or about March 1, 2005, service on the Three Riversroute will be eliminated west of Pittsburgh, following the legally required advanced notice to the affected communities of Youngstown, Akron and Fostoria, Ohio, and Nappanee, Ind., Amtrak said.
Current plans call for changes in the New York-Pittsburgh train schedules with the effective date of the Spring-Summer 2005 Amtrak timetable in April. The westbound train to Pittsburgh will operate slightly later in the day than the current Three Rivers and the eastbound train to New York will approximate the current schedule of the Pennsylvanian.
The 1998 extension of the Pennsylvanian between Pitts-burgh and Chicago for mail and express purposes was eliminated in 2003 and a different Pennsylvanian schedule to New York was adopted last year.
Daily service between Pittsburgh and Chicago will be maintained by the Capitol Limited, which operates via Cleveland, Toledo and South Bend, more populous cities north of the current Three Rivers stops in Ohio and Indiana.
Amtrak’s announcement, however, wasn’t well-received, particularly in Ohio. The Ohio Association of Railroad Passengers (OARP) released an analysis showing that taxpayers statewide will not only get less, but will be footing more of the bill for Amtrak’s service elsewhere.
“The end result is that, from 2003 to 2005, Ohio will have lost nearly 50 percent of its passenger train services,” said Ken Prendergast, director of the Ohio Corridors Campaign, an OARP program. “This is a disturbing trend in the nation’s seventh-most populous state, where its citizens are aging and becoming less mobile. More rail service and federal investment is needed, not less.”
But, OARP’s analysis shows the exact opposite is happening in Ohio, based on Amtrak’s reduced number of train-miles here. Amtrak’s share of federal operating and capital grant spending in Ohio will decline from $29 million in 2004, to $21 million in 2005 — if Amtrak cuts the Three Rivers service. Yet, Ohio’s taxpayers paid about $45 million into the $1.2 billion federal operating and capital grants Amtrak received in 2004.
“If Ohio wasn’t such a do-nor state when it comes to Amtrak, the Ohio Rail Development Commission’s Ohio Hub Plan for fast, frequent passenger trains between the region’s biggest cities would already be on the fast track to reality. Ohio’s Congressional Delegation needs to secure more funding for the kind of passenger rail service Ohioans deserve. Until then, Ohioans will continue to be left behind at the station,” Prendergast concluded.
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