By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. national railroad Amtrak, which received $1 billion in emergency funding this month from Congress, said on Thursday it expects to lose at least $700 million in operating earnings in this budget year due to the effects of the coronavirus.
An Amtrak spokeswoman said that ridership has dropped by roughly 95% and the railroad believes it will “likely suffer the loss of over seven hundred million dollars in adjusted operating earnings – and we might lose more.”
The passenger rail company has received about $2 billion in annual government subsidies in recent years.
Amtrak has suspended its high-speed Acela service and said on Thursday it has cut 57% of train trips nationwide. Congress approved the funding last month as part of a $2.3 trillion bill to mitigate the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak.
“I don’t know if we’ve hit bottom,” new Amtrak chief executive Bill Flynn told reporters. “The numbers seem to be steady at this point.”
Flynn said it was too early to say when Amtrak will be able to resume a more normal schedule or when travel demand will pick up again, especially in the U.S. northeast corridor.
Last year, Amtrak set records for ridership, revenue and financial performance, including 32.5 million customer trips, a year-over-year increase of 800,000 passengers. The railroad reported a loss of $29.8 million in its last fiscal year ending Sept, 30, 2019, compared with a loss of $170.6 million in the prior fiscal year.
Amtrak said this week that customers are strongly encouraged now to wear masks while using all Amtrak services.
Customers on board trains can now order and purchase food using a smartphone to avoid waiting in line in the cafe car to reduce human interactions on trains.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)