Amtrak restores long-distance routes after funding from Congress

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks at an event marking Amtrak's 50th Anniversary, at the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 30, 2021. REUTERS/Erin Scott/File Photo

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. passenger railroad Amtrak said it had restored daily service on Monday for long-distance routes that serve the East Coast and the Gulf Coast after receiving new emergency funding from Congress.

Amtrak, which received about $2 billion from Congress in the year before the coronavirus pandemic, has been awarded $3.7 billion in emergency funding since March 2020. The routes include New York to New Orleans, Savannah and Miami.

The $1.7 billion awarded in March required Amtrak to restore daily service to 12 long distance routes that were reduced in October to three times per week due to the pandemic, and for the railroad to recall more than 1,200 furloughed employees. Other West Coast routes have already been restored.

On Friday, Amtrak said it was restored traditional dining service starting in late June on some long-distance routes.

Amtrak says ridership is rising and said around the Memorial Day holiday, ridership exceeded 50% of pre-pandemic levels.

In its last budget year that ended Sept. 30, Amtrak said operating revenue fell 32% to $2.3 billion over 2019 levels.

In April, Amtrak asked Congress for $5.4 billion in the budget year starting Oct. 1.

U.S. President Joe Biden has called for $80 billion in new spending on high-speed rail projects.

Amtrak asked for $3.88 billion for “base needs” and to address the impact of COVID-19 and $1.55 billion in additional U.S. funding needed to address Northeast Corridor infrastructure projects and begin advancing new corridor routes across the country.

The Biden administration’s April 9 budget called for $2.7 billion for Amtrak, a 35% jump over pre-COVID levels.

Amtrak wants to expand across the United States and by 2035 add up to 39 new corridor routes and up to 166 cities. It hopes to serve 20 million additional people annually.

Mass transit systems also suffered as Americans took billions of fewer trips last year, but ridership is increasing. Congress in March awarded mass transit systems another $30.5 billion in emergency assistance after giving them $39 billion previously.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Marguerita Choy)

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