WASHINGTON — Daily service will be restored to long-distance Amtrak trains starting in May and hundreds of furloughed workers will be called to report back to work as early as next month, the passenger railroad announced Wednesday after Congress passed a pandemic relief package that includes $1.7 billion for the carrier.
Amtrak ended daily service last year to hundreds of stations outside the Northeast as part of cost-saving measures that followed a precipitous drop in ridership and revenue amid the coronavirus pandemic. Most Amtrak long-distance trains have been operating three times a week since October.
The company said it will begin to notify more than 1,200 furloughed employees this month to report to work as early as April.
The relief package provides $1.7 billion for Amtrak, which will help the company bring back some service that could be critical to lure back passengers amid increased vaccinations. Wednesday’s House vote sends the bill to President Biden, who is expected to sign it Friday.
The additional money is a boost for the railroad, which has not experienced any significant rebound in ridership a year into the pandemic. As of this week, travel on Amtrak is down about 70 percent compared with pre-pandemic levels, Amtrak officials said.
Demand for train service plummeted to historic lows as states implemented strict coronavirus-related shutdowns. Ridership plummeted 95 percent during the height of the pandemic, and the Northeast Corridor was hit especially hard.
Amtrak service was significantly reduced at the onset of the pandemic, with more severe cuts in place at the beginning of the fiscal year on Oct. 1.
The cuts to long-distance daily service were criticized by rail advocates and members of Congress, who said it was wrong to reduce service to communities across the country that rely on train service. Rail passenger advocates pressured Amtrak and congressional leaders to make restoring long-distance trips a priority.
“This is a real win for America’s passengers and for the hundreds of communities served by Amtrak’s long-distance trains — communities which suffered economic pain when they lost their service,” said Jim Mathews, president and chief executive of the Rail Passengers Association.
The restored routes serve a dedicated base of train aficionados, including in parts of the country where airports are not easily accessible. Amtrak said it will restore daily service to 12 long-distance routes that faced pandemic-related reductions.
The Auto Train, which travels from the Washington suburbs to the Orlando area, is the only long-distance route that continued to operate daily in the pandemic. Amtrak said that daily service will continue.
Two other routes — the Sunset Limited (New Orleans to Los Angeles) and the Cardinal (New York-Washington-Chicago) — already were operating triweekly, and their schedules will not change.
The service reductions affected as many as 461 stations outside the Northeast Corridor, according to the Rail Passengers Association.
Amtrak chief executive William Flynn, who had promised to bring back the service as funding became available and demand rose, said in a statement Wednesday that restoring the service is “a vital step in our road to recovery.”