CLEVELAND, Ohio — Amtrak plans to dramatically cut service on its long-distance trains, including the two routes that travel through Cleveland, because of declining ridership due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Starting in October, service on both the Lake Shore Limited and the Capitol Limited, which travel through Cleveland, will be reduced to three times per week. Both currently operate daily.
The Lake Shore Limited travels from New York City and Boston to Chicago, via Cleveland and numerous stops; the Capitol Limited travels from Washington, D.C. to Chicago, through Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Toledo and other cities.
Amtrak has not said which days the Lake Shore will run, and which days the Capitol Limited will operate.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the train service hopes to restore some long-distance travel as soon as next summer, as traffic picks up.
Stu Nicholson, executive director of All Aboard Ohio, a nonprofit organization that advocates for passenger rail service in the state, said the cuts are outrageous.
“This is not a formula at all for increasing ridership,” he said. “What increases ridership is reliability of service, frequency of service. If you’re cutting any of that back, you will lose ridership.”
He said once service is taken away, it’s very difficult to bring it back. As evidence, he cited Amtrak’s Cardinal route, which travels from New York City to Chicago via Cincinnati, but only runs three times a week. It last ran daily in the early 1980s.
He is urging riders to contact members of Congress and ask them to oppose the reductions.
In recent weeks, he said ridership has picked up quicker on Amtrak’s long-distance routes than any other in the Amtrak network, including shorter-distance trains that operate in the Northeast United States.
“Amtrak was created to be a national passenger rail service, and they’re getting to the point where they’re anything but,” he said.
He said Amtrak’s obsession with the Northeast corridor is unfair to the rest of the nation. “The rest of the country has to suffer through three-day-a-week train service,” he said. “I think that’s patently discriminatory. They’re basically saying that the rest of the country doesn’t matter.”
However, spokesman Magliari said Amtrak already has reduced frequency in the Northeast corridor, as well as numerous state-supported routes in Michigan, Illinois and elsewhere.
The long-distance reductions are timed to the start of Amtrak’s 2021 fiscal year on Oct. 1.
Amtrak received $1 billion in pandemic-related aid from Congress this year, part of the CARES Act, to help the train service manage a dramatic drop in demand.
Amtrak estimates that ridership in fiscal year 2021 may drop to 16 million, or roughly 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
Other long-distance routes scheduled to be cut to three days include the California Zephyr (Chicago to San Francisco), City of New Orleans (Chicago to New Orleans), Empire Builder (Chicago to Seattle), Southwest Chief (Chicago to Los Angeles) and others.
The Auto Train, which runs from Washington, D.C. to Orlando, is the only long-distance route that will continue to operate daily.