Buying an Amtrak ticket might soon be as onerous as booking an airplane flight, if changes proposed in a leaked memo are actually implemented.
A memo obtained by Business Insider last week shows that the national transit agency is considering making some tickets nonrefundable, and limiting changes to existing reservations. That’s a pretty big deal for the Philadelphia region, where 4.4 million people rode Amtrak last year. Across Pennsylvania, ridership was about 6.5 million.
The changes are not yet official. Reached by Billy Penn on Monday, spokesperson Beth Toll said she had no additional information to offer on the topic.
Here’s what’s potentially on the chopping block:
On the cheapest travel option — the “saver” tickets — you won’t be able to adjust your travel plans more than 24 hours from the time you book. As it stands now, you can cancel or change your tickets at any time and get back a voucher at 75% of the original cost.
Meanwhile the “value” fares — which can currently be cancelled for a full refund up to 8 days before your trip — would be subject to a 25% cancellation fee at any time.
Remind you of air travel? Makes sense, since Amtrak’s relatively new CEO comes from that industry. Richard Anderson took over in July 2017 after leading the board of directors at Delta for nine years.
The changes would no doubt present a headache for riders accustomed to the flexibility of rail travel.
Founded in 1971 as the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, Amtrak is funded by a combination of national and state government subsidies, but operates like a for-profit company, counting $3.4 billion in ticket revenue against cost to employ more than 20,000 people.
In three decades, it has never broken even. However, changes brought on by the new management — including, potentially, the clampdown on ticket refunds — are bringing it slowly out of the red. Amtrak is expecting to break even in 2020 for the first time.
Another way Anderson is saving dough? Reducing Amtrak’s lawsuit liability.
It’s been four years since Amtrak Train 188 derailed in Philly, for which survivors and their loved ones were awarded a $265 million settlement in court. In January, Amtrak made sure that could never happen again — by adding a clause to tickets that says passengers can’t sue if a train crashes.
The new CEO estimated that switch could save the transit agency roughly $2 million in legal costs every year.