Faced with brutal competition from airlines and too many unprofitable routes, Amtrak announced yesterday that it will scrap more than a fifth of its service nationwide and cut 5,500 jobs.
Effective Feb. 1, the frequency of service will be reduced on numerous routes, including the Silver Star between New York and Tampa-Miami, Fla.; the Silver Meteor from New York to Miami and the Crescent between New York and New Orleans. All three routes include daily stops in Baltimore.
In addition, one daily Metroliner and three of the conventional trains running along the heavily traveled Washington-Boston corridor will be eliminated on April 1.
MARC, the popular, state-subsidized commuter rail service, will not be affected nor will Amtrak's Christmas holiday schedule.
The changes are part of a huge restructuring by the nation's only national passenger railroad, which was established in 1971 to salvage remnants of service left behind by bankrupt private railroads.
In recent years, as federal subsidies have declined, Amtrak, with a ridership of about 22 million a year, has been losing both passengers and millions of dollars. Earlier this year, the General Accounting Office -- which is nearing the end of a major investigation of Amtrak's finances and operations -- said the railroad's finances had deteriorated so badly that it couldn't continue to operate as a viable national network without increases in federal and state funding.
At a news conference in Washington yesterday, Amtrak President Thomas M. Downs said the railroad, which serves 540 cities over 25,000 route miles, simply has stretched itself too thin.
"In the past we have tried to be every place all the time," Mr. Downs said. "Rail passenger services can't afford that anymore . . . in a rapidly changing transportation environment."
As a result, Amtrak said it would eliminate 7.2 million miles of train service -- including three complete routes in the Midwest and West. More reductions are expected later this year.
Amtrak said 900 nonunion jobs would be eliminated, including 600 management job cuts already under way, and 4,600 union jobs.
The company said, however, it could not predict exactly where ** the job cuts would come, since labor contracts allow workers with seniority to "bump" less senior workers if they are laid off.
Amtrak currently employs 24,000 workers in 45 states.
Union officials could not be reached for comment.
Despite $546.7 million in federal subsidies, Amtrak lost $76.2 million in fiscal 1994 and ridership fell about 300,000 from the year before. It was the fifth-straight year the railroad had operated in the red. Without the latest cuts, the struggling railroad was facing a $200 million cash shortfall by June 1995.
Officials said the cuts -- expected to save $173 million in the current fiscal year and more than $360 million a year thereafter -- were made "strictly on what made economic sense."
With 40 percent of Amtrak's revenues coming from the Northeast corridor, Baltimore was spared the brunt of cuts.
"Baltimore was certainly not among the worst," Amtrak spokesman Tracy Davis said yesterday at the company's Chicago offices. Baltimore's Penn Station, which handled more than 1 million passengers last year, is Amtrak's sixth-largest station.
Altogether, 39 of the 124 daily trains serving the Northeast corridor will be eliminated.
The three Western lines being eliminated are Chicago-Milwaukee, Chicago-Grand Rapids, Mich., and San Jose-Sacramento-Roseville, Calif.
Side routes to be eliminated include Philadelphia-Atlantic City; Philadelphia-Harrisburg; St. Louis-Kansas City; Birmingham-Mobile, Ala.; Detroit-Toledo; Detroit-Pontiac; New York-Montreal; and Springfield, Mass.-Boston, Mass.
The cutbacks announced yesterday reflect the spillover effect of air fare wars.
Indeed, Amtrak yesterday singled out the "brutal price competition from the airlines" as one factor in its continuing loss of passengers and revenues.
Competition from the airlines has cost Amtrak passengers and forced it to lower fares as well. A round-trip ticket from Baltimore to Miami, for instance, can be purchased for as little as $138, comparable to the best available airline fares. But, despite aggressive marketing campaigns, the railroad clearly cannot compete on speed.
"We can compete on price, but if you want to get there fast, you can't go on a train," said Mr. Davis of Amtrak.
Amtrak has, however, continued to compete well against the airlines in the Northeast corridor, maintaining a huge share of the Washington-to-New York shuttle market.
Many travelers find rail service not only competitive in pricing but also more convenient. "The Metroliner is competitive, but it's a different market on long-distance trains," Mr. Davis said.
Listed below are those cuts announced yesterday by Amtrak that affect the mid-Atlantic area. Specific train numbers and departure times for route reductions have not been chosen:
Segments of routes that will be eliminated on April 1:
* Round trips between Philadelphia and Atlantic City, N.J.
L * Keystone service, between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa.
* Montrealer, between New York and Montreal.
Reductions in service that will begin Feb. 1.
* Silver Star, between New York and Miami and Tampa, Fla., from daily round trips to three times a week.
* Silver Meteor, from New York to Miami, from daily round trips to four times a week.
* Crescent, daily service between New York and Atlanta will continue, but service through to New Orleans will be reduced from daily to three times a week.
Reductions in service that will begin April 1:
* Boston-Washington, reduced by three conventional round trips.
* New York-Washington, reduced by one Metroliner round trip.