USA: Amtrak has lost close to 95% its ridership since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, just as the national passenger carrier was projecting that it would finally break even for the first time in almost 50 years.

Ridership has all but disappeared because of the coronavirus, Chairman Tony Coscia reported on April 22, dashing the company’s hopes of breaking even on an operating basis for the first time in its history. Overall, the company estimates it will lose more than $700m in the current financial year, despite the provision of more than $1bn in emergency support from the Federal Railroad Administration.

Passenger train and connecting feeder bus operations have been temporarily reduced by more than 50%, including the prestige Acela Express services between Washington DC, New York and Boston.

To comply with social distancing orders Amtrak is only making available half of the seats on each train, with signs on each seat to indicate whether it can be used. Onboard staff are also wearing facemasks. Other service changes under consideration include the introduction of ‘touchless kiosks’ to replace machines in many stations, and the provision of pre-ordered, packaged meals for passengers.

Amtrak had recently announced the appointment of a new CEO, with William Flynn, who had previously headed an international freight airline, joining on April 15. He succeeds Richard Anderson, himself the former CEO of Delta Airlines. Amtrak said Flynn would not be drawing his salary during the pandemic.