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Elizabeth Warren blasts Amtrak proposed ticketing changes for refunds

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  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren is urging Amtrak to reconsider possible changes to its ticketing policies, as revealed by Business Insider last month. 
  • Among the changes are strict rules on refunds and reservation changes on Amtrak’s cheapest tickets that would make its reservations more similar to airlines.
  • It’s the latest in the railroad’s push for profitability under CEO Richard Anderson. Other changes, like those in long-haul dining cars, have infuriated many long-time riders. 
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Friday urged Amtrak officials to clarify possible ticket changes, first reported by Business Insider in December, which could take effect as early as this month.

Among the forthcoming policy updates revealed in a leaked document are airline-style rules with strict limitations on changes and refunds for Amtrak’s cheapest fares, as well as fees for changing second-level “value” fares within 14 days of departure.

“I ask that you provide a full accounting of any proposed changes, including a schedule for implementation and any internal estimates on the impact on passengers” Warren said in a letter to Amtrak’s chief executive, asking for a response by January 24.

“I am concerned that the proposed changes would increase prices and fees, especially on families and communities with lower incomes who rely on the cheaper fares and whose schedules can be less predictable, and distressed that Amtrak officials have, to date refused to provide any public information or receive any public input on these proposals,” the letter continued.

An Amtrak representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Amtrak had no comment when the potential policy changes were first reported.

In his tenure as chief executive of the federally subsidized railroad, Richard Anderson has sought to bring many business practices from his tenure at Northwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines to the deeply unprofitable railroad.

“We’ve been able to bring some commercial instincts in and make some basic investments in revenue management technology,” Anderson said at an industry event in September. “Nothing fancy, just basic, good, RM practices,” he said, using an acronym for revenue management.

But there have also been some customer-facing changes that have proven deeply unpopular. 

In 2019, overnight trains east of the Mississippi River bid adieu to traditional dining car services — with their waiters, custom-cooked food, and tablecloths — in favor of ready-to-eat food heated in microwaves.

So far, the changes appear to have had a positive effect for the railroad.

The fiscal year 2019 saw Amtrak report record ridership and the agency said it was on pace to break even by 2021. Most of the growth came in the Northeast Corridor, where the railroad runs regularly scheduled, relatively high-speed service through some of the nation’s most populated cities.

Friday’s letter isn’t the first time in recent months that Warren, who is also running for the Democratic presidential nomination, has voiced concern about new Amtrak policies.

In November, she cosigned a letter with 13 other senators urging a reversal of new arbitration policies that would limit passengers’ ability to join class-action suits against the railroad in the event of accidents.

Warren’s letter echoes many of the concerns from November.

“I urge you to reconsider these changes, and to ensure customers are best served by any upcoming policy changes,” the senator concluded.

Here’s the full text of the letter:

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