As Amtrak fought to overcome weak ridership caused by the pandemic, its top executives received six-figure bonuses in 2021, according to The New York Times.
The times reported it was Amtrak's biggest payout in years and came despite a lackluster financial performance, according to information obtained by the Times through the Freedom of Information Act.
It was revealed that nine top executive were given bonuses over $200,000 in the 2021 fiscal year — an increase from the six executives in 2019. Smaller bonuses were handed out in 2016, 2017, and 2018. There were no bonuses awarded in 2015 or 2020.
The Times noted that, as part of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, Congress had set aside $66 billion for rail services — a third of it earmarked for Amtrak.
Yet in 2021, Amtrak, despite having its lowest revenue and biggest losses in more than a decade, awarded $2.3 million in bonuses.
Since 2016, short-term bonuses of more than $766,000 were paid to Stephen Gardner, who took over at the rail service's chief executive officer this year. Bonuses of nearly $727,000 were paid to Eleanor Acheson, Amtrak's general counsel and corporate secretary over that same period.
All but three members of Amtrak's current 12-member leadership team were awarded bonuses of more than $200,000 last year.
An Amtrak spokesperson said the rail service hiked short-term incentive payouts for managers in 2019 to make jobs more competitive and desirable, the Times said.
Qiana Spain, Amtrak's executive vice president and chief human resources officer, said in a statement that the incentive payments were aimed at helping to "attract and retain talent."
But Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, an Amtrak partner, said of the bonuses: "I know that in all markets everyone is looking to recruit good people, but this is a bit surprising.
"I would hope that these are conversations, as state partners, we could have going forward because we all want to align our goals with Amtrak."
The Times said Amtrak has lost money since it was created in 1971. Early in the pandemic the rail service furloughed more than 1,200 workers and pushed others to accept buyout offers.
Amtrak announced in November 2020 that it would furlough more than 2,000 workers as a result of the decline in travel due to the pandemic.
Amtrak said in a statement then that despite other cuts, "significant reductions remain necessary due to the slow recovery of ridership and revenue," according to Reuters. "Approximately 1,950 agreement team members will be furloughed and 100 management jobs will be cut."
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