Restoration of State-Funded Corridor Services Presents a Mixed Picture

Passengers board Amtrak’s Chicago-bound Saluki at Effingham, Illinois, on March 21. The Chicago-Carbondale corridor lost one roundtrip since the COVID-19 pandemic began a year ago

Although Amtrak plans to restore daily service to most long-distance routes starting in late May, the restoration of corridor service cut during the COVID-19 pandemic presents a more mixed picture.

Some states might restore service by summer but that is not guaranteed.

Michigan Department of Transportation Rail Director Peter Anastor said he didn’t known when two suspended Wolverine Service roundtrips between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) would return.

He indicated it will hinge in part on ridership and revenue trends.

“The CARES Act and the second stimulus bill helped fill the gap caused by fixed costs that stay the same whether you have 10 or 100 riders,” he said.

Michigan also funds the Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water and the Chicago-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette.

Although the Blue Water continued to operate throughout the pandemic, the Pere Marquette was suspended between March and last summer.

Anastor indicated new Venture coaches are expected to be assigned to Wolverine Service this spring, making it the first Midwest corridor train to have the new cars.

On other Midwest corridor routes, Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee is expected to increase to seven round trips on May 21.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation Rail Division head Arun Rao said the service expansion will be promoted with an extensive advertising push and increased social media activity.

Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Speegle said his agency will decide in April when some other corridor services will be restored.

IDOT has suspended one round trip on the Chicago-Carbondale route, one roundtrip on the Chicago-Quincy route and two roundtrips between Chicago and St. Louis.

“We anticipate resuming full service no earlier that mid-July; the final decision on that time frame will be made in April, approximately 12 weeks prior to resumption of service,” he said.

Speegle said IDOT will review ridership and revenue numbers for the current service, anticipated costs, and the level of federal support.

Whether a second St. Louis-Kansas City Missouri River Runner will resume operating will depend on how much funding the Missouri legislature approves.

The Missouri Department of Transportation has requested funding for two daily roundtrips but the chair of a House budget committee has proposed funding just one roundtrip.

In the East, New York State has not announced its intentions in regards to restoring any suspended Empire Corridor trains.

Two routes funded by New York, the Maple Leaf to Toronto and Adirondack to Montreal have been suspended due to the U.S.-Canadian border being closed during the pandemic.

Elsewhere in the East, North Carolina will begin a fourth roundtrip starting April 5 in the Charlotte-Raleigh corridor.

Amtrak and the North Carolina Department of Transportation are reinstating a third Piedmont Service roundtrip, making this the first multi-frequency state corridor to be fully restored.

North Carolina reinstated a second and third round trip last August and December, respectively.

Another Downeaster trip to Maine is expected to resume in May after schedules are worked out with Amtrak and host railroad Pan Am Railways.

Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority Executive Director Patricia Quinn said the new schedule will be a little different.

“Instead of just plugging two midday trains back into their old slots, we’re adding a 10:30 a.m. departure from Brunswick, which will turn as a 3 p.m. departure from Boston,” she said.

“Given the change in commute patterns, we decided to try something different, assuming we won’t need two trains leaving Boston for the evening rush hour, but the additional round-trip means we will again have a flex schedule for the late-night train from Boston to accommodate sports fans and concert goers.”

Quinn said weekday and weekend schedules will now be identical.

In the West, one Capitol Corridor roundtrip will on March 29 be extended from Oakland to San Jose.

Capitol Corridor managing director Rob Pagette said there will be a change in departure times based on the way customers now use the trains.

“We’re about at 15 percent of where we were in February 2020 but we are looking to have a more robust service by September,” he said.

“We’ve seen more demand spread throughout the day, and this has allowed us to improve the efficiency of how we use our equipment by (temporarily) going from seven to six consists.”

Pagette said officials will be watching to determine where people are riding after the schedule change to determine where we add back the seventh consist.” An eighth trainset will be added later.

The extended round trip to San Jose will originate in Auburn because there appear to be increasing numbers of “super commuters” who ride 80 miles or more to their jobs.

Ridership trends during the pandemic have shown that if passengers are less likely to travel every day, more will opt for less-costly housing further away from the Silicon Valley.

In the San Joaquin corridor, a fifth roundtrip is expected to be added in in the fall. However, the two round trips to Sacramento aren’t likely to return until early 2021 at the earliest.

Those plans, though, are contingent on ridership stabilizing.

In Southern California, the LOSSAN Rail Corridor Agency expects to restore one Pacific Surfliner roundtrip between San Diego and Goleta in July or August.

The date of that service restoration is dependant on available funding.

In the Pacific Northwest, the Washington Department of Transportation is eyeing returning two Seattle-Portland roundtrips in mid May.

Currently, the Cascades Service is operating with one Seattle-Eugene, Oregon, round trip.

Officials are considering increasing Portland-Eugene service to two roundtrips.

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