Posts Tagged ‘COVID-19’

Amtrak Hit by Service Disruptions

January 4, 2022

Much like the airlines, Amtrak found itself canceling trains during the holidays due to workers being out sick and train scheduled being “reset” due to several weather hindering trains en route.

The cancellations affected long distance and corridor trains alike although most service disruptions were for a short duration.

Trains magazine reported on its website that passengers whose travel plans were interrupted were notified via text message or an email message.

Amtrak did not issue a general service advisory about the service cancellations but issued an internal notice to employees that the canceled trains were due to “staffing shortages caused by the pandemic,” the magazine said.

In the Midwest three long-distance trains did not depart on Dec. 31, including the City of New Orleans, Empire Builder and California Zephyr.

Also not departing that day was the Silver Meteor between New York and Miami. The Crescent had a few days when it didn’t depart New York or New Orleans.

In the east several trains were annulled for the period of Dec. 31 through Jan. 6. They included Northeast Regional trains 65-66-67.

Northeast Regional trains 136-143-146-157 were canceled between Dec. 31 to Jan. 2.

Amtrak January Service Cuts Likely Averted

December 15, 2021

Amtrak service cuts in January have been averted. Amtrak CEO William Flynn advised employees on Tuesday that the company will refrain from enforcing a company decree that workers who were not fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus by early January would be terminated.

Consequently, he said in a memo to Amtrak workers, the passenger carrier does not anticipate reducing its level of service next month.

Flynn said the company will allow unvaccinated workers to remain on the job if they are able to submit a negative COVID-19 test weekly or more frequently if needed.

Amtrak has been warning for weeks that service frequency reductions were possible unless it achieved 100 percent compliance with a vaccination rule it announced last summer.

Last week Amtrak President Stephen Gardner said in a congressional hearing that service reductions were likely on long-distance trains because some crew bases serving those trains had a relatively high rate of noncompliance with the vaccination mandate.

However, the passenger carrier is now pointing to court action staying enforcement of an executive order issued by President Joseph Biden ordering federal contractors to require that their employees be fully vaccinated.

In the wake of those court orders, the three Class 1 railroads that had ordered their workers to be vaccinated – Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and BNSF – have rescinded enforcement of those rules, at least temporarily.

But Amtrak had said it planned to go ahead and enforce its vaccination requirement, noting that the carrier had announced its rule before the executive order had been issued by the Biden administration.

Amtrak’s original rule had allowed testing as an alternative to vaccination. The rule also permitted certain exemptions to the vaccination requirement.

Workers who have been granted an exemption will be able to continue working, Flynn said in his memo.

This is a change from a previous proviso that those who were exempted would be placed on unpaid leave.

The Flynn memo said workers who failed to submit to COVID-19 testing  will be initially placed on a leave of absence and could face termination.

Thus far nearly 96 percent of Amtrak’s workforce has reached compliance with the vaccination rule or received an accommodation while 97.3 percent has received at least one immunization. That leaves fewer than 500 workers in noncompliance. Flynn’s memo has been posted on the website of Railway Age and can be read by clicking on the following link. https://www.railwayage.com/passenger/intercity/amtrak-updated-employee-vaccine-policy-allows-testing-eliminates-service-impact/

All Downeaster Service Now Suspended

April 15, 2020

Amtrak’s remaining Downeaster Service has been suspended through at least April 30.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which sponsors the service, said the suspension was due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier, Amtrak had suspended all Downeastern service between Boston and Brunswick, Maine, except for one daily roundtrip.

With all service now suspended, stations in Brunswick, Freeport, Portland, Saco, Wells, Dover and Durham stations are closed.

Amtrak has waived ticket reservation change fees for all trip reservations made before May 31.

The April 30 date coincides with the expiration date of an order by Maine Gov. Janet Mills restricting public contact and movement, schools, vehicle travel, and retail business operations.

The Downeaster trains that had been operating included Nos. 680 and 685 on Monday through Friday, and Nos. 692 and 693 on Saturdays and Sundays.

Amtrak Set to Get $1B in Pandemic Aid

April 13, 2020

The U.S. Department of Transportation said late last week that it will be conveying $1 billion to Amtrak that was appropriated as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

The funding was approved by Congress after the passenger carrier reported that it was expected to lose that amount of money due to a 90 percent plunge in bookings and a wave of cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a news release, DOT said the emergency aid will help Amtrak maintain service when the economy recovers.

DOT said the CARES funding is intended to offset the loss of ticket revenue, enable the carrier to continue to pay its employees, buy fuel for its operations and construction materials for its projects.

The CARES Act funding will grant Amtrak $492 million for the Northeast Corridor and $526 million for its national network.

At $239 million of the funding will be used in lieu of any increase in states payments for Amtrak corridor service.

Carolinian to be Temporarily Suspended

April 5, 2020

The North Carolina Department of Transportation has further reduced the number of Amtrak trains that it is sponsoring during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Effective April 6 the Carolinian, which operates between Charlotte and New York, will be suspended.

The suspension will last through at least May 4.

The department had earlier reduced Piedmont Service between Charlotte and Raleigh.

There will now be just one pair of Piedmonts, Nos. 75 and 78, operating between April 6 and May 4.

A news release from the department said Amtrak is waiving change fees on all existing reservations until May 31.

Passengers can modify their trip on Amtrak.com​, or find their reservation on the home screen in the Amtrak app. To cancel a reservation with no fee, passengers must call 800-BY-TRAIN and speak with an agent (not available via Amtrak.com or the app).

Infrastructure Funding Might be in Next Legislation to Address COVID-19 Pandemic

April 2, 2020

Congress is eyeing a fourth bill to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and it might address infrastructure funding.

President Donald Trump has signaled that he would support a $2 trillion infrastructure package as part of that legislation.

Other congressional leaders have also identified areas they would like to see funded but some observers think that whatever bill makes it through the House and Senate will be limited to health care matters.

Congress most recently approved a stimulus bill providing $2.2 trillion in funding, which is several hundred billion dollars more than the federal budget for one fiscal year.

Lawmakers are hoping that the stimulus bill will benefit the economy by as much as an additional $4 trillion.

The $1.018 billion that the stimulus bill provided for Amtrak was intended in part to limit the funding states must pay for services they support.

In an unrelated development, the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners reported that several moves of private cars via Amtrak that had been planned in March were canceled by their owners as a result of the pandemic.

AAPRCO also posted its mid-term meeting from March 23 to late July.

Amtrak Only Booking Half of Coach, Business Class

April 1, 2020

In an effort to enforce social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic Amtrak said it will only book coach and business class accommodations to 50 percent of capacity.

Amtrak also said it is extending its waiver of change fees on existing or new reservations through May 31.

The carrier also said it will temporarily stop accepting cash payments in stations and aboard trains.

VIA Makes More Service Cuts

March 31, 2020

VIA Rail Canada said that beginning March 31 it will further cut service on most routes.

The new schedule calls for only one train per day on all routes in the Quebec City-Windsor, Ontario, corridor.

All trains will stop at every station on all routes.

Montreal-Jonquiere, Quebec; Montreal-Senneterre, Que; and Sudbury-White River, Ontario, routes will operate with one round trip per week.

The Winnipeg-Churchill, Manitoba, train is no longer offering Sleeper Plus service.

Other operations, including the Canadian and Ocean, have been suspended through May 1.

VIA said carry-on baggage assistance offered by employees is temporarily suspended on all trains across the network.

However, it said it will continue to offer the same level of assistance to passengers with disabilities and/or limited mobility.

Checked baggage service has been temporarily suspended on all routes except Sudbury-White River and Winnipeg-Churchill.

In the United States, Amtrak and CTrail Hartford Line trains have begun operating on an even more reduced schedule with a combined 11 round trips (six CTrail, five Amtrak) on weekdays and revised weekend schedules on Amtrak’s Hartford line between New Haven, Connecticut, and Springfield, Massachusetts.

CZ Operations Curtailed, Canada Bans Some Travel

March 30, 2020

The first service reduction that is related to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Amtrak’s long-distance network although it was an unintended consequence.

Amtrak said on Sunday it would truncate the route of the California Zephyr to Chicago-Denver because an Amtrak worker assigned to the train has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

An email sent to Amtrak employees said workers exposed to that employee have gone into a 14-day self-quarantine.

That has resulted in Amtrak being short on crew members to staff the train.

On its Twitter feed Amtrak said eastbound No. 6 is to originate in Denver on March 30.

The westbound Zephyr that departed Chicago on Sunday would terminate in Denver.

No. 6 that departed Emeryville on Sunday was to turn at Reno, Nevada, with passengers continuing eastward by bus.

An online report indicated the consist of the Zephyr in recent days has been two P42DC locomotives, two sleepers, two coaches, a dining car and a Sightseer lounge.

Baggage generally cars have been removed from Amtrak trains that had them before the pandemic broke out.

In other related developments, the suspension of the Pennsylvanian, which normally operates between New York and Pittsburgh, and Keystone Service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, has been extended to April 5.

Amtrak also has announced that the Auto Train will not originate on either March 30 or 31. No explanation was given, but this train derailed last week in Florida and the cancellations may are likely related to that in some manner.

In a related announcement, Amtrak said the Silver Meteor and Silver Star will originate in Miami on Monday as scheduled.

They had been originating in Jacksonville, Florida, as a byproduct of the Auto Train derailment.

North of the border, Canada has restricted domestic travel by those showing such symptoms of the coronaviras as fever, coughing, or difficulty breathing.

Transport Canada that VIA Rail Canada, intercity rail operators, and airlines screen passengers for symptoms by asking health questions and looking for visible signs of illness.

Would-be passengers showing symptoms will be prohibited from travel for 14 days or until they can present a medical certificate confirming the symptoms are not related to COVID-19.

The order does not affect commuter rail and bus travel.

Amtrak Stops Accepting Cash

March 28, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has had many effects, some of which have received little attention.

Among those has been Amtrak’s acceptance of a suggestion by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to business to limit the handling of cash, which it said can carry the virus.

The CDC has recommended that business promote tap and pay to limit the handling of cash.

The Rail Passengers Association said it has learned this week that Amtrak has begun refusing to take cash which the advocacy group said could leave those without credit cards with no options for paying for Amtrak services.

The RPA said it won’t fault Amtrak for adopting the policy, but said a workaround needs to be found.

“We at Rail Passengers right now don’t have an answer,” RPA CEO Jim Mathews  wrote on its website on Friday. “I’m raising the question as a challenge, however, that maybe all of us can come up with a solution.”