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The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19, otherwise known as the coronavirus, a pandemic, and the U.S. has declared a National Emergency. The global railway industry has been responding. Following is a staff report from the editors at Railway Age, Railway Track & Structures and International Railway Journal that will be continuously updated with the latest developments, the most significant posted up top.
U.S. and CANADIAN DEVELOPMENTS
CARES ACT: President Trump on March 27 signed H.R. 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, into law, following swift passage in the House of Representatives by voice vote, and one day after the U.S. Senate passed the bill in a unanimous 96-0 vote. The CARES Act is a $2 trillion stimulus package that addresses the devastating economic and societal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. It includes many funding measures that directly benefit the railway industry—all modes, freight and passenger.
The House approved the measure by voice vote, after leaders in both parties deflected an effort by Representative Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), “who has a penchant for using procedural maneuvers to try to block legislation, to force a recorded vote requiring lawmakers to register their positions individually,” commented the Washington Post.
NO, MASSIE: House Republicans and Democrats squashed an attempt by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) to use a procedural maneuver to try to force a recorded (roll call) vote on the CARES Act. This would have required lawmakers to register their positions individually, in person—very difficult under the present circumstances, since at least one is in self-quarantine with COVID-19, and many others are elderly and more vulnerable to infection, and should stay home, for their own safety.
AMERICAN PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION ASSOCIATION: Distribution of CARES Act funds for transit is rather complex. APTA, which took the lead in working with Congress on the bill’s transit provisions, provided an explanation to its members. The CARES Act includes $24.9 billion for public transit formula operating and capital grants “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19,” APTA said. “The bill provides that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) distribute the transit funds proportionally based on the ratio of funding of four specific programs: Urbanized Area Formula Grants (49 U.S.C. § 5307); Rural Area Formula Grants (49 U.S.C. § 5311); State-Of-Good-Repair (SOGR) formula grants (49 U.S.C. § 5337); and Growing/High-Density States Formula Grants (49 U.S.C. § 5340). It provides almost three times (280%) of the FY 2020 appropriations for each of these programs, and distributes the funds proportionally based on the ratio of funding for these formula programs in the FY 2020 apportionments.”
“However, it is important to note that CARES Act funds are only eligible for grants to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19,” APTA pointed out. “Under the bill, the funds are eligible for COVID-19 impacts as if they were made available under Urbanized Area Grants or Rural Area Grants. The bill requires the FTA to apportion these funds (using FY 2020 apportionment formulas) within seven days of the date of enactment. The federal share of the costs for grants made available under the bill is 100%, at the option of the recipient. In general, transit law requirements (Chapter 53 of Title 49) apply to these operating and capital grants.
“However, notwithstanding transit law limitations, these funds are expressly available for operating expenses to prevent, prepare for and respond to COVID-19 beginning on Jan. 20, 2020. These funds are available to reimburse public transit agencies for operating costs to maintain service and lost revenue due to the coronavirus public health emergency, including the purchase of personal protective equipment and paying administrative leave of operations personnel due to reduction in service.
“Although these specific operating expenses are outlined in the bill, other operating costs may also be eligible. These operating expenses are not required to be part of state-wide or metropolitan transportation improvement programs or state-wide or long-range transportation plans. The bill prohibits FTA from waiving the prevailing wage and transit labor standards (49 U.S.C. § 5333) for these formula grants.
FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION: In response to a Petition from the Association of American Railroads (AAR), American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) and American Public Transportation Association (APTA), the FRA has issued a 60-day emergency waiver for certain requirements of FRA’s rail safety regulations, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The petitioners, on behalf of their member railroads, requested relief from certain requirements of 49 CFR Parts 213, 214, 217, 218, 219, 220, 228, 229, 232, 234, 236, 239, 240, and 242.
FEDERAL TRANSIT ADMINISTRATION: Deadlines for several FTA competitive grant programs will be extended for 30 days amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The 30-day extension applies to grant programs currently administered by FTA with active notices of funding opportunities (NOFOs). “We understand that many transit agencies are experiencing disruptions to normal operating procedures and, as a result, some potential applicants to FTA’s grant programs may not be able to submit timely applications to FTA’s Notices of Funding Opportunity,” USDOT Secretary Elaine Chao said. Actions taken by FTA so far in response to the crisis include new flexibility that allows agencies to use existing federal formula funds for emergency-related capital and operating expenses at an increased 80% federal share. Transit agencies can request other relief from federal requirements as needed by making a request through FTA’s Emergency Relief Docket.
AMERICAN SHORT LINE AND REGIONAL RAILROAD ASSOCIATION: “After numerous conversations with our members, Board, and host hotel, and following coronavirus pandemic guidance from state and federal authorities, we have decided to postpone our Connections Convention until this fall,” ASLRRA said in a message to members. “We are looking at two primary options the fall event: either early December at the Gaylord in Dallas or expanding the depth/breadth of the already scheduled early October regional meeting in Kansas City to turn that into the annual convention. We’re working with both locations simultaneously and hope to have new dates and location announced within a few weeks. The health and safety of our members, staff and the broader community has been and will continue to be our top concern as we move forward in these uncertain times. We recognize how much you value the networking, education and training opportunities provided by the convention, and we are looking forward to delivering a great event for you in the fall.”
FEDERAL TRAVEL RESTRICTION EXEMPTION: Railroad employees who must remain on duty (and are doing so willingly) in the national interest are being provided with exemption letters from their railroads:
USDOT: The U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy Compliance issued guidance on March 23 To provide clarity with respect to existing requirements for DOT-mandated drug and alcohol testing during the COVID-19 crisis. DOT agencies include the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration. In short, DOT drug and alcohol testing requirements remain in effect.
AAR: The Association of American Railroads (AAR), in its most recent rail freight traffic report, reported that U.S. rail traffic for the week ended March 21, 2020 contained some much-needed good news: The worst of the coronavirus’ effects on Asian trade may be over.
“The good news is that the intermodal volumes of the railroads serving the West Coast ports that receive the bulk of imports from China appear to have plateaued over the past four weeks, indicating that we may have seen the worst of the COVID-19 impacts on the Asia trade,” said AAR Senior Vice President Policy and Economics John T. Gray.
“It wouldn’t be surprising to see rail volumes of other categories soften in the weeks ahead as steps taken to limit the spread of COVID-19 continue to impact producers, both here and abroad, particularly those of consumer goods or intermediate products from which those goods are produced,” Gray said.
AAR COVID-19 Response: “Recognizing responsibility to the nation and their [employees], railroads maintain and routinely review their pandemic response plans that have addressed other events, including the  H1N1 outbreak,” AAR said. “Since news of COVID-19’s spread in early January 2020, railroads and their Chief Medical Officers have been working together to update and adapt their plans to specifically address the need to contain, mitigate and respond to the coronavirus outbreak in line with most recent recommendations coming out of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
“The industry holds daily calls among cross-functional teams to share information and best practices to keep their railroad employees and their families — as well as the larger community — safe. Railroads are also in constant communication with federal partners at the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Department of Homeland Security and the White House as well as state and local officials on evolving public health developments and efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
“Freight railroads are taking significant precautions to protect the health and well-being of their employees. These efforts include providing employees with timely and accurate information on protecting themselves and their families through effective hygiene practices; directing employees to stay home if they are sick; communicating with employees and facility partners about workplace spatial distancing and mitigation strategies recommended by the CDC; expanding the frequency of cleaning and sanitation in railroad headquarters, maintenance facilities, dispatch and operations centers as well as on locomotives and rail equipment; and restricting domestic and international employee air travel.
“To increase [social] distance among employees, railroads are doing the following to limit potential exposure to the virus: Transitioning employees not directly involved in train operations to teleworking arrangements in order to reduce density at work locations, especially at highly populated headquarters; restricting access to mission-critical locations such as operations and dispatching centers to only essential staff who must be present to perform their duties; and activating secondary dispatch and operation locations to expand social distancing efforts and maintain vital functions.”
FITCH RATINGS, TRANSIT INDUSTRY: Fitch Ratings has placed the ratings of five large U.S. public transit agencies on “Rating Watch Negative.” Fitch said it “expects widespread and sharp declines in transit ridership and fare revenues to create significant near-term stress in the U.S. public transit sector with the [agencies] identified here at the greatest risk. Some transit agencies in major urban areas that have already been impacted by the pandemic are reporting ridership declines of as much as 70% to 90% amid efforts at social distancing, a widespread shift to telecommuting and shelter-in-place orders.
“Fitch does not believe that the traditional tools available to balance transit agency budgets will be sufficient to offset a meaningful proportion of revenue losses. While some capital spending may be delayed, service is unlikely to be curtailed enough to offset revenue losses due to the essentiality of the public service provided and need to continue providing transportation to health care workers and other essential workers. Fare increases are unlikely to be a meaningful budget balancing tool in the current environment and would be insufficient to offset the magnitude of revenue losses expected if attempted.
“These fare-dependent transit agencies entered the current period with solid to strong liquidity and operating reserves to offset typical ridership and economic volatility. However, the current period of stress is significantly greater than the rating case stresses factored into Fitch’s transit ratings and a more extreme stress than transit agencies routinely plan for. Fitch believes transit agency liquidity positions are likely to erode rapidly given the current the scope of revenue losses and the need to continue essential public services.
“Major transit agencies have requested emergency federal assistance to support continued provision of transit services in U.S. urban areas. Fitch expects some degree of state and federal support to be forthcoming due to the essentiality of transit services to public health and safety. The degree of support and the speed with which it is provided will largely determine the near-term ratings impacts of the current ridership losses on these credits.
“The move to Rating Watch Negative reflects actual and expected severe declines in transit ridership and revenues due to coronavirus pandemic. The rating action applies to the transit agencies that have the highest dependence on fares to fund operations, though further rating action may be necessary in the sector as the degree of second order impacts (declines in economically sensitive tax revenues) becomes clear.”
The following ratings are affected:
NRC (National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association): On March 19, the Department of Homeland Security CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) issued a memorandum, “Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce,” on the identification of such workers during COVID-19 response. “The list in this link identifies workers who conduct a range of operations and services that are essential to continued critical infrastructure viability, including staffing operations centers, maintaining and repairing critical infrastructure, operating call centers, working construction, and performing management functions, among others,” noted NRC President Ashley Wieland. “As it pertains to NRC members, the list includes workers responsible for operating dispatching passenger, commuter and freight trains and maintaining rail infrastructure and equipment; and employees who repair and maintain vehicles, aircraft, rail equipment, marine vessels, and the equipment and infrastructure that enables operations that encompass movement of cargo and passengers.”
RAILWAY SUPPLY INSTITUTE: RSI President Mike O’Malley issued the following statement regarding the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) guidance on the critical infrastructure workforce as part of the national COVID-19 response:
“As federal, state, and local governments continue to develop and implement their emergency response plans for COVID-19, it is essential that clear federal guidelines are in place to ensure critical transportation infrastructure can continue to operate. Our nation’s transportation networks maintain consistent, reliable shipments of supplies and resources vital to the COVID-19 response. CISA’s recent guidance makes clear that all rail supply operations, including critical manufacturing, repair and maintenance of rail equipment and infrastructure, is essential to this response.
“We thank the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and Transportation for their efforts and encourage all state and local officials to follow the CISA guidance in defining essential workers and operations as they develop their COVID-19 containment strategies. The railway supply industry will do its part to ensure that our railroad partners can serve the needs of communities effectively, and without disruption.”
NORTH AMERICAN PASSENGER RAIL SERVICE UPDATES
BRIGHTLINE (VIRGIN RAIL USA): Service has been suspended until further notice in response to the coronavirus pandemic, company officials announced March 25. The final northbound train departed from Miami at 5:50 p.m. “Like all businesses, we are operating in a period of uncertainty that may last several months,” Brightline President Patrick Goddard said in a prepared statement. “Although a difficult decision, we have decided to temporarily suspend Brightline service in the best interests of the entire South Florida community as we all seek to flatten the curve.”
MBTA: Rail transit continues to run on Saturday schedules, with some extra service on the Blue Line and the “E” branch of the Green Line. Trains are still running on weekend schedules, with additional service on some lines. Starting Wednesday, March 25, the “T” has added an extra early-morning departure from Newburyport, Watchusett (on the Fitchburg Line), Reading (an intermediate stop on the Haverhill Line), Lowell, and Needham Heights, for early arrivals in Boston. Fairmont Line (Dorchester Branch trains are running hourly on that line.
NEW JERSEY TRANSIT: We previously reported that NJ Transit had run weekend service on all rail lines on Friday, March 20, and that the agency had increased service to the “Level 1 Severe Weather Schedule” operated on Martin Luther King Day and Presidents’ Day, effective Monday, March 23. That is true on all lines, with one exception: the Montclair-Boonton Line. The mini-peak augmentation in the “Level 1” schedule has been implemented, but trains outside peak hours are only running to Bay Street, at the east end of Montclair. The “Level 1” schedule calls for all trains to make six more stops in Montclair, terminating at Montclair State University (MSU) Station. NJT is still running full weekday light rail schedules, but that changed March 25. Newark Light Rail switched to a Saturday schedule, which calls for 20-minute headways throughout the service day. That will mean a significant service reduction on the part of the line to North Newark and Bloomfield, historically known as the Newark City Subway. On the portion of the line between Penn Station and Broad Street Station, the 20-minute service will provide more balanced service than the customary weekday schedule, which calls for service every ten minutes at peak-commuting hours, but only every 30 minutes at other times. The River LINE between Trenton and Camden will operate on a Sunday schedule, which runs every 30 minutes through the service day, with the last departure at 9:00 pm. Weekday service currently runs every 15 minutes during peak-commuting hours, and those extra runs will be eliminated. Hudson-Bergen Light Rail will continue to operate on a weekday schedule. NJT has asked for $1.25 billion to fill the deficit caused by lost revenue.
NEW YORK METROPOLITAN TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY: On March 24, the MTA announced implementation of the “MTA Essential Service Plan,” a reduced schedule “that will ensure service to and from work for the workers on the frontlines of this crisis, while adapting to never-before-seen ridership lows—dropping by as much as 90% across New York City Transit, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad.”
The schedule change follows “New York State on PAUSE” order, which directed New Yorkers use public transportation for only essential travel and limit potential exposure by spacing out at least six feet from other riders. NYCT, LIRR and Metro-North “continue their aggressive disinfecting procedures at each of its stations twice daily, and continue daily sanitization of its fleet of rolling stock with the full fleet of railcars and buses disinfected every 72 hours or less,” MTA said.
On NYCT, “most customers will not notice a difference,” NYCT said. “This preserves our AM and PM peak to get first-responders and essential personnel where they need to go. Some lines will not run Monday through Friday, including the B, W and Z lines, which will be covered by other local service. Also, some express services and branches on some lines will operate only local service. To date, there has been an 87% decline in subway ridership vs. the comparable dates last year. Even with these changes (roughly a 25% service cut), the New York City Transit team continues to undertake a line-by-line, hour-by-hour analysis of ridership. So, we’re retaining flexibility to increase service as necessary.”
“In the midst of this crisis, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is now facing financial calamity,” stressed Chairman Pat Foye. “Farebox and toll revenue, which normally constitutes nearly half of theMTA’s annual budget at approximately $8 billion, has dropped significantly as more and more riders stay home. That’s on top of more than $6 billion in state and local taxes dedicated to the MTA that is likely to evaporate in the inevitable economic downturn. Additionally, the MTA’s enhanced and intensive disinfecting efforts are expected to total more $300 million on an annualized basis. In response, the MTA is urgently calling on Congress to do the right thing and include at least $25 billion in dedicated funding for mass transit, to ensure that the MTA and systems across the country not only continue to operate through the crisis, but also serve as the catalyst for economic growth in local economies across the nation once the pandemic subsides.”
“Extending our line of credit is not a long-term solution, and gutting our hard-fought capital plan is a nonstarter,” Foye said in a March 24 interview. “We will not allow this pandemic to slow our efforts to bring our system into the 21st century. This is a national problem that requires a national solution.”
PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson): Trains now run on a modified schedule, every 10 minutes during the week, and every 20 minutes on weekends. Overnight service will not change. There will be extra peak-hour service on some lines.
SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority): Service on regional rail lines has been slashed again. The new schedule, effective Sunday, March 29, will run seven days a week. The Airport Line will still run hourly, but most other lines will run only every two hours. The Fox Chase and Media/Elwyn lines will only run every three hours for part of the day. On the Paoli-Thorndale Line, service west of Malvern will run only every four hours. There are no trains to Newark, Del.
PATCO: The Ashland, Westmont, City Hall (Camden) and 12th/13th Street Station in Philadelphia have been closed. PATCO is already running on a reduced schedule.
PORT AUTHORITY TRANSIT (PAT, Pittsburgh) has reduced schedules by 25% on its light rail lines and bus system. Some LRT service has been reduced to 30-minute headways, particularly during the evening, and some parts of the midday on the Blue Line (South Hills) and the Silver Line (Library) via Overbrook. Weekend schedules remain the same.
CONNECTICUT: Shore Line East began operating a weekend schedule on March 16, slightly augmented on weekdays. On the same day, the Hartford Line and Amtrak trains between New Haven and Springfield began operating a Saturday schedule every day, except that the Amtrak departures from Springfield at 6:00 a.m. and New Haven at 9:54 p.m. do not operate.
BALTIMORE/WASHINGTON AREA: Maryland MTA light rail and subway lines in Baltimore continue to operate on a Saturday schedule, while MARC trains operate on a reduced-service “R” schedule. WMATA has not changed MetroRail schedules since our last report, but WUSA-9 reported that, effective March 26, 19 stations will close, and there will be no shuttle buses to serve them. Bus service has also been cut to Sunday schedules. The report said that the closures were implemented to conserve supplies of disinfectant, which have dwindled to a two-week supply. WMATA had closed Smithsonian and Arlington Cemetery stations to prevent riders from going to see the city’s iconic cherry trees in the Tidal Basin. VRE commuter trains into Virginia continue to operate on a reduced “S” schedule, with service on the Fredericksburg and Manassas Lines reduced by 50%. The normal schedule calls for eight trains during the peak commuting period; the current operation calls for only four.
MIDWEST: The Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar has reduced its hours of operation. It now runs from 8 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. weekdays and 11:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. on weekends. The Detroit Free Press reports that the city M-1 Rail (QLine) streetcar on Woodward Avenue will cut service by 50%, effective March 26. The new hours will be 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on weekdays and 8:00 to 8:00 on weekends. The report added that there will only be two cars operating along the line, but did not specify how often service will operate. There are no fares being collected. WWJ Radio reports that the Detroit People Mover will also be free to ride, but hours will also be reduced. Since Friday, March 20, the new hours are: Monday-Thursday: 6:30 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., Friday: 6:30 a.m. – 10:00 p.m., Saturday: 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. and Sunday: 2:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
We previously reported that Metro Transit in Minneapolis and St. Paul has eliminated overnight service. Effective March 25, Blue and Green Line light rail service has been reduced further, to every 20 minutes all day. Northstar Line commuter rail service has been reduced to two morning trips from Big Lake, returning from downtown Minneapolis in the p.m. commuter peak. Weekend trains have been suspended. The KC Streetcar in Kansas City has reduced its hours, effective March 25. The new hours are 6:00 a.m. until 8:00 P.M. on weekdays, and from 7:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. on weekends. As in Detroit, there will only be two cars operating on the line.
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has stressed efforts to keep its system clean, but there were no announcements that service has been reduced. Service has now been reduced on the NICTD South Shore Line between Chicago and northwestern Indiana. It is similar to a weekend schedule, but with extra peak-hour trains.
Metra will begin operating an alternate weekday schedule on Monday, March 23, to adjust for the reduced number of riders due to school closures, work-from-home mandates and other consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. The alternate schedules represent about half of Metra’s normal weekday service but “provide adequate service for those who still need to travel,” the agency said. Metra is encouraging customers to use the Ventra app for tickets because it requires less interaction with conductors. The reduction in service will also give Metra “a greater opportunity to clean its cars, concentrating on disinfecting high-touch areas such as handrails, door handles and seats, because we will need fewer trainsets for service.” The last trains on every line leave Chicago between 10:00 and 11:00 p.m.
SOUTH: Hampton Roads Transit’s Tide Light Rail in Norfolk, VA., appears to be running normal weekday service. In Charlotte, N.C., the Lynx Blue Line light rail is operating on a Sunday schedule. The City Lynx Gold Line streetcar was discontinued last June for construction, and has been replaced by buses. MARTA in Atlanta has cut back to weekend schedules, although service still begins at 5:00 a.m., the normal weekday starting time. Service runs every 10 minutes during peak hours, every 12 during midday, every 12 to 15 between 7:00 and 8:30 p.m., and every 20 minutes after that and early in the morning. The service reductions began on March 23. Information about the Atlanta Streetcar between Downtown and the Martin Luther King Center on “Sweet Auburn Avenue” is available on the website for the City of Atlanta, which does not report any service reductions on the line. In Florida, Sun Rail and Tri-Rail are operating regular schedules. WeGo Transit is operating normal service in Nashville, including Music City Star commuter trains. The southern half of the Main Street Trolley line in Memphis is shut down, but due to construction unrelated to the present health emergency. All service on the Metro Streetcar in Little Rock was suspended, effective March 17. Rock Region Metro had described it as “a non-essential transit service.” In New Orleans, the RTA slashed streetcar service. The Riverfront Line no longer operates; nor do the cars to City Park on the Canal Street line. Canal Street cars going to the Cemeteries run every 32 minutes all day, while the St. Charles Avenue line runs every 36 minutes all day. Tri-Rail in South Florida has reduced service substantially. On weekdays, trains run only every two hours. On weekends, they run only every three hours. Fares are not being collected.
TEXAS: The EP Streetcar operated by Sun Metro in El Paso has been suspended. TEXRail in Fort Worth eliminated about one-third of its runs, reducing service essentially to hourly, throughout the service day. Trinity Railway Express (TRE, running between Dallas and Fort Worth) reduced service to hourly on weekdays. Saturday service is not affected, and TRE does not normally run on Sundays. Also, the Denton County A Train is running hourly, leaving both Downtown Denton and Trinity Mills (connecting with DART’s Green Line) from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. On Saturdays, trains run either 110 minutes or two hours apart. There is no Sunday service.
MOUNTAIN WEST and SOUTHWEST: At a meeting held remotely on Monday, March 23, Denver’s Regional Transit District (RTD) Board voted to reduce service, effective April 19 and lasting until September. Commuter rail lines from Union Station will continue on current schedules for now, but light rail trains will run on Sunday schedules, and most buses will run on Saturday schedules. There will be no service on the C or F LRT, and the R line will run every 30 minutes. These changes were planned for May, but the RTD Board voted to implement them sooner, though the COVID-19 virus may not have been the primary motivation for the changes. RTD’s press release about the cuts said: “Several Board members asked why the service reduction couldn’t happen sooner, since RTD is losing money both at the farebox and in regional sales taxes. RTD staff said the changes are already on an accelerated schedule, with union representatives agreeing to change rules pertaining to route planning and bidding in order to speed up the process.”
Service on the SunLink streetcar in Tuscon, Arizona has been reduced. It now operates on weekdays every 15 minutes from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 to 10:00 p.m., and every ten minutes from 9:00 until 6:00 pm. After 10:00, it only runs on Thursday and Friday nights until 2:00 a.m. Saturday service runs from 8:00 a.m. until 2:00 a.m., every 15 minutes for most of the day. Sunday service runs from 8:00 until 8:00, every 20 minutes for most of the day.
PACIFIC NORTHWEST: In Seattle, Sound Transit reduced service. The Link light rail now runs every 14 minutes. Sounder commuter rail service has also been cut, from four round trips each weekday to two on Sounder North (to Everett), and from 13 to 8 on Sounder South (to Tacoma and Lakewood). The Tacoma Link line is not affected, but Seattle’s city-run streetcars also reduced service on Monday. The First Hill Streetcar now operates every 15 minutes, but only from 5:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. The South Lake Union Streetcar has been suspended entirely. Portland’s MAX light rail and Westside Express Service (WES) commuter trains are still running on regular schedules, but the Portland Streetcar has reduced service to every 20 minutes from 5:30 a.m. until about 11:30 p.m.
CALIFORNIA: Sacramento Regional Transit (SacRT) has instituted a “Sunday Plus” schedule on all of its light rail lines. The first runs on each line begin between 4:48 and 6:13 a.m. The last runs on each line leave between 8:48 and 9:56 p.m. In between, most service runs every 15 minutes, with 30-minute headways on the Green Line and the portion of the Gold Line in Folsom.
Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) eliminated three round trips from its 19-train weekday schedule. One southbound train was rescheduled. There is no longer any weekend service.
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) reports ridership decreases of up to 90% and has reduced service. Frequencies remain the same, but hours have been cut. Service ends at 9:00 every night (reduced from 12:00). It starts at 5:00 on weekends, and 8:00 on weekends. Previously it started at 6:00 on Saturdays. BART is has not cut service since March 23, but SFGate reports that the BART Board considered a proposal that would eliminate the Red and Green Lines (Richmond and Warm Springs, respectively, to Daly City) and all service on Sundays, but did not implement the proposal.
BART has suffered a 92 percent drop in ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority (MUNI) has already discontinued its cable cars. Now, the agency will not operate light rail or streetcar service, either. All MUNI Metro and light rail routes have been replaced by buses (J/KT/L/M/N). Metro subway stations will be closed, except for downtown stations, which will remain open for BART service during their operating hours.”
On the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE), the last train in the morning and the afternoon were suspended. There are now only three trains in each direction on weekdays. Saturday service was suspended previously.
Service on Metrolink in the Los Angeles area was slashed on March 26. The changes are different for each line, but most weekday service outside peak-commuting hours was eliminated. Most of the peak-hour trains have survived, as has most of the weekend service, which is limited on the lines that have it. The two weekend trains in each direction on the Riverside Line are gone. The railroad blamed an 80% drop in ridership since last week, balanced against the need to provide service for essential workers.
MetroRail in Los Angeles reduced service on its subway and light rail lines,. The new weekday schedule calls for service every 12 minutes from 6:00 a.m. until 6:00 pm and every 20 minutes from then until 12:00 midnight, when the system closes. The exception is the Green Line (C Line), which runs every 12 minutes between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m., every 15 minutes until 3 p.m., every 12 minutes from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. and then every 20 minutes between 6 p.m. until midnight. Metro will run scheduled weekend service until midnight, and has advised customers to enter the system by 10:30 to be sure of a ride home.
San Diego MTS has pledged to continue running regular service for now, but that will change on Monday, March 30. Meanwhile, NCTD Coaster train service between Oceanside and San Diego was slashed. Five of the eleven round trips from the prior schedule are gone; only six remain, and mid-day service has been essentially eliminated. Weekend trains were eliminated completely.
A Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) LRT operator-in-training has tested positive for COVID-19 in Santa Clara, and as a precautionary measure, light rail service is being put on pause. VTA employees received an email by General Manager and CEO Nuria Fernandez revealing the transit agency received news of the positive test late on March 25. Six trains were still running at the time, and they were all shut down immediately. Fernandez wants all train operators to stay at home until further notice. With the light rail service put on hold, VTA is now focusing on bus service. VTA will continue to follow its coronavirus sanitation schedule. Ridership has dropped 82% on VTA trains since Santa Clara, Calif., laid down a shelter-in-place order to residents last week.
Caltrain has cancelled Baby Bullet service between San Francisco and San José during the morning and afternoon rush hour. There has been a 75% drop in one-way Caltrain ridership.
THE ALASKA RAILROAD (ARRC) has suspended regularly scheduled Aurora Winter Train passenger service between Anchorage and Fairbanks starting March 19 and continuing through April 30. ARRC will provide passenger service to the roadless area between Talkeetna and Hurricane via the Hurricane Turn Train on Thursday, April 2. This suspension affects nine Aurora Winter Train round-trips but does not affect freight service. Passenger service personnel are reaching out to notify and refund all passengers and tour operators with bookings on the suspended trains.
“We recognize that this could be a significant inconvenience for many people, particularly those who have no other way to access their homes and properties along the Railbelt, so we will still operate a limited service Hurricane Turn Train as scheduled for April 2 to make sure they are not stranded,” ARRC President and CEO Bill O’Leary said. “To support customers during this period of uncertainty, we are extending a flexible 24-hour cancellation policy through the summer 2020 season, in hopes that this policy offers some peace of mind for travelers with summer travel plans.”
AMTRAK: New operating schedules on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) became effective March 30 and will remain in effect until May 31. An Amtrak service bulletin shows dates when suspensions of several Amtrak trains are slated to end, although any or all of them can be extended. Many were caused by orders of the states or state authorities. The suspension of the Keystone Corridor and Pennsylvanian will run through April 5. Service reductions on the Empire Corridor are slated to last through April 19. The Maple Leaf between Niagara Falls and Toronto and the Adirondack between New York and Montreal are suspended through May 31. Service reductions on the Downeaster line will also last until May 31. North Carolina service reductions will last through April 30. Cancellations on Midwest Corridor trains and Cascade Corridor trains will last until May 31, as will all prior cancellations on corridor lines in California.
The two daily San Joaquin trains in each direction between Bakersfield and Sacramento have been eliminated. Passengers can still get to Sacramento and Lodi on buses that connect with other San Joaquin trains at Stockton, but the trip will take longer. Connections to and from the Coast Staright will still be available at Martinez but, similarly, the trip will take longer than when there was a direct connection available at Sacramento. The current schedule calls for departures from Bakersfield at 4:12 and 8:12 a.m. and 12:12 and 4:12 pm. From Oakland, trains leave at 7:36 and 9:36 a.m. and 1:36 and 5:36 p.m. There are still connecting buses between Los Angeles and Bakersfield that meet all San Joaquin trains. In addition, cafe car service has been suspended, some station lobbies have been closed, and connecting Thruway bus service has been reduced.
Missouri River Runner service will be cut 50%, beginning March 30. For now, trains leave both St. Louis and Kansas City at 8:15 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Only Train 314, the morning departure from Kansas City, and Train 313, the afternoon departure from St. Louis, will continue to operate. The surviving trains will continue to provide connections at Kansas City to and from points west to Los Angeles on the Southwest Chief, Trains 3 and 4, although the eastbound connection from Train 3 will be tight; probably requiring that the St. Louis train be held or substitute buses provided for connecting passengers. The trains that provided connections between Missouri and points south of St. Louis on the Texas Eagle, Trains 21 and 22, will be eliminated. There will still be a later train, but riders going toward Texas will have a six-hour layover, and Missouri- bound riders will have a nine-hour layover at St. Louis. There will still be connections at St. Louis between Missouri points and Chicago and intermediate stops.
Pacific Surfliner service is down to six trains per day between Los Angeles and San Diego, two between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara (plus the Coast Starlight, which leaves Los Angeles less than one hour behind the Surfliner train in the morning and one hour ahead of the Surfliner train in the evening) and only the Starlight to San Luis Obispo. The remaining service is less than half the number of trains that ran until the current emergency.
There are only two Piedmont trains in each direction now, leaving Raleigh at 10:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., and leaving Charlotte at 6:45 a.m. and 3:15 p.m.
President and CEO Richard Anderson, in a town hall call-in with employees, discussed what needs to be done to save the company and protect jobs, with ridership dwindling rapidly. See Capitol Hill Contributing Editor Frank N. Wilner’s column, “A “Sully” Moment For Amtrak’s Anderson.”
VIA RAIL has slashed service on its corridors again. The railroad had operated two trains daily on its Montreal-Quebec City, Montreal-Toronto, Toronto-Ottawa and Toronto-Windsor corridors through March 30. Effective March 31, there will only be one train in each direction on each corridor. The remaining departures leave from Quebec City at 6:21 a.m. and Montreal at 8:56 a.m. for Ottawa, returning at 3:00 p.m. and from Montreal at 6:50 p.m. The train from Montreal to Toronto leaves at 8:55 a.m. and returns at 3:00 p.m., while the train from Ottawa to Toronto leaves at 11:40 a.m. and returns at 2:20 p.m. This leaves two daily trains between Toronto and Kingston, Ontario, but they run within an hour or two of each other. The train from Toronto to Windsor leaves at 9:05 a.m., returning from Toronto at 5:30 p.m. The train between Toronto and Sarnia, Ontario is still operating, which leaves a choice of two morning trains from London and intermediate stops to Toronto. From Toronto, the two trains leave ten minutes apart. Business-class amenities including station lounges are no longer offered; nor is on-board food and beverage service available. As previously reported, trains between Montreal and Jonquiere and Senneterre, Quebec and between Sudbury and White River, Ontario now only run once a week. They had previously run on tri-weekly schedules. The train between Winnipeg and Churchill, Manitoba is still operating, but without sleeping cars or meal service (a 45-hour trip). Other trains have been canceled until May 1, or “until further notice.” In addition, VIA Rail has implemented new health-screening procedures. A statement on the VIA Rail website says: “Passengers will be denied boarding our trains if: They are experiencing symptoms similar to a cold or flu (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) [or] They have been denied boarding for travel in the past 14 days due to medical reasons related to COVID-19. In the event the passenger meets one of those criteria, VIA Rail will refuse boarding and travel for a period of 14 days, or until a medical certificate is presented that confirms that the traveller’s [sic] symptoms are not related to COVID-19.” VIA Rail is not permitting Amtrak’s Maple Leaf and Adirondack or Cascades trains to cross the border.
CANADA RAIL TRANSIT: In Vancouver, service on TransLink’s Expo and Millenium Lines has been reduced, and the first departure of West Coast Express commuter trains in each direction was eliminated. Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) is running on an “enhanced Saturday schedule” with basic service every 15 minutes through the day. There is also no fare collection. Calgary Transit is reducing service on its CTrain light rail lines on weekdays. The Red Line will run every 7-8 minutes during peak hours, 15 minutes at mid-day and 16 minutes during the evening. The Blue Line will run every eight minutes at peak-hours and every 16 minutes at other times. Weekend service will not change. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is operating most of its streetcars, but not the 508 Lake Shore or part of the 503 Kingston Road lines. Alternate service is available by using other lines. OC Transpo in Ottawa is reducing service, effective March 30. The Confederation LRT will end service at 1:00 A.M. on Friday nights. During the service day, trains will arrive every 6 to 8 minutes at peak periods and every 10 to 16 minutes at other times of the day and on weekends. The Trillium Line will run every 15 minutes at all times.
MTR is deploying 20 Vaporized Hydrogen Peroxide (VHP) robots.
Numerous railway industry events overseas have been postponed or cancelled as organizers respond to the restrictions being placed on large gatherings of people to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. As well, the UIC (International Union of Railways) has formed a task force to assist operators in dealing with the rapidly escalating situation, and several overseas train operators have instituted aggressive measures, including more stringent train cleaning, steps to protect staff, ticket refunds without penalty and cancellation of services. Numerous cross-border services have been shut down.
RAILWAY AGE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF COMMENTARY
By William C. Vantuono. These opinions are his, solely.
KUDOS TO UNION PACIFIC: As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its onslaught, it has been discussed on various credible, reliable news media outlets (CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC, etc.) whether climate change—global warming, which is real—had a role in the outbreak. Given the effects of climate change—an increase in severe weather globally, flooding, population shifts, natural habitats destroyed and the effect on wildlife—it is likely a contributing factor. Disease does not exist in a vacuum.
We in this industry know that railways, freight and passenger, are the most environmentally friendly and safest transportation mode—bar none. There are numerous examples of what the industry is doing to be “greener” and, in effect, address climate change. Here’s one whose timing and intent is particularly encouraging:
Union Pacific on March 10 declared its intention “to set science-based targets to determine how much and how quickly the company will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to support global climate change goals. A commitment letter was submitted to the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), which independently assesses corporate emissions reduction targets in line with what climate scientists say is needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals—limiting global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The company’s target will use the SBTi’s Sectoral Decarbonization Approach Transport tool, which models targets for direct and indirect transportation emissions. Union Pacific anticipates finalizing its target and submitting it for approval to the SBTi within a year.”
It is encouraging that Union Pacific is in step with the Paris Agreement, an initiative the Trump Administration rejected and withdrew from soon after Trump took office in January 2016.
HUMOROUS BUT DISTURBING NONETHELESS: “Nobody ever lost a dime underestimating the intelligence of the American public,” comments one industry observer, who shared this obviously doctored photo with Railway Age:
In the U.S., railroad freight cars bear reporting marks assigned by the Association of American Railroads that consist of two to four letters followed by a number of up to six digits and indicate ownership of the car. COVID-19 is not a designation that conforms to any legitimate reporting mark, nor to any other standard form of marking or identification one would find on a railroad tank car. If some entity were actually engaged in a conspiratorial, furtive spreading of a disease-causing virus, they’d be storing it in special containers packed in unmarked crates and loaded onto ordinary boxcars or containers, not transporting it via plainly labeled tank cars. A tank car labeled COVID-19 makes no sense, as COVID-19 is not a term that identifies a virus or any other physical material that can be transported by rail or other means. COVID-19 is the name of the coronavirus disease caused by a particular virus, so a tank car marked to display that it is carrying COVID-19 would be akin to a package bearing a label indicating that it contained DIABETES. In furtherance of an alleged conspiracy to spread the COVID-19 illness, the tank car would be carrying not COVID-19 but the virus known as “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2,” or SARS-CoV-2 for short. This image is nothing more than a mildly amusing digital manipulation.
Reporting and analysis by David Briginshaw (IRJ), David Burroughs (IRJ), Andrew Corselli (Railway Age), Kevin Smith (IRJ), David Lester (RT&S), William C. Vantuono (Railway Age) and Bill Wilson (RT&S); plus Railway Age Contributing Editors Frank N. Wilner, Jim Blaze, Bruce Kelly and David Peter Alan.
The post UPDATED MARCH 30: Rail Group News Staff Report: Global railway industry response to the COVID-19 pandemic appeared first on Railway Track and Structures.
This article first appeared on www.rtands.com
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