Posts Tagged ‘COVID-19 pandemic’

Rail Benefits to be Reduced

May 17, 2023

The ending of a pandemic era state of emergency has resulted in cuts to some benefits provided to U.S. rail workers.

Effective May 10 sickness insurance and unemployment benefits were reduced after Congress approved legislation signed by President Joseph Biden to end a state of emergency that began in 2020.

The Budget Control Act of 2011, and a subsequent sequestration order to implement mandated reductions, requires sickness insurance and unemployment benefits be reduced by a set percentage.

Those reductions had been suspended by the pandemic era emergency order. Railroaders will see their sickness and unemployment benefits reduced by 5.7 percent.

The U.S. Railroad Retirement Board said those cuts will remain in effect through Sept. 30, 2031.

The current daily benefit rate for sickness and unemployment benefits is $85. Applying the 5.7 percent reduction, the maximum benefit in a two-week period will be reduced to $801.55 from $850.

Sickness benefits paid to an employee within six months from the date last worked for a reason other than an on-the-job injury are also subject to regular Tier I railroad retirement taxes, resulting in an additional reduction of 7.65 percent. Applying the 5.7 percent reduction to these sickness benefits will result in a maximum two-week total of $740.23, according to the RRB.

Public Transit Ridership Continues Rebound

September 30, 2022

Ridership of public transit has rebounded to 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels, the American Public Transportation Association said this week.

APTA said heavy- and light-rail are both at 61 percent of 2019 ridership, while commuter rail is at 54 percent. Bus ridership is 66 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

The figures reflect data reported by 130 transit agencies.

The trade group attributed the increase in ridership to higher levels of workers returning to the office rather than working from home as became widespread during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the pandemic took root in March 2020, some transit agencies suffered immediate declines of up to 40 percent. By April 2020 transit ridership has fallen to a national average of 20 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

Rail transit sustained higher ridership levels than bus transit, APTA officials said.

Canada to Suspend Vaccination Requirements

June 16, 2022

The government of Canada plans to suspend on June 20 its COVID-19 vaccination requirements for international travelers and some transportation industry employees.

The rule suspension affects workers in the federally regulated air, rail and marine sectors; federal government employees; and domestic and outbound travel.

A COVID-19 vaccination will no longer be required to board a plane or train in Canada. However, rules requiring wearing a facial mask aboard a train or plane will continue to apply except when passengers are eating or drinking.

A COVID-19 vaccination remains a requirement for passengers and crew on cruise ships.

Canada’s current rules require most foreign nationals to enter Canada, and quarantine.

Most Transit Agencies are Mask Optional Now

May 13, 2022

Most public transit agencies have made optional the wearing of a facial mask while aboard buses and trains.

A story posted on the website of Progressive Railroading this week noted that New York City is one notable exception.

Most transit agencies dropped the mask rule after a federal judge in Florida invalidated the U.S. Centers for Disease Control federal mask mandate.

The mandate was first imposed in January 2021 and had been extended several times.

Following that ruling Amtrak and the nation’s airlines also changed their own face mask rules to make wearing of masks optional.

CDC continues to recommend that transit system users wear facial masks while aboard transit vehicles.

Amtrak Drops Face Mask Requirement

April 18, 2022

Amtrak has dropped its facial mask requirement for passengers and employees.

The passenger carrier acted after a federal judge in Florida set aside the mask mandate that had applied to all modes of public transportation.

The Biden administration said following the ruling by Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle that it would not enforce the mask mandate and was still considering whether to appeal the judge’s decision.

An Amtrak official said passengers and employees can still choose to wear a facial mask.

The mask mandate dates to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020 and later became a federal rule that has been extended several times.

USA Today reported that many airlines, including United, Southwest, Delta and American, also have dropped the facial mask rule.

The federal facial mask mandate had been set to expire on Monday but the Centers for Disease Control wanted it extended through May 3 to provide more time to study the BA2 omicron variant of COVID-19.

The Florida judge ruled that extending the mask mandate exceeded the CDC’s authority and the federal agency failed to justify the order or follow proper rule making procedures.

Mask Rule Extended Until April 18

March 13, 2022

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration will require facial masks to continue to be worn aboard public transportation conveyances through April 18.

The agency hinted that the mask requirement, which applies to passengers aboard airplanes, trains and buses, might be lifted sometime this spring.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with various government agencies on a revised policy framework for the lifting of face mask mandates.

The mask mandate had been set to expire on March 18 after having been extended twice before.

Tourist Railroads Expect Robust 2022 Season

March 5, 2022

Tourist and heritage railroads can look forward to robust business this summer, an analysis published on the website of Trains magazine concluded.

The analysis cited projections from various tourist organizations of increased travel this year with Americans expected to spend $726 billion on leisure travel, which is near pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels.

Tourist railroad and private railroad car association officials interviewed by Trains said advance ticket sales for this year have been strong with some trips sold out months in advance.

However, one official said it will take years to recoup revenue lost during the pandemic when some tourist railroads had to shut down or operate at reduced capacity.

Ray Kammer Jr., president of the Cincinnati Railway Company and the Lebanon Mason Monroe Railroad expects it will take two or three years before his organization recovers from the revenue loss it suffered in 2020.

To read the article visit

Class 1 Pandemic Absences Set Record

February 1, 2022

Citing Federal Railroad Administration data, Trains magazine reported Monday on its website that COVID-19 infections and quarantines among Class I railroad employees set a record in late January.

For the week ending Jan. 22, 2,275 workers had contracted the virus and 1,908 were in quarantine.

That total of 4,183 eclipsed the record of 4,100 set in the week ending Jan. 9, 2021.

The Trains report indicated that the number of Class I employees idled due to COVID-19 was up 92 percent since the week ending Dec. 25, 2021.

The report said Class 1 railroads have had to hold some trains due to lack of crews. The Trains report can be read at

Details Set for Amtrak Service Cancellations

January 18, 2022

Amtrak’s service cancellations of long-distance trains that take effect on Jan. 24 will mean that trains will not depart from their terminal of origin on consecutive days, Trains magazine reported on its website on Monday.

The cancellations, which extend through late March, were announced on Jan. 14. At the time Amtrak, cited employee shortages prompted largely by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in large numbers of workers being off work due to being sick or having to quarantine after being exposed to someone with COVID-19

The announcement said 8 percent of departures would be cancelled system wide and 6 percent of its state-supported network trains.

As it turned out in the Midwest the only trains to be affected will be one roundtrip between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois, and several Hiawatha Service trips between Chicago and Milwaukee.

All trains in the Chicago-St. Louis; Chicago-Michigan; Chicago-Quincy, Illinois; and St. Louis-Kansas City corridors will continue operating daily as scheduled.

Canceled until March 27 in the Chicago-Carbondale corridor was the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini. The suspension of Nos. 391 and 392 became effective Jan. 18.

The days that long distance trains will cease operating starting Jan. 27 are staggered.

Among western long distance trains the Southwest Chief (Chicago-Los Angeles) will not depart on Monday and Tuesday. The California Zephyr (Chicago-Emeryville, California) will not depart on Sunday and Monday.

The Empire Builder (Chicago-Seattle/Portland) will not depart on Thursday and Friday. The Texas Eagle (Chicago-San Antonio) will not depart on Wednesday and Thursday. The Coast Starlight (Seattle-Los Angeles) will not depart on Wednesday and Thursday).

Among eastern long distance trains, the Capitol Limited (Chicago-Washington) will not depart on Friday and Saturday. The Lake Shore Limited (Chicago-New York/Boston) will not depart on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Crescent (New York-New Orleans) will not depart on Tuesday and Wednesday. The City of New Orleans (Chicago-New Orleans) will not depart on Saturday and Sunday.

Unaffected by the cancellations are the Sunset Limited (New Orleans-Los Angeles) and Cardinal (Chicago-New York), both of which already operate three days a week.

The Silver Star (New York-Miami), Auto Train (Lorton, Virginia-Samford, Florida) and Palmetto (New York-Savannah, Georgia) will continue to operate daily.

The Silver Meteor (New York-Miami) is suspended entirely between Jan. 24 and March 27.

The staggered days of operation mean that for some trains their first day or not operating will occur after Jan. 24.

Cancellations of Hiawatha Service (Chicago-Milwaukee) is as follows: Trains 341 and 342 are cancelled in their entirety starting Jan. 24. Train 329 will operate only on Saturday and Sunday. Train 330 will operate only on Sunday. Train 343 will operate daily except Friday.

All of the service suspensions in the Empire Corridor will occur with trains operating between New York and Albany-Rensselaer, New York. All trains between New York and Niagara Falls, New York, via Buffalo, will continue operating daily.

In Pennsylvania, the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian will continue operating daily and there are no service suspensions planned for Keystone Service trains between New York and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, via Philadelphia.

More information is available in the Trains report at

Amtrak to Reduce Service by 8%

January 15, 2022

Pandemic related staff shortages are prompting Amtrak to curtail service on most routes starting Jan. 24 for most routes and Jan. 18 on state-supported routes.

The service reductions, which Amtrak said will last through March 27, will affect 8 percent of its schedule. The passenger carrier indicated it might be able to restore service sooner on some routes depending on conditions.

In a statement, Amtrak said the service cuts were due to “staffing challenges resulting from Covid-19 pandemic and the highly active Omicron variant.”

Long distance train service frequency will fall to five days a week for the Southwest Chief, California Zephyr, Empire Builder, Coast Starlight, Crescent, Texas Eagle, Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited, and City of New Orleans.

The Silver Meteor will be suspended entirely during the 10-week period, but there will be no service reductions for the Silver Star, Palmetto, Auto Train, Cardinal, and Sunset Limited.

Amtrak said capacity will increase as dictated by demand on the Silver Star and Palmetto to offset some of the service cuts being made to the Silver Meteor.

In corridor services, 8 percent of Northeast Regional weekly departures will be suspended while 6 percent of state-supported weekly departures will be suspended.

Trains magazine reported on its website Friday that already some trains have seen spot cancellations.

The Southwest Chief did not depart Los Angles on Jan. 9 or 12 and did not depart Chicago on Jan. 12 and 15. Some trips of the Coast Starlight also have been cancelled.

Specific cancellations have yet to be announced or posted in the Amtrak reservation system as of Friday afternoon.

Amtrak said in a statement it will contact affected passengers and offer to rebook them for travel on remaining frequencies on all routes.

On routes where there are multiple train frequencies Amtrak said it will seek to offer same-day travel alternatives.

Those unable to travel on other days will be offered a full refund of their fare.

The statement said Amtrak has seen a 25 percent drop in bookings due to the surge in COVID-19 cases coupled with seasonal declines in travel.

The statement also said Amtrak is hiring and training new employees to address staffing shortfalls resulting from last year’s furloughs and early retirements.

The Trains report quoted Amtrak sources as saying 97 percent of its employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 but the workforce continues to be hit by COVID-19 infections and exposures.

The illness has affected not just on-board personnel but also backshop workers who maintain and get the trains ready for service.