Posts Tagged ‘COVID-19 pandemic’

New River Gorge Excursions Canceled

September 24, 2021

COVID-19 pandemic concerns have led to the cancellation of the 2021 Autumn Colors Express excursion trips through the New River Gorge of West Virginia.

Rail Excursion Management, which is sponsoring the excursions, said the trips have been rescheduled for 2022.

 “An overwhelming number of customers have expressed concern about this year’s event,” said Railexco CEO Adam Auxier.

He noted that a surge in COVID-19 cases in West Virginia has local hospitals operating at emergency levels,” making postponement our best and only option this year.

Ticket holders will automatically be transferred to equivalent dates in October 2022. Questions about tickets, credits, or refunds can be directed to info@railexco.com.

The excursions were to be run in cooperation with Amtrak and the cities Huntington, Charleston and Hinton.

Passengers were to board in Huntington or Charleston and travel to Hinton for that city’s Railroad Days festival.

The Autumn Colors Express uses the same route as Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal.

Amtrak to Require Worker Vaccinations by Nov. 22

September 23, 2021

Amtrak said this week it will require all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 22 with all new hires facing an Oct. 4 vaccination deadline.

The passenger carrier said the rule changes are consistent with a recent executive order for federal employees.

That order does not allow for a voluntary testing alternative except for those who have obtained an exemption for medical or religious accommodation reasons.

Amtrak said the vaccination mandate also will apply to “red badge” contractors and others who regularly work at an Amtrak worksite.

The company has rescheduled its “Return to Worksites” date to Jan. 10, 2022.

“Given that our vaccination mandate is now late November, we feel it makes sense to postpone this return until after the holidays,” Amtrak officials said in the news release. “[Our] worksites remain open for anyone who wants to return sooner.”

FTA Has Service Restoration Grant Money

September 16, 2021

The Federal Transit Administration said it has $25 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan to help public transportation agencies resume service that was suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Route Planning Restoration Project will help fund restoration of public transit routes as well as to examine ridership following the  pandemic, reduce travel times and make adjustments to increase the quality or frequency of transit service for low-income riders and those in disadvantaged neighborhoods or communities who may need increased service to get to jobs, shopping and health care.

Transit agencies have until Nov. 15 to apply for funds from the program.

FTA said in a news release that projects will be selected in part on whether they will increase racial equity and advance environmental justice.

Applications will also be reviewed for their effect on climate change and if they provide service that connects those in underserved communities, while helping cut down on car and other trips that increase emissions, particularly in those communities, which are often the most impacted by airborne pollution.

The maximum award amount for any prospective applicant may be up to $1 million and a local match is not required.

TSA Increases Fines for Mask Noncompliance

September 11, 2021

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has increased penalties for violations of federal facial mask mandates aboard trains, planes and public transit vehicles.

The new penalties range from $500 to $1,000 for first offenders to $1,000 to $3,000 for second offenses.

The mask mandate for travel was introduced last Feb. 2 and is in effect through Jan. 18, 2022.

TSA officials said they hope the increased fines will “reinforce the importance of voluntary adherence.”

CVSR to Require Vax for North Pole Trips

August 27, 2021

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad said Thursday that passengers riding the North Pole Adventure trains later this year will need to show proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or provide a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours of their scheduled trip.

The policy will also apply to all CVSR volunteers and staff aboard the trains.

In a news release, CVSR said passengers will be checked upon arrival at their departure station.

Those unable to show proper proof of their vaccination or negative test will not be allowed aboard the train.

The North Pole Adventure trains have in previous years operated as the Polar Express. Last year the trains did not operate due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many like organizations and venues are implementing similar protocols,” said CVSR President and CEO Joe Mazur. “It comes down to doing our part to keep our patrons, volunteers and staff safe.”

The policy will go into effect on Nov. 5 and also apply to the Veterans Day train ride on Nov. 11.

It will not be enforced for any CVSR’s programs or events occurring before Nov. 5.

CVSR also reminded passengers that Transportation Security Administration rules require passengers to wear facial masks at boarding stations, in depots, and aboard the train at all times except when eating or drinking, replacing the mask between sips and bites.

North Pole Adventure tickets will go on sale to CVSR members on Sept. 8 at 9 a.m. and to the public on Oct. 5 at 9 a.m.

Class 1 Railroads Told to Report on Preparedness for post-pandemic Demands

May 28, 2021

Class 1 railroads have been instructed by U.S. Surface Transportation Board Chairman Martin Oberman to provide information about their preparedness to meet service demand as the nation continues to recovery economically from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter to the railroad CEOs, Oberman said he was concerned about service problems reported by some shippers and expressed fear those issues might be related to a broader trend of rail labor reductions over the past several years, in addition to the furloughs and quarantines brought about by the pandemic.

The railroads were asked to provide information about the sufficiency of operating personnel and railroad equipment availability going forward, as well as longer-term expectations for hiring.

“The freight-rail industry has performed admirably during the COVID-19 pandemic and, as the nation’s economy recovers, I want to be fully informed as to the Class I railroads’ preparedness to meet forecasted demand, including the railroads having the necessary labor and equipment resources in place to provide safe, reliable and efficient service to customers,” Oberman wrote.

He acknowledged that the pandemic disrupted rail operations and lauded the carriers for their communication with the board and stakeholders during the past year.

On another matter, the STB also has asked Class I railroads to continue reporting revenues from demurrage and accessorial charges.

Regulators say that information has allowed them to monitor trends in such revenues.

“In light of the Board’s close oversight of Class I railroad rules and practices related to demurrage and accessorial charges, including our policy statement and final rules related to warehouseman liability and minimum requirements for demurrage bills, it is important for us to continue to receive quarterly updates on these revenue streams,” the STB said in a news release.

Lounges to Remain Absent from Amtrak’s Capitol Limited

May 24, 2021

Sightseer Lounge cars won’t be returning to the Capitol Limited next week when the train returns to daily operation.

The Rail Passengers Association reported on its website that it has been told by Amtrak that the absence of the popular cars from the Capitol Limited and Texas Eagle is temporary.

“While temporary, we do not yet have a defined timeline for increasing Sightseer Lounge availability, and have placed the other five Western [long distance] routes at a higher priority for deploying these popular cars,” said Larry Chestler, Amtrak’s vice president of the Long-Distance business unit. “We also are maintaining the Sightseer Lounge on the City of New Orleans due to our long-standing axle count requirements in Illinois.”

That means the Capitol Limited and Texas Eagle will will continue to operate with a single food-service car.

Chestler said Amtrak has a shortage of the lounge cars due to coronavirus contingencies. He said the cars will be restored once it’s possible to do so.

The Capitol Limited is scheduled to return to daily operation on May 31 while the Texas Eagle will resume daily operation today (May 24).

In a related development, Amtrak expects to resume full-service dining aboard Western long distance trains as early as June. Last May it switched to the contemporary dining model as a response to COVID-19 pandemic.

The passenger carrier is recalling furloughed workers and getting them qualified.

RPA said it was told that once traditional dining returns to the Western trains, Amtrak will begin work on “improvements to dining services on other [long-distance] routes, including the Eagle.”

Pa. Transit Agencies to Increase Capacity

May 19, 2021

Public transit agencies in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are increasing the capacity of trains and buses at the end of this month.

Pittsburgh’s Port Authority of Allegheny County said it will increase light rail and bus capacity on May 31 and lift all limits on June 20.

Limits will rise from 25 to 35 at the end of May. “What we’ve heard is some businesses may be starting to have workers come back to their offices,” a Port Authority spokesman said. “We want to be prepared for that when it occurs.”

The Philadelphia-based Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority will lift capacity limits on its trains and buses on June 1.

In a statement the agency said removing vehicle capacity limits to meet increased ridership demand is a major step in the region’s recovery.

The statement said that a mask requirement will remain in place.

Face Mask Mandate Extended to Sept. 11

May 3, 2021

The requirement that face masks be worn while aboard public transportation has been extended until Sept. 13.

The mandate had been set to expire on May 11 but the Transportation Security Agency said it was extended because the COVID-19 pandemic remains a danger to public health.

“Right now, about half of all adults have at least one vaccination shot and masks remain an important tool in defeating this pandemic,” TSA said in a statement. “We will continue to work closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to evaluate the need for these directives and recognize the significant level of compliance thus far.”

The mandate applies to air and intercity rail travel. Those refusing to comply will be subjected to fines of $250 to $1,500.

FTA Releases Reporting Rule Resources

April 6, 2021

The Federal Transit Administration has released two technical assistance resources to support respondents of the reporting requirement of the Transit COVID-19 Response Program.

The Reporting Applicability Overview clarifies who must report while the Recurring Form Template assistants recipients with collecting data on behalf of their sub-recipients.

The FTA last month launched a mandatory reporting requirement that will use the reported information in support of the transit industry’s COVID-19 recovery efforts and implementation of the federal mask mandate for public transportation.

The first deadline for reporting is April 16.