Posts Tagged ‘COVID-19’

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Class 1 railroads that had ordered their workers to be vaccinated – Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and BNSF – have rescinded enforcement of those rules, at least temporarily.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

CDC Mandates Mask Use on Public Transportation

February 2, 2021

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued an order requiring mask use for all domestic travel on public transportation.

The order applies to passengers aboard trains, planes and buses and is also applicable inside of stations, airports and bus terminals.

Transportation providers are directed by the order to use their “best efforts” to ensure mask use, including removal of passengers who refuse to comply.

Enforcement of the order will be handled by the Transportation Security Administration and other federal authorities working as needed with state and local agencies.

The CDC mandate comes after President Joseph Biden signed an executive order on Jan. 21 requiring mask use while traveling on public transportation systems.

The agency said the purpose of the order is to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Some Transit Workers Are Talking Work Stoppage to Protest Lack of Adequate Pandemic Protection

April 15, 2020

Two Greater Cleveland RTA Blue Line trains pass in June 2013.

Some public transit workers have considered engaging in a work stoppage to protest lack of protection during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Amalgamated Transit Union said that at least 16 of its members have died in Boston, Detroit, New Orleans and St. Louis.

The Transport Workers Union said at least seven of its members have died and hundreds more tested positive for COVID-19.

In New York 50 workers of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have died and some workers there say the agency’s slow response to the pandemic played a role in those deaths.

MTA chairman and CEO Patrick Foye denied that, saying in a letter to the New York Times that “the only ‘sluggish’ response has been on the part of the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose guidelines against widespread use of masks the MTA (a transportation organization, not a medical provider) initially followed but has since disregarded.”

Unions representing transit workers say they are acutely vulnerable to the virus.

National union leaders have said that local chapters will need to decide if and where specific tactics are needed to push for better protection during the pandemic.

A story posted on the Citylab website said many transit workers do not feel adequately protected by their employers.

Some workers said they have resorted to bringing their own cleaning supplies to disinfect trains and work areas.

Data provided by think tank TransitCenter said 13 percent of front line transit workers are older than age 65 compared with 7 percent of the working population.

The center also said a larger proportion of transit workers are black, which underscores an emerging racial disparity in the pandemic’s death toll.

Transit workers may also be vulnerable to respiratory disease because of occupational hazards.

Other occupational hazards may contribute to pre-existing health conditions that make some “Our members have spent years exposed to diesel fumes and infectious agents and are subject to unsafe air quality caused by inadequate air filters and ventilation systems,” said Jim Evers, the president of the Boston Carmen’s Union.

“As a result, many employees already suffer from health ailments and respiratory problems putting them in high-risk categories — but they show up each day because they take their responsibilities seriously.”

With millions of Americans being ordered to stay home, transit ridership has fallen 70 percent.

Cleveland RTA to Get $111M in CARES Aid

April 15, 2020

The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority will receive $111 million in emergency federal aid from the CARES Act.

In a news release, the agency said the money will help make up for lost fare revenue and sales tax receipts.

At a meeting of its trustees on Tuesday, RTA Secretary-Treasurer Floun’say Caver said the agency expects to lose $91 million in sales tax revenue this year because of an economic downturn triggered in part by the COVID-19 pandemic.

RTA expects to lose $22 million in fare revenue. Caver said ridership has plunged by 70 percent.

For its 2020 budget, RTA expects a $113 million shortfall, most of which will be made up by the CARES Act funding.

Caver told the trustees that the agency expects to save $22.7 million in expenses due largely to a 15 percent cut in bus and rail service.

He said that includes salaries, fuel and supplies. However, RTA will incur an additional expense of $2.5 million in salaries and supplies for disinfecting transit vehicles and stations potentially contaminated by the virus as well as IT equipment needed to allow some employees to work from home.

In a news release, RTA said its March 2020 revenue fell by 21 percent compared with March 2019.

Because there is a three-month lag between sales tax revenue collection and when it is apportioned to RTA, the full impact of COVID-19 on sales tax will not be known until summer 2020 when RTA receives tax proceeds relating to March 2020 business activity.

Amtrak Averaging 4,000 Passengers Per Day

April 14, 2020

Amtrak is carrying an average of 4,000 passengers a day during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The carrier normally averages 100,000 passengers a day. About 57 percent of Amtrak’s departures have been temporarily suspended with the Northeast Corridor seeing a reduction of 77 percent of its scheduled trains.

“We are running trains where we have more staff than customers,” Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said during an employee town hall meeting last week.

Anderson described the $1.018 billion in emergency aid it is receiving from the federal government as essential but said “we are burning about $50 million a week in cash.”

Anderson said Amtrak’s recovery from the pandemic will proceed as travel demand grows.

“We are going to be a very different railroad when we come out the other other side of this; we will be 20% smaller,” he said.

Anderson hopes that travelers understand Amtrak doesn’t pack passengers aboard its trains as densely as airlines do in their planes.

That could favor Amtrak in shorter-haul markets, he said.

FTA Posts Pandemic FAQ for Transit Agencies

April 14, 2020

The Federal Transit Administration has recommended that public transit workers use personal protective equipment, including masks.

FTA made the recommendations last week in response to frequently asked questions. Transit workers should practice social distancing.

The  recommendations follow those from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has recommended that cloth face masks be worn by frontline workers and high-touch surfaces should be disinfected daily.

The FAQ page was published as resource for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act grantees and can be found at:

Durand Railroad Festival Canceled

April 10, 2020

The annual railroad festival in Durand, Michigan, has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event was to have been held May 14-17 by Durand Railroad Days, Inc.

The announcement was made on the group’s Facebook page and it would have been the 44th festival.

The event is held in part at the restored Durand Union Station, which houses the Michigan Railroad History Museum and serves as an Amtrak station for the Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water.

The museum is also closed through at least April 30 due to the pandemic.

Durand sees trains of Canadian National, Huron & Eastern and Great Lakes Central.

Imports in March Drop to 5-Year Lows

April 10, 2020

Imports in March at major U.S. retail container ports dropped to their lowest level in five years the National Retail Federation said this week.

In a news release, NRF projects that imports will remain significantly below normal levels through early summer due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Even as factories in China have begun to get back to work, we are seeing far fewer imports coming into the United States than previously expected,” said NRF Vice President Jonathan Gold.

He noted that many stores are closed and consumer demand has fallen as millions of Americans have been put out of work.

Gold said cargo may sit may sit longer than usual and cause other supply chain impacts.

U.S. ports covered by the Global Port Tracker handled 1.51 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in February, which was a fall of 17 percent from January and 6.8 percent compared with February 2019.

NRF said February typically is lower than January because of annual factory closures in China for Lunar New Year celebrations.

However, this year the shutdowns lasted into March because of the pandemic.

Although actual numbers for March are not yet available, estimates show that imports plunged to 1.27 million TEUs, down 21.3 percent year over year and the lowest level since February 2015, when a labor dispute caused slowdowns at U.S. West Coast ports.

Full Recovery From Pandemic Might Be 2021

April 10, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to affect the nation’s railroad systems, but the degree of that remains unknown.

Progressive Railroading reported this week that industry observers are struggling to get a handle on it because there are so many unknowns at this point.

“A better way to look at this is 10 simultaneous hurricanes in the United States and the destruction that follows,” said FTR Intel Chief Strategy Officer Clay Slaughter during a COVID-19 webinar FTR conducted on March 26. “How many businesses won’t reopen? How much permanent or semi-permanent disruptions will there be?”

Slaughter said that during a hurricane there is a concrete beginning and ending, a process that lasts for 60 to 90 days.

However, the pandemic is not necessarily a onetime event but a series of events with not-so-concrete endings, Slaughter said.

In part that is because of the wide variance in how states have reacted to the pandemic.

Slaughter predicted there will be large regional differences in how the pandemic affects railroad operations.

Another observer predicts that not only will the endings vary but they won’t come soon.

Tony Hatch, who owns his own transportation analysis firm, wrote in a message to his clients the recovery from the fallout of the pandemic might not come until 2021.

He said that will apply to everything from railroads to the economy to sports teams.

In the meantime, a number of railroad conferences have been delayed or canceled.

The Secure Rail Conference that was to have been held in Chicago April 21-22 has been moved to Aug. 25-26.

That conference seeks to address the future of rail technology and rail security.

The North American Rail Shippers Association has canceled its 2020 annual meeting that was to have been held May 12-14 in Kansas City, Missouri.

The group’s next meeting will be Mauy 12-14, 2021, in Chicago.

CN Cutting Workforce, Trains During Pandemic

April 3, 2020

Canadian National CEO J.J. Ruest provided a glimpse of how Class 1 railroads are scaling back operations in the wake of a falloff of freight traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CN has furloughed more than a thousand workers and has reduced the number of trains that it operates.

It has closed its yard in Battle Creek, Michigan, because finished vehicle volume has dropped by 50 percent after major automakers closed their plants to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Speaking during a webcast hosted by Citibank analyst Christian Wetherbee, Ruest said CN carload traffic fell 13 percent with automotive traffic, crude oil shipments, and frac sand in particular showing declines.

CN continues to enjoy strong volumes of Canadian grain, Canadian export coal, propane, and domestic intermodal traffic.

Ruest said overall volume will continue to diminish in the coming weeks as factories close or reduce production and consumers cut their spending.

At the same time, Ruest said CN wants to be ready when traffic returns although he said there is much uncertainty over when that will occur.

CN plans to open a sixth dispatching office, which it calls a rail traffic control center, in order to minimize the risk of COVID-19 affecting operations.

The Montreal-based carrier has had some difficulty purchasing disinfecting products, Ruest said and has turned to making its own disinfectants in shops as well as having employees of its freight forwarding business in China buy disinfectants and send them to North America via air freight.

Chief Financial Officer Ghislain Houle said during the webcast that CN is likely to reduce capital spending this year but will continue with capacity expansion projects scheduled for its main lines to Vancouver and Prince Rupert, British Columbia, where intermodal and coal traffic are expected to rise.