Amtrak is making additional service cuts this week in response to plummeting demand due to the continuing coronavirus crisis, including shortening the route of the long-distance California Zephyr.
To help reduce the spread of the virus, Amtrak said Monday it would temporarily reduce bookings in coach and business class by 50% to maintain Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “recommendations for social distancing onboard our trains.”
The carrier said it will continue to allow travelers holding tickets to any destination to change their trip without paying a change fee. The fee waiver applies to all reservations made before May 31, Amtrak said, although a fare difference may apply to new itineraries. Travelers may change their trip at Amtrak.com or by using the Amtrak app.
Some states are imposing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines in response to the crisis.
In Rhode Island, members of the National Guard informed arriving passengers at Amtrak stations of a 14-day mandatory quarantine for nonstate residents. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) ordered the quarantine Friday to apply to New Yorkers but later broadened the measure to apply to anyone arriving from out of state.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also issued a weekend advisory urging residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to “refrain from nonessential domestic travel for 14 days effective immediately.”
“Check with each state for specific guidance,” Amtrak urged travelers in an advisory Sunday, saying train service continues in areas with travel advisories in place to “provide vital transportation for employees of essential services.”
Daily ridership is down 90% systemwide, while future bookings are down 85% year-over-year, according to Amtrak.
Earlier this month, the carrier announced enhanced cleaning aboard trains and in stations and said hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes are available to passengers and employees.
Cash payments are not being accepted for the duration of the emergency at any station and on trains, the company said. Not all stations are staffed, and cafe service is suspended on some trains.
“The safety of Amtrak’s customers and employees is our top priority,” Amtrak said. “We continue to monitor the coronavirus situation closely and we are taking action based on guidance from public health experts; that includes restoring service to trains and routes once demand returns.”
Amtrak has reduced and suspended service across its network. Last week, it suspended the Acela service between Washington and Boston and announced reductions on many of its routes.
The Northeast Regional from Boston to Virginia is operating on a reduced scheduled. On the West Coast, the Cascades train, which normally travels to Vancouver, has no service north of Seattle.
As of this week, service on the California Zephyr, which runs from Chicago to Emeryville, California, no longer offers service between Denver and Emeryville.
Amtrak officials said Monday that a worker on the Zephyr route had tested positive for the virus and other workers were asked to self-quarantine for 14 days. The shortage of workers prompted Amtrak to shorten the route effective Monday. The Zephyr is the first of Amtrak’s long-distance routes to be reduced because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Amtrak said earlier this month that the unprecedented revenue and ridership losses led the company to take “aggressive” steps to cut the pay of top staff and other measures. Incoming chief executive William J. Flynn, expected to take over the company April 15, will defer his salary, while the company is suspending the 401(k) match, Amtrak confirmed last week.