En español | After months of staying at home during the early months of the coronavirus outbreak, Americans are beginning to travel and make vacation plans. They're encouraged by the easing of restrictions across much of the country and the changes implemented by the travel industry, such as flexible cancellation policies and ramped-up sanitization procedures aimed at enticing customers and keeping them healthy.
If you're considering a trip by train, here's what to know about Amtrak's new policies and service updates:
Nearly two dozen train routes across the country are operating on a reduced schedule, among them California's Pacific Surfliner and Capitol Corridor services, as well as Amtrak's popular Northeast Regional service (from Boston to Virginia). The Acela high-speed service along the Northeast corridor was recently reinstated with a reduced schedule of three weekday round trips.
Other recently restarted routes include Keystone Service, now only operating between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, and Pennsylvanian trains. Service on the Carolinian, Downeaster and Pere Marquette routes remains suspended.
An up-to-date list of service changes can be found online.
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At the station
Before their trips, passengers are encouraged to download the Amtrak app, which allows you to scan an e-ticket to board and receive gate and track information on your device at certain stations — eliminating the need to crowd around departure boards.
Stations (and trains) are receiving enhanced cleaning, particularly of high-touch surfaces like door handles and countertops. At certain stations you might also see signs marking out how to keep your distance from others, and clear plastic barriers at the customer counter.
To keep station crowds to a minimum, Amtrak is also urging passengers not to arrive too far in advance. A half hour before departure is recommended for most passengers; 60 minutes for those who need help with ticketing or baggage.
And plan to arrive wearing a mask: Passengers are required to wear facial coverings both at the station and onboard until they are seated alone or in a private room.
Rob Carr/Getty Images
On the train
In addition to requiring facial coverings (the company notes that service will be denied to those not wearing one), Amtrak is encouraging passengers to place their belongings on the seat next to them to help keep the distance between themselves and other passengers.
Other precautions include the removal of non-safety materials from seatback pockets, and “automatic door open” buttons that customers can tap with their foot to move between cars.
Northeast Regional passenger Chris Norvell recently traveled to Union Station in Washington, D.C., from Brunswick, New Jersey, a route he's taken many times before.
"Everyone on the train was wearing a mask,” he says of his most recent journey. “There was about one person for every three or four rows of seats. So in general the train in both directions was less than a quarter full."
Despite the need for masks and small hiccups (like a hard time finding a taxi once he arrived in D.C.), Norvell says the train ride itself was in fact less stressful than usual thanks to the ample space onboard.
Food and beverage service
Onboard dining service is still up and running, with some key limitations and changes. First, have cards or another form of cashless payment at the ready if you visit the Café Car, as cash is no longer accepted.
Café service may not be available on some trains. When it is, it's carryout-only: Seating areas will be shut down and items can be brought back to your seat or room.
The more formal traditional dining car service typically found on long-distance trips — requiring reservations during set meal times — is suspended on all routes except the nonstop Auto Train.
Flexible dining service — which allows riders to show up and choose from a variety of ready-to-serve meals — is available in the dining or lounge car to sleeping car customers through June 30. These passengers can also take advantage of optional complimentary room service.
Booking and cancellation policies
To help keep passengers physically distanced onboard, ticket sales are limited in order to reduce train occupancy — so you should book early to secure your spot.
If Amtrak needs to change your reservation, it will contact you and offer you an alternative trip, whether on a different train or departure on another day.
If you want to change or cancel your trip, the usual fees will be waived for reservations made by Aug. 31, 2020, including for those booked with points (fare differences still apply).