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A Guide to Amtrak's Pandemic Policies | Frommer's EQRoy / Shutterstock

A Guide to Amtrak's Pandemic Policies

Amtrak is still rolling, but with changes. Here's what to know about service cuts, face masks, and other new policies aboard American trains. 

MAY 8, 2020

We've heard a lot lately about how the global pandemic is affecting air travel, from plunging passenger demand to mask requirements and social distancing measures.

But what about riding the rails? Here's what you need to know about recent changes enacted by Amtrak, the USA's passenger rail service, in response to health concerns.

Service Cuts and Reductions

First of all, you'll need to make sure that the ride you want to take is still in service. 

Because so few people are traveling at the moment, Amtrak has temporarily reduced service on many routes and cut others entirely, including Carolinian trains between Charlotte and New York, Pere Marquette service between Chicago and Grand Rapids, and other routes. 

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Due to an anticipated uptick in consumer demand in coming weeks, Amtrak has announced plans to bring back its Acela express trains, which operate in the country's Northeast corridor, on June 1. 

Temporarily halted in March, zippy Acela service will resume with three weekday round trips, connecting Boston and Washington, D.C., with stops in New York, Philadelphia, and other cities along the way. 

Also starting on June 1, Amtrak's regional Northeast service, which is slower and makes more stops, will increase from its pandemic-reduced 8 round trips per week to 10. 

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Consult Amtrak's regularly updated Service Adjustments web page to keep an eye on what's available. You can also find available trains by searching for tickets at Amtrak.com or via the mobile app—the booking engine is up-to-date with service revisions.

Face Mask Policy

As of May 11, all Amtrak passengers must wear facial coverings in stations, on trains, and aboard transit buses.

Customers can remove coverings over their noses and mouths only when seated alone or with a travel companion, when eating in specially designated areas, or when in a private room.

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Passengers must arrive with their own facial coverings—they will not be provided by the railway. Service will be denied to anybody whose nose and mouth are out in the open. 

Small children who can't keep coverings on their faces are exempt, according to the policy. 

Amtrak employees who interact with customers are required to wear masks as well, reports USA Today

Social Distancing Measures

As on many airlines, Amtrak has reduced the number of available coach, business, and first-class Acela seats by 50% so that passengers can spread out, in keeping with the CDC's social distancing guidelines

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Only cashless forms of payment will be accepted at stations and on trains in order to avoid hand-to-hand contact between customers and Amtrak workers.  

Unstaffed Stations

Due to cutbacks, there may be no Amtrak employees at the station when you arrive. That doesn't mean your train won't stop there. 

You can keep tabs on arrival status via the Amtrak app or by calling 800/USA-RAIL (800/872-7245).

Amtrak recommends waiting for your train in a personal vehicle, if possible, in order to keep your distance from others. Then, when the train arrives, proceed straight to the platform for boarding. 

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Food and Beverage Service

Through at least May 31, traditional dining service has been suspended across Amtrak except for those who have reserved a sleeping car on the Auto Train, which carries passengers and their cars from the D.C. area to central Florida.  

Other overnight trains are keeping dining cars open for "flexible dining" (click here for what that entails) or offering room service. 

Elsewhere, dining options are limited or nonexistent. You're better off packing a sandwich. 

Ticket Changes and Cancellations

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Amtrak is waiving change fees for reservations made before May 31, 2020—including reservations booked with points. 

You can modify your reservation by logging into your account on Amtrak's website or app.

But to cancel a booking without being charged a fee, you'll need to call 800/USA-RAIL (872-7245) and speak with a customer service agent. 

If Amtrak decides to change your reservation, you will be contacted and offered a similar departure time or alternate day for travel.

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