UPDATED APRIL 2—Rail Group Staff Report: Global railway industry response & impacts, COVID-19 pandemic

Written by Bill Wilson, Editor-in-Chief
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New York commuters are still filling up subway platforms and packing into train cars during peak commuting times.

Following is a staff report from the editors at Railway Age, Railway Track & Structures and International Railway Journal that will be continuously updated with the latest developments surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and the global railway industry, the most significant posted up top.

U.S. and CANADIAN DEVELOPMENTS

FEDERAL TRANSIT ADMINISTRATION: The FTA, via the CARES Act, recently allocated a total of $24.9 billion in Federal funding to help the nation’s public transportation systems respond to COVID-19. FTA is allocating the funds to recipients of urbanized area and rural area formula funds, with $22.7 billion allocated to large and small urban areas and $2.2 billion allocated to rural areas. Funding will be provided at a 100% Federal share, with no local match required, and will be available to support capital, operating and other expenses generally eligible under those programs to prevent, prepare for and respond to COVID-19. Further, operating expenses incurred beginning on Jan. 20, 2020 for all rural and urban recipients, even those in large urban areas, are also eligible, including operating expenses to maintain transit services as well as paying for administrative leave for transit personnel due to reduced operations during an emergency. More information on eligibility can be found here. In addition to the $25 billion, FTA has taken a number of steps to support the transit industry during this public health emergency, including expanding the eligibility of Federal assistanceavailable under FTA’s Emergency Relief Program to help transit agencies respond to COVID-19 in states where the Governor has declared an emergency. FTA also established an Emergency Relief docket that allows transit providers in States where the Governor has declared a COVID-19-related emergency to request temporary relief from Federal requirements under 49 U.S.C. Chapter 53 as well as any non-statutory FTA requirements. Additionally, FTA recently announced that it would provide a 30-day extension of the deadline for current competitive grant program funding opportunities, including: FTA’s Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities Program; Passenger Ferry Grant Program; Accelerating Innovative Mobility (AIM) Challenge Grants; and Helping Obtain Prosperity for Everyone (HOPE) Program.

AMERICAN PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION ASSOCIATION: Distribution of CARES Act funds for transit is rather complex. APTA, which took the lead in working with Congress on the bill’s transit provisions, provided an explanation to its members. The CARES Act includes $24.9 billion for public transit formula operating and capital grants “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19,” APTA said. “The bill provides that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) distribute the transit funds proportionally based on the ratio of funding of four specific programs: Urbanized Area Formula Grants (49 U.S.C. § 5307); Rural Area Formula Grants (49 U.S.C. § 5311); State-Of-Good-Repair (SOGR) formula grants (49 U.S.C. § 5337); and Growing/High-Density States Formula Grants (49 U.S.C. § 5340). It provides almost three times (280%) of the FY 2020 appropriations for each of these programs, and distributes the funds proportionally based on the ratio of funding for these formula programs in the FY 2020 apportionments.”

“However, it is important to note that CARES Act funds are only eligible for grants to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19,” APTA pointed out. “Under the bill, the funds are eligible for COVID-19 impacts as if they were made available under Urbanized Area Grants or Rural Area Grants. The bill requires the FTA to apportion these funds (using FY 2020 apportionment formulas) within seven days of the date of enactment. The federal share of the costs for grants made available under the bill is 100%, at the option of the recipient. In general, transit law requirements (Chapter 53 of Title 49) apply to these operating and capital grants.

“However, notwithstanding transit law limitations, these funds are expressly available for operating expenses to prevent, prepare for and respond to COVID-19 beginning on Jan. 20, 2020. These funds are available to reimburse public transit agencies for operating costs to maintain service and lost revenue due to the coronavirus public health emergency, including the purchase of personal protective equipment and paying administrative leave of operations personnel due to reduction in service.

“Although these specific operating expenses are outlined in the bill, other operating costs may also be eligible. These operating expenses are not required to be part of state-wide or metropolitan transportation improvement programs or state-wide or long-range transportation plans. The bill prohibits FTA from waiving the prevailing wage and transit labor standards (49 U.S.C. § 5333) for these formula grants.

FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION: In response to a Petition from the Association of American Railroads (AAR), American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) and American Public Transportation Association (APTA), the FRA has issued a 60-day emergency waiver for certain requirements of FRA’s rail safety regulations, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The petitioners, on behalf of their member railroads, requested relief from certain requirements of 49 CFR Parts 213, 214, 217, 218, 219, 220, 228, 229, 232, 234, 236, 239, 240, and 242.

AMERICAN SHORT LINE AND REGIONAL RAILROAD ASSOCIATION: “After numerous conversations with our members, Board, and host hotel, and following coronavirus pandemic guidance from state and federal authorities, we have decided to postpone our Connections Convention until this fall,” ASLRRA said in a message to members. “The health and safety of our members, staff and the broader community has been and will continue to be our top concern as we move forward in these uncertain times. We recognize how much you value the networking, education and training opportunities provided by the convention, and we are looking forward to delivering a great event for you in the fall.”

FEDERAL TRAVEL RESTRICTION EXEMPTION: Railroad employees who must remain on duty (and are doing so willingly) in the national interest are being provided with exemption letters from their railroads:

USDOT: The U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy Compliance issued guidance on March 23 To provide clarity with respect to existing requirements for DOT-mandated drug and alcohol testing during the COVID-19 crisis. DOT agencies include the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration. In short, DOT drug and alcohol testing requirements remain in effect. 

AAR: The Association of American Railroads (AAR), in its most recent rail freight traffic report, reported that U.S. rail traffic for the week ended March 21, 2020 contained some much-needed good news: The worst of the coronavirus’ effects on Asian trade may be over.

“The good news is that the intermodal volumes of the railroads serving the West Coast ports that receive the bulk of imports from China appear to have plateaued over the past four weeks, indicating that we may have seen the worst of the COVID-19 impacts on the Asia trade,” said AAR Senior Vice President Policy and Economics John T. Gray.

“It wouldn’t be surprising to see rail volumes of other categories soften in the weeks ahead as steps taken to limit the spread of COVID-19 continue to impact producers, both here and abroad, particularly those of consumer goods or intermediate products from which those goods are produced,” Gray said.

AAR COVID-19 Response: “Recognizing responsibility to the nation and their [employees], railroads maintain and routinely review their pandemic response plans that have addressed other events, including the [2009] H1N1 outbreak,” AAR said. “Since news of COVID-19’s spread in early January 2020, railroads and their Chief Medical Officers have been working together to update and adapt their plans to specifically address the need to contain, mitigate and respond to the coronavirus outbreak in line with most recent recommendations coming out of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

“The industry holds daily calls among cross-functional teams to share information and best practices to keep their railroad employees and their families — as well as the larger community — safe. Railroads are also in constant communication with federal partners at the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Department of Homeland Security and the White House as well as state and local officials on evolving public health developments and efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

“Freight railroads are taking significant precautions to protect the health and well-being of their employees. These efforts include providing employees with timely and accurate information on protecting themselves and their families through effective hygiene practices; directing employees to stay home if they are sick; communicating with employees and facility partners about workplace spatial distancing and mitigation strategies recommended by the CDC; expanding the frequency of cleaning and sanitation in railroad headquarters, maintenance facilities, dispatch and operations centers as well as on locomotives and rail equipment; and restricting domestic and international employee air travel.

“To increase [social] distance among employees, railroads are doing the following to limit potential exposure to the virus: Transitioning employees not directly involved in train operations to teleworking arrangements in order to reduce density at work locations, especially at highly populated headquarters; restricting access to mission-critical locations such as operations and dispatching centers to only essential staff who must be present to perform their duties; and activating secondary dispatch and operation locations to expand social distancing efforts and maintain vital functions.”

FITCH RATINGS, TRANSIT INDUSTRY: Fitch Ratings has placed the ratings of five large U.S. public transit agencies on “Rating Watch Negative.” Fitch said it “expects widespread and sharp declines in transit ridership and fare revenues to create significant near-term stress in the U.S. public transit sector with the [agencies] identified here at the greatest risk. Some transit agencies in major urban areas that have already been impacted by the pandemic are reporting ridership declines of as much as 70% to 90% amid efforts at social distancing, a widespread shift to telecommuting and shelter-in-place orders.

Long Island Rail Road
The Long Island Rail Road is part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is on Fitch Ratings’ watch list.

“Fitch does not believe that the traditional tools available to balance transit agency budgets will be sufficient to offset a meaningful proportion of revenue losses. While some capital spending may be delayed, service is unlikely to be curtailed enough to offset revenue losses due to the essentiality of the public service provided and need to continue providing transportation to health care workers and other essential workers. Fare increases are unlikely to be a meaningful budget balancing tool in the current environment and would be insufficient to offset the magnitude of revenue losses expected if attempted.

“These fare-dependent transit agencies entered the current period with solid to strong liquidity and operating reserves to offset typical ridership and economic volatility. However, the current period of stress is significantly greater than the rating case stresses factored into Fitch’s transit ratings and a more extreme stress than transit agencies routinely plan for. Fitch believes transit agency liquidity positions are likely to erode rapidly given the current the scope of revenue losses and the need to continue essential public services.

“Major transit agencies have requested emergency federal assistance to support continued provision of transit services in U.S. urban areas. Fitch expects some degree of state and federal support to be forthcoming due to the essentiality of transit services to public health and safety. The degree of support and the speed with which it is provided will largely determine the near-term ratings impacts of the current ridership losses on these credits.

“The move to Rating Watch Negative reflects actual and expected severe declines in transit ridership and revenues due to coronavirus pandemic. The rating action applies to the transit agencies that have the highest dependence on fares to fund operations, though further rating action may be necessary in the sector as the degree of second order impacts (declines in economically sensitive tax revenues) becomes clear.”

The following ratings are affected:

  • New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority AA– transportation revenue bond and F1+ transportation revenue bond anticipation note ratings. The MTA’s transportation revenue bonds are backed by a gross lien on the MTA’s operating revenues, which include, among other sources, fares received from the subway and bus systems operated by the MTA New York City Transit and its subsidiary, the Manhattan and Bronx Surface Transit Operating Authority, the commuter railroads operated by MTA Long Island Rail Road and MTA Metro-North Railroad, and buses operated by MTA Bus. TRBs are also backed by a gross lien on operating subsidies from the state of New York, New York City and MTA Bridges and Tunnels surplus.
  • San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) AA+’Issuer Default Rating (IDR) and sales tax revenue bond ratings. BART’s sales tax revenue bonds are payable from a first lien on 75% of the half-cent BART sales and use tax (sales tax) levied in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, and the City and County of San Francisco (collectively, the BART counties).
  • Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) AA– gross revenue transit bond ratings. WMATA’s gross revenue transit bonds are backed by a pledge of the trust estate established pursuant to the 2003 gross revenue bond resolution on parity with the Authority’s outstanding gross revenue transit bonds, except that the series 2018 bonds and all other bonds issued under the resolution on or after Nov. 15, 2018, will not have a lien on future dedicated revenues provided by certain supporting overlapping entities.
  • Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) AA– IDR and third indenture sales tax revenue bond ratings. MARTA’s sales tax revenue bonds are payable from a first lien on sales tax receipts from the levy of a 1% sales tax within Fulton and DeKalb counties and the city of Atlanta (the authority’s original sales tax) and a first priority lien on receipts of a 1% sales tax levied in Clayton County. The bonds were sold with a third lien on pledged revenues, but bonds issued under the prior liens have been repaid. Title ad valorem taxes on motor vehicles are also pledged.
  • Regional Transportation District (RTD, Denver, Colo.) AA IDR and sales tax revenue bonds, AA– certificate of participation (COP) and A+ Eagle Project Counterparty ratings. RTD’s sales tax revenue bonds are secured by a first lien on the district’s 0.4% FasTracks sales tax and a subordinate lien on the 0.6% base system sales tax. The COPs are subordinate to the senior sales tax bonds, FasTracks bonds, Transportation Infrastructure Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan, and the capital portion of the Eagle Project payment, and are repaid out of all available revenues of the district, subject to annual appropriation. Base rental payments for the COPs are on parity with operating expenses of the base system and the non-capital portion of the Eagle project payment.

NRC (National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association): On March 19, the Department of Homeland Security CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) issued a memorandum, “Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce,” on the identification of such workers during COVID-19 response. “The list in this link identifies workers who conduct a range of operations and services that are essential to continued critical infrastructure viability, including staffing operations centers, maintaining and repairing critical infrastructure, operating call centers, working construction, and performing management functions, among others,” noted NRC President Ashley Wieland. “As it pertains to NRC members, the list includes workers responsible for operating dispatching passenger, commuter and freight trains and maintaining rail infrastructure and equipment; and employees who repair and maintain vehicles, aircraft, rail equipment, marine vessels, and the equipment and infrastructure that enables operations that encompass movement of cargo and passengers.”

RAILWAY SUPPLY INSTITUTE: RSI President Mike O’Malley issued the following statement regarding the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) guidance on the critical infrastructure workforce as part of the national COVID-19 response:

“As federal, state, and local governments continue to develop and implement their emergency response plans for COVID-19, it is essential that clear federal guidelines are in place to ensure critical transportation infrastructure can continue to operate. Our nation’s transportation networks maintain consistent, reliable shipments of supplies and resources vital to the COVID-19 response. CISA’s recent guidance makes clear that all rail supply operations, including critical manufacturing, repair and maintenance of rail equipment and infrastructure, is essential to this response.

“We thank the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and Transportation for their efforts and encourage all state and local officials to follow the CISA guidance in defining essential workers and operations as they develop their COVID-19 containment strategies. The railway supply industry will do its part to ensure that our railroad partners can serve the needs of communities effectively, and without disruption.”

NORTH AMERICAN PASSENGER RAIL SERVICE UPDATES

BRIGHTLINE (VIRGIN RAIL USA): Service has been suspended until further notice in response to the coronavirus pandemic, company officials announced March 25. The final northbound train departed from Miami at 5:50 p.m. “Like all businesses, we are operating in a period of uncertainty that may last several months,” Brightline President Patrick Goddard said in a prepared statement. “Although a difficult decision, we have decided to temporarily suspend Brightline service in the best interests of the entire South Florida community as we all seek to flatten the curve.”

MBTA: Rail transit continues to run on Saturday schedules, with some extra service on the Blue Line and the “E” branch of the Green Line. Trains are still running on weekend schedules, with additional service on some lines. Starting Wednesday, March 25, the “T” has added an extra early-morning departure from Newburyport, Watchusett (on the Fitchburg Line), Reading (an intermediate stop on the Haverhill Line), Lowell, and Needham Heights, for early arrivals in Boston. Fairmont Line (Dorchester Branch trains are running hourly on that line.

NEW JERSEY TRANSIT: We previously reported that NJ Transit had run weekend service on all rail lines on Friday, March 20, and that the agency had increased service to the “Level 1 Severe Weather Schedule” operated on Martin Luther King Day and Presidents’ Day, effective Monday, March 23. That is true on all lines, with one exception: the Montclair-Boonton Line. The mini-peak augmentation in the “Level 1” schedule has been implemented, but trains outside peak hours are only running to Bay Street, at the east end of Montclair. The “Level 1” schedule calls for all trains to make six more stops in Montclair, terminating at Montclair State University (MSU) Station. NJT is still running full weekday light rail schedules, but that changed March 25. Newark Light Rail switched to a Saturday schedule, which calls for 20-minute headways throughout the service day. That will mean a significant service reduction on the part of the line to North Newark and Bloomfield, historically known as the Newark City Subway. On the portion of the line between Penn Station and Broad Street Station, the 20-minute service will provide more balanced service than the customary weekday schedule, which calls for service every ten minutes at peak-commuting hours, but only every 30 minutes at other times. The River LINE between Trenton and Camden will operate on a Sunday schedule, which runs every 30 minutes through the service day, with the last departure at 9:00 pm. Weekday service currently runs every 15 minutes during peak-commuting hours, and those extra runs will be eliminated. Hudson-Bergen Light Rail will continue to operate on a weekday schedule. NJT has asked for $1.25 billion to fill the deficit caused by lost revenue.

New York commuters are still filling up subway platforms and packing into train cars during peak commuting times.

NEW YORK METROPOLITAN TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY: On March 24, the MTA announced implementation of the “MTA Essential Service Plan,” a reduced schedule “that will ensure service to and from work for the workers on the frontlines of this crisis, while adapting to never-before-seen ridership lows—dropping by as much as 90% across New York City Transit, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad.” 

The schedule change follows “New York State on PAUSE” order, which directed New Yorkers use public transportation for only essential travel and limit potential exposure by spacing out at least six feet from other riders. NYCT, LIRR and Metro-North “continue their aggressive disinfecting procedures at each of its stations twice daily, and continue daily sanitization of its fleet of rolling stock with the full fleet of railcars and buses disinfected every 72 hours or less,” MTA said.

On NYCT, “most customers will not notice a difference,” NYCT said. “This preserves our AM and PM peak to get first-responders and essential personnel where they need to go. Some lines will not run Monday through Friday, including the B, W and Z lines, which will be covered by other local service. Also, some express services and branches on some lines will operate only local service. To date, there has been an 87% decline in subway ridership vs. the comparable dates last year. Even with these changes (roughly a 25% service cut), the New York City Transit team continues to undertake a line-by-line, hour-by-hour analysis of ridership. So, we’re retaining flexibility to increase service as necessary.”

“In the midst of this crisis, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is now facing financial calamity,” stressed Chairman Pat Foye. “Farebox and toll revenue, which normally constitutes nearly half of theMTA’s annual budget at approximately $8 billion, has dropped significantly as more and more riders stay home. That’s on top of more than $6 billion in state and local taxes dedicated to the MTA that is likely to evaporate in the inevitable economic downturn. Additionally, the MTA’s enhanced and intensive disinfecting efforts are expected to total more $300 million on an annualized basis. In response, the MTA is urgently calling on Congress to do the right thing and include at least $25 billion in dedicated funding for mass transit, to ensure that the MTA and systems across the country not only continue to operate through the crisis, but also serve as the catalyst for economic growth in local economies across the nation once the pandemic subsides.”

“Extending our line of credit is not a long-term solution, and gutting our hard-fought capital plan is a nonstarter,” Foye said in a March 24 interview. “We will not allow this pandemic to slow our efforts to bring our system into the 21st century. This is a national problem that requires a national solution.”

PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson): Trains now run on a modified schedule, every 10 minutes during the week, and every 20 minutes on weekends. Overnight service will not change. There will be extra peak-hour service on some lines.

SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority): Service on regional rail lines has been slashed again. The new schedule, effective Sunday, March 29, will run seven days a week. The Airport Line will still run hourly, but most other lines will run only every two hours. The Fox Chase and Media/Elwyn lines will only run every three hours for part of the day. On the Paoli-Thorndale Line, service west of Malvern will run only every four hours. There are no trains to Newark, Del.

PATCO: The Ashland, Westmont, City Hall (Camden) and 12th/13th Street Station in Philadelphia have been closed. PATCO is already running on a reduced schedule.

PORT AUTHORITY TRANSIT (PAT, Pittsburgh) has reduced schedules by 25% on its light rail lines and bus system. Some LRT service has been reduced to 30-minute headways, particularly during the evening, and some parts of the midday on the Blue Line (South Hills) and the Silver Line (Library) via Overbrook. Weekend schedules remain the same.

CONNECTICUT: Shore Line East began operating a weekend schedule on March 16, slightly augmented on weekdays. On the same day, the Hartford Line and Amtrak trains between New Haven and Springfield began operating a Saturday schedule every day, except that the Amtrak departures from Springfield at 6:00 a.m. and New Haven at 9:54 p.m. do not operate.

BALTIMORE/WASHINGTON AREA: Maryland MTA light rail and subway lines in Baltimore continue to operate on a Saturday schedule, while MARC trains operate on a reduced-service “R” schedule. WMATA has not changed MetroRail schedules since our last report, but WUSA-9 reported that, effective March 26, 19 stations will close, and there will be no shuttle buses to serve them. Bus service has also been cut to Sunday schedules. The report said that the closures were implemented to conserve supplies of disinfectant, which have dwindled to a two-week supply. WMATA had closed Smithsonian and Arlington Cemetery stations to prevent riders from going to see the city’s iconic cherry trees in the Tidal Basin. VRE commuter trains into Virginia continue to operate on a reduced “S” schedule, with service on the Fredericksburg and Manassas Lines reduced by 50%. The normal schedule calls for eight trains during the peak commuting period; the current operation calls for only four. 

MIDWEST: The Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar has reduced its hours of operation. It now runs from 8 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. weekdays and 11:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. on weekends. The Detroit Free Press reports that the city M-1 Rail (QLine) streetcar on Woodward Avenue will cut service by 50%, effective March 26. The new hours will be 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on weekdays and 8:00 to 8:00 on weekends. The report added that there will only be two cars operating along the line, but did not specify how often service will operate. There are no fares being collected. WWJ Radio reports that the Detroit People Mover will also be free to ride, but hours will also be reduced. Since Friday, March 20, the new hours are: Monday-Thursday: 6:30 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., Friday: 6:30 a.m. – 10:00 p.m., Saturday: 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. and Sunday: 2:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

We previously reported that Metro Transit in Minneapolis and St. Paul has eliminated overnight service. Effective March 25, Blue and Green Line light rail service has been reduced further, to every 20 minutes all day. Northstar Line commuter rail service has been reduced to two morning trips from Big Lake, returning from downtown Minneapolis in the p.m. commuter peak. Weekend trains have been suspended. The KC Streetcar in Kansas City has reduced its hours, effective March 25. The new hours are 6:00 a.m. until 8:00 P.M. on weekdays, and from 7:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. on weekends. As in Detroit, there will only be two cars operating on the line.

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has stressed efforts to keep its system clean, but there were no announcements that service has been reduced.  Service has now been reduced on the NICTD South Shore Line between Chicago and northwestern Indiana. It is similar to a weekend schedule, but with extra peak-hour trains.

Metra will begin operating an alternate weekday schedule on Monday, March 23, to adjust for the reduced number of riders due to school closures, work-from-home mandates and other consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. The alternate schedules represent about half of Metra’s normal weekday service but “provide adequate service for those who still need to travel,” the agency said. Metra is encouraging customers to use the Ventra app for tickets because it requires less interaction with conductors. The reduction in service will also give Metra “a greater opportunity to clean its cars, concentrating on disinfecting high-touch areas such as handrails, door handles and seats, because we will need fewer trainsets for service.” The last trains on every line leave Chicago between 10:00 and 11:00 p.m.

SOUTH: Hampton Roads Transit’s Tide Light Rail in Norfolk, VA., appears to be running normal weekday service. In Charlotte, N.C., the Lynx Blue Line light rail is operating on a Sunday schedule. The City Lynx Gold Line streetcar was discontinued last June for construction, and has been replaced by buses. MARTA in Atlanta has cut back to weekend schedules, although service still begins at 5:00 a.m., the normal weekday starting time. Service runs every 10 minutes during peak hours, every 12 during midday, every 12 to 15 between 7:00 and 8:30 p.m., and every 20 minutes after that and early in the morning. The service reductions began on March 23. Information about the Atlanta Streetcar between Downtown and the Martin Luther King Center on “Sweet Auburn Avenue” is available on the website for the City of Atlanta, which does not report any service reductions on the line. In Florida, Sun Rail and Tri-Rail are operating regular schedules. WeGo Transit is operating normal service in Nashville, including Music City Star commuter trains. The southern half of the Main Street Trolley line in Memphis is shut down, but due to construction unrelated to the present health emergency. All service on the Metro Streetcar in Little Rock was suspended, effective March 17. Rock Region Metro had described it as “a non-essential transit service.” In New Orleans, the RTA slashed streetcar service. The Riverfront Line no longer operates; nor do the cars to City Park on the Canal Street line. Canal Street cars going to the Cemeteries run every 32 minutes all day, while the St. Charles Avenue line runs every 36 minutes all day. Tri-Rail in South Florida has reduced service substantially. On weekdays, trains run only every two hours. On weekends, they run only every three hours. Fares are not being collected.

TEXAS: The EP Streetcar operated by Sun Metro in El Paso has been suspended. TEXRail in Fort Worth eliminated about one-third of its runs, reducing service essentially to hourly, throughout the service day. Trinity Railway Express (TRE, running between Dallas and Fort Worth) reduced service to hourly on weekdays. Saturday service is not affected, and TRE does not normally run on Sundays. Also, the Denton County A Train is running hourly, leaving both Downtown Denton and Trinity Mills (connecting with DART’s Green Line) from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. On Saturdays, trains run either 110 minutes or two hours apart. There is no Sunday service.

MOUNTAIN WEST and SOUTHWEST: At a meeting held remotely on Monday, March 23, Denver’s Regional Transit District (RTD) Board voted to reduce service, effective April 19 and lasting until September. Commuter rail lines from Union Station will continue on current schedules for now, but light rail trains will run on Sunday schedules, and most buses will run on Saturday schedules. There will be no service on the C or F LRT, and the R line will run every 30 minutes. These changes were planned for May, but the RTD Board voted to implement them sooner, though the COVID-19 virus may not have been the primary motivation for the changes. RTD’s press release about the cuts said: “Several Board members asked why the service reduction couldn’t happen sooner, since RTD is losing money both at the farebox and in regional sales taxes. RTD staff said the changes are already on an accelerated schedule, with union representatives agreeing to change rules pertaining to route planning and bidding in order to speed up the process.”

Service on the SunLink streetcar in Tuscon, Arizona has been reduced. It now operates on weekdays every 15 minutes from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 to 10:00 p.m., and every ten minutes from 9:00 until 6:00 pm. After 10:00, it only runs on Thursday and Friday nights until 2:00 a.m. Saturday service runs from 8:00 a.m. until 2:00 a.m., every 15 minutes for most of the day. Sunday service runs from 8:00 until 8:00, every 20 minutes for most of the day.

PACIFIC NORTHWEST: In Seattle, Sound Transit reduced service. The Link light rail now runs every 14 minutes. Sounder commuter rail service has also been cut, from four round trips each weekday to two on Sounder North (to Everett), and from 13 to 8 on Sounder South (to Tacoma and Lakewood). The Tacoma Link line is not affected, but Seattle’s city-run streetcars also reduced service on Monday. The First Hill Streetcar now operates every 15 minutes, but only from 5:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. The South Lake Union Streetcar has been suspended entirely. Portland’s MAX light rail and Westside Express Service (WES) commuter trains are still running on regular schedules, but the Portland Streetcar has reduced service to every 20 minutes from 5:30 a.m. until about 11:30 p.m.

CALIFORNIA: Sacramento Regional Transit (SacRT) has instituted a “Sunday Plus” schedule on all of its light rail lines. The first runs on each line begin between 4:48 and 6:13 a.m. The last runs on each line leave between 8:48 and 9:56 p.m. In between, most service runs every 15 minutes, with 30-minute headways on the Green Line and the portion of the Gold Line in Folsom.

Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) eliminated three round trips from its 19-train weekday schedule. One southbound train was rescheduled. There is no longer any weekend service.

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) reports ridership decreases of up to 90% and has reduced service. Frequencies remain the same, but hours have been cut. Service ends at 9:00 every night (reduced from 12:00). It starts at 5:00 on weekends, and 8:00 on weekends. Previously it started at 6:00 on Saturdays. BART is has not cut service since March 23, but SFGate reports that the BART Board considered a proposal that would eliminate the Red and Green Lines (Richmond and Warm Springs, respectively, to Daly City) and all service on Sundays, but did not implement the proposal.

The San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority (MUNI) has already discontinued its cable cars. Now, the agency will not operate light rail or streetcar service, either. All MUNI Metro and light rail routes have been replaced by buses (J/KT/L/M/N). Metro subway stations will be closed, except for downtown stations, which will remain open for BART service during their operating hours.”

On the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE), the last train in the morning and the afternoon were suspended. There are now only three trains in each direction on weekdays. Saturday service was suspended previously.

Service on Metrolink in the Los Angeles area was slashed on March 26. The changes are different for each line, but most weekday service outside peak-commuting hours was eliminated. Most of the peak-hour trains have survived, as has most of the weekend service, which is limited on the lines that have it. The two weekend trains in each direction on the Riverside Line are gone. The railroad blamed an 80% drop in ridership since last week, balanced against the need to provide service for essential workers.

MetroRail in Los Angeles reduced service on its subway and light rail lines,. The new weekday schedule calls for service every 12 minutes from 6:00 a.m. until 6:00 pm and every 20 minutes from then until 12:00 midnight, when the system closes. The exception is the Green Line (C Line), which runs every 12 minutes between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m., every 15 minutes until 3 p.m., every 12 minutes from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. and then every 20 minutes between 6 p.m. until midnight. Metro will run scheduled weekend service until midnight, and has advised customers to enter the system by 10:30 to be sure of a ride home. 

San Diego MTS has pledged to continue running regular service for now, but that will change on Monday, March 30. Meanwhile, NCTD Coaster train service between Oceanside and San Diego was slashed. Five of the eleven round trips from the prior schedule are gone; only six remain, and mid-day service has been essentially eliminated. Weekend trains were eliminated completely.

Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) LRT operator-in-training has tested positive for COVID-19 in Santa Clara, and as a precautionary measure, light rail service is being put on pause. VTA employees received an email by General Manager and CEO Nuria Fernandez revealing the transit agency received news of the positive test late on March 25. Six trains were still running at the time, and they were all shut down immediately. Fernandez wants all train operators to stay at home until further notice. With the light rail service put on hold, VTA is now focusing on bus service. VTA will continue to follow its coronavirus sanitation schedule. Ridership has dropped 82% on VTA trains since Santa Clara, Calif., laid down a shelter-in-place order to residents last week.

Caltrain has cancelled Baby Bullet service between San Francisco and San José during the morning and afternoon rush hour. There has been a 75% drop in one-way Caltrain ridership.

THE ALASKA RAILROAD (ARRC) has suspended regularly scheduled Aurora Winter Train passenger service between Anchorage and Fairbanks starting March 19 and continuing through April 30. ARRC will provide passenger service to the roadless area between Talkeetna and Hurricane via the Hurricane Turn Train on Thursday, April 2. This suspension affects nine Aurora Winter Train round-trips but does not affect freight service. Passenger service personnel are reaching out to notify and refund all passengers and tour operators with bookings on the suspended trains.

“We recognize that this could be a significant inconvenience for many people, particularly those who have no other way to access their homes and properties along the Railbelt, so we will still operate a limited service Hurricane Turn Train as scheduled for April 2 to make sure they are not stranded,” ARRC President and CEO Bill O’Leary said. “To support customers during this period of uncertainty, we are extending a flexible 24-hour cancellation policy through the summer 2020 season, in hopes that this policy offers some peace of mind for travelers with summer travel plans.”

AMTRAK: New operating schedules on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) became effective March 30 and will remain in effect until May 31. An Amtrak service bulletin shows dates when suspensions of several Amtrak trains are slated to end, although any or all of them can be extended. Many were caused by orders of the states or state authorities. The suspension of the Keystone Corridor and Pennsylvanian will run through April 5. Service reductions on the Empire Corridor are slated to last through April 19. The Maple Leaf between Niagara Falls and Toronto and the Adirondack between New York and Montreal are suspended through May 31. Service reductions on the Downeaster line will also last until May 31. North Carolina service reductions will last through April 30. Cancellations on Midwest Corridor trains and Cascade Corridor trains will last until May 31, as will all prior cancellations on corridor lines in California.

The two daily San Joaquin trains in each direction between Bakersfield and Sacramento have been eliminated. Passengers can still get to Sacramento and Lodi on buses that connect with other San Joaquin trains at Stockton, but the trip will take longer. Connections to and from the Coast Staright will still be available at Martinez but, similarly, the trip will take longer than when there was a direct connection available at Sacramento. The current schedule calls for departures from Bakersfield at 4:12 and 8:12 a.m. and 12:12 and 4:12 pm. From Oakland, trains leave at 7:36 and 9:36 a.m. and 1:36 and 5:36 p.m. There are still connecting buses between Los Angeles and Bakersfield that meet all San Joaquin trains. In addition, cafe car service has been suspended, some station lobbies have been closed, and connecting Thruway bus service has been reduced.

Missouri River Runner service will be cut 50%, beginning March 30. For now, trains leave both St. Louis and Kansas City at 8:15 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Only Train 314, the morning departure from Kansas City, and Train 313, the afternoon departure from St. Louis, will continue to operate. The surviving trains will continue to provide connections at Kansas City to and from points west to Los Angeles on the Southwest Chief, Trains 3 and 4, although the eastbound connection from Train 3 will be tight; probably requiring that the St. Louis train be held or substitute buses provided for connecting passengers. The trains that provided connections between Missouri and points south of St. Louis on the Texas Eagle, Trains 21 and 22, will be eliminated. There will still be a later train, but riders going toward Texas will have a six-hour layover, and Missouri- bound riders will have a nine-hour layover at St. Louis. There will still be connections at St. Louis between Missouri points and Chicago and intermediate stops.

Pacific Surfliner service is down to six trains per day between Los Angeles and San Diego, two between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara (plus the Coast Starlight, which leaves Los Angeles less than one hour behind the Surfliner train in the morning and one hour ahead of the Surfliner train in the evening) and only the Starlight to San Luis Obispo. The remaining service is less than half the number of trains that ran until the current emergency.

There are only two Piedmont trains in each direction now, leaving Raleigh at 10:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., and leaving Charlotte at 6:45 a.m. and 3:15 p.m.

President and CEO Richard Anderson, in a town hall call-in with employees, discussed what needs to be done to save the company and protect jobs, with ridership dwindling rapidly. See Capitol Hill Contributing Editor Frank N. Wilner’s column, “A “Sully” Moment For Amtrak’s Anderson.”

VIA RAIL has slashed service on its corridors again. The railroad had operated two trains daily on its Montreal-Quebec City, Montreal-Toronto, Toronto-Ottawa and Toronto-Windsor corridors through  March 30. Effective March 31, there will only be one train in each direction on each corridor.  The remaining departures leave from Quebec City at 6:21 a.m. and Montreal at 8:56 a.m. for Ottawa, returning at 3:00 p.m. and from Montreal at 6:50 p.m. The train from Montreal to Toronto leaves at 8:55 a.m. and returns at 3:00 p.m., while the train from Ottawa to Toronto leaves at 11:40 a.m. and returns at 2:20 p.m. This leaves two daily trains between Toronto and Kingston, Ontario, but they run within an hour or two of each other. The train from Toronto to Windsor leaves at 9:05 a.m., returning from Toronto at 5:30 p.m. The train between Toronto and Sarnia, Ontario is still operating, which leaves a choice of two morning trains from London and intermediate stops to Toronto. From Toronto, the two trains leave ten minutes apart. Business-class amenities including station lounges are no longer offered; nor is on-board food and beverage service available.  As previously reported, trains between Montreal and Jonquiere and Senneterre, Quebec and between Sudbury and White River, Ontario now only run once a week. They had previously run on tri-weekly schedules. The train between Winnipeg and Churchill, Manitoba is still operating, but without sleeping cars or meal service (a 45-hour trip). Other trains have been canceled until May 1, or “until further notice.” In addition, VIA Rail has implemented new health-screening procedures. A statement on the VIA Rail website says: “Passengers will be denied boarding our trains if: They are experiencing symptoms similar to a cold or flu (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) [or] They have been denied boarding for travel in the past 14 days due to medical reasons related to COVID-19. In the event the passenger meets one of those criteria, VIA Rail will refuse boarding and travel for a period of 14 days, or until a medical certificate is presented that confirms that the traveller’s [sic] symptoms are not related to COVID-19.” VIA Rail is not permitting Amtrak’s Maple Leaf and Adirondack or Cascades trains to cross the border.

CANADA RAIL TRANSIT: In Vancouver, service on TransLink’s Expo and Millenium Lines has been reduced, and the first departure of West Coast Express commuter trains in each direction was eliminated. Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) is running on an “enhanced Saturday schedule” with basic service every 15 minutes through the day. There is also no fare collection. Calgary Transit is reducing service on its CTrain light rail lines on weekdays. The Red Line will run every 7-8 minutes during peak hours, 15 minutes at mid-day and 16 minutes during the evening. The Blue Line will run every eight minutes at peak-hours and every 16 minutes at other times. Weekend service will not change. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is operating most of its streetcars, but not the 508 Lake Shore or part of the 503 Kingston Road lines. Alternate service is available by using other lines. OC Transpo in Ottawa is reducing service, effective March 30. The Confederation LRT will end service at 1:00 A.M. on Friday nights. During the service day, trains will arrive every 6 to 8 minutes at peak periods and every 10 to 16 minutes at other times of the day and on weekends. The Trillium Line will run every 15 minutes at all times.

OVERSEAS DEVELOPMENTS

MTR is deploying 20 Vaporized Hydrogen Peroxide (VHP) robots.

Numerous railway industry events overseas have been postponed or cancelled as organizers respond to the restrictions being placed on large gatherings of people to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. As well, the UIC (International Union of Railways) has formed a task force to assist operators in dealing with the rapidly escalating situation, and several overseas train operators have instituted aggressive measures, including more stringent train cleaning, steps to protect staff, ticket refunds without penalty and cancellation of services. Numerous cross-border services have been shut down.

  • Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is deploying 20 Vaporized Hydrogen Peroxide (VHP) robots to deep-clean trains at depots as well as stations to improve protection against the spread of coronavirus. The VHP Robot was developed jointly by MTR and Avalon Biomedical, a Hong Kong biotechnology company. The robots are designed to automatically spray hydrogen peroxide solution, which is atomized to a specific concentration to ensure that disinfectants penetrate small gaps which are difficult to reach during normal cleaning. The objective is to eliminate viruses and bacteria such as staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli. MTR says the VHP Robot has passed tests and achieved the desired results. VHP Robots operate automatically by pre-setting the floor plan of the designated area. It is also possible to remotely control the robot manually within a distance of 20 meters using a mobile device. MTR says it normally takes about four hours to clean an eight-car train in automatic mode. MTR staff can also deploy the VHP Robot to deep clean a special situation, such as a passenger vomiting on a train, using diluted bleach. The robot recently disinfected staff facilities and passenger lifts at Mong Kok East station after a member of staff was diagnosed with Covid-19.
  • India suspended passenger train services across the country until March 31 as the government tries to curb the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. The railway ministry said passenger rail will stop immediately, though freight services will continue, according to a statement on Sunday.
  • Intermodal freight operators in Europe have called for a number of measures to be put in place to allow freight to continue to move, especially during the lock-down in Italy. An open letter addressed to Italian and European institutions outlines why intermodal freight via rail is well-placed to move goods while limiting the risk of spreading Covid-19. The letter was signed by the National Association of Automotive Transport Companies (ANITA); Railway and Intermodal Operators Association (ASSOFERR); Assologistica; Fercargo; Fercargo Manovra; Fercargo Rotabili; Fercargo Terminal; SOS Logistics – Association for Sustainable Logistics; Association of Freight Villages (UIR); European Shippers’ Council (ESC); European Rail Freight Association (ERFA), Brussels; European Railways Network (NEE); and the International Union for Road-Rail Combined Transport (UIRR).
  • Russian Railways (RZD) has set up an operations headquarters to provide support and coordination for freight operators to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The new organization will be headed by RZD Deputy Director Aleksey Shilo. The headquarters will be responsible for providing operational support for freight operators, as well as coordinating activities to prevent and stop the spread of new coronavirus infections; considering, approving and executing applications for freight transport, as well as ensuring the organization and control of payments with Russian Railways customers; and minimizing the risks from reductions in shipping volumes and other negative effects for shippers. RZD says its digital services also allows shippers to arrange transport online, through the Freight Transportation Electronic Trading Platform (ETP FT). This allows customers to place orders for shipping freight, with the option to request a railcar if needed, as well as other transport and related services, through the online portal. All the necessary documents and reports are available in the client’s personal account. “RZD is calling on everyone in the freight transport market to show maximum solidarity and ensure constructive cooperation to solve transport problems,” the company says. “RZD will take all possible measures to support and assist small and medium-sized enterprises in their transport and logistics activities. Each problem that comes up will be promptly addressed individually with feedback, including solutions to resolve the current situation. Based on the results of processing all requests in real time, the company will compile a list of quick-response, regulatory, and financial measures for consideration by the relevant authorities.” RZD says 5,000 users have signed up for the service as of March 23.
  • Danish State Railways (DSB) introduced a range of measures on March 11. These include running longer trains during off-peak periods to allow passengers to sit further apart from one another, making all tickets refundable at no charge, no longer accepting cash payments onboard trains, deploying more staff at critical locations, and improving communication with passengers.
  • Passenger journeys on the London Underground have fallen by around 70% and are “likely to fall further,” as Transport for London advises avoiding public transport for anything other than essential journeys due to the spread of the coronavirus. TfL’s current forecast suggests a reduction of up to US$590 million in income. TfL announced that it would reduce service with the closure of up to 40 London Underground stations as well as the Waterloo and City lines.
  • Britain’s Department for Transport (DfT) has switched all English passenger rail franchises into management contracts for six months to prevent operators from becoming insolvent. At the same time, services are being cut drastically to bring them more in line with demand, which has fallen steeply. Passenger numbers are down by 70% due to the coronavirus, and revenue has dropped by two-thirds, but the government wants to maintain a minimum level of service for essential workers and travel. All revenue and cost risk is being transferred to the government for six months initially. Franchisees will continue to operate services in return for a fee, which will be set at a maximum of 2% of the cost base of each franchise before the coronavirus pandemic began. “The maximum fee attainable will be far less than recent profits earned by train operators,” says the DfT. “In the event that an operator does not wish to accept an emergency measures agreement, the government’s operator of last resort stands ready to step in. “Allowing operators to enter insolvency would cause significantly more disruption to passengers and higher costs to the taxpayer. The management fee will allow operators to act in the national interest in tackling Covid-19,” the DfT says. Passengers with advance low-fare tickets will be able to obtain a refund without penalty ,while season ticket holders can get a refund for the period when the ticket is not being used. The ScotRail and Transport for Wales franchises are managed by the Scottish and Welsh governments.
  • Australian private operator Journey Beyond, which runs The GhanThe Overland and The Indian Pacific luxury long-distance rail services, has announced an immediate temporary suspension of all trains. This follows implementation of extensive travel restrictions by various Australian state governments, including national and state border closures, along with restrictions on all non-essential travel as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The Ghan (Adelaide – Darwin), Indian Pacific (Sydney – Perth), and Overland (Adelaide – Melbourne) will be suspended until May 31, with Journey Beyond monitoring the situation as it evolves. The future of The Overland service has been under a cloud for a years, and the train has only remained operational with subsidies from the Victorian and South Australian governments. The current funding arrangement expires on March 31, and with no new announcement forthcoming the premature cessation of services means The Overland has probably made its last run. The company says all guests with travel booked on their trains through to May 31 will be provided with a credit to the value of 110% of their original booking, which will be valid for travel at a later date up to December 31 2022.
  • The Czech Republic government has prohibited all cross-border passenger train, bus and boat services. The restrictions, which will remain in place for 30 days, will also affect international air passenger transport. Only road vehicles with nine or fewer people on board will be allowed to cross the border unless they are conveying Czech citizens returning to the country or foreigners leaving the Czech Republic. However, empty passenger trains will be allowed to cross the border.
  • Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) has made changes to services to and from Italy that will remain in effect until April 5. On the Gotthard route, six Zürich to EuroCity trains will only operate between Chiasso and Zürich, within Switzerland. On the Simplon route, Geneva to Milan and Basle to Milan trains from Milan will only run within Switzerland.
  • Croatia is stopping people from infected areas entering the country and Slovenia has suspended cross-border services to Italy.
  • The Spanish rail industry is scaling back train services and manufacturing in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Faced with a 95% drop in passenger demand, national operator Renfe has cut off-peak commuter services by 50% and peak services by 20%. The frequency of AVE high-speed and long-distance passenger trains has been cut still further from 50% to 30%. To maintain social distancing, only one-third of seats in trains still operating will be sold. Madrid Metro cut its operating hours on March 24, with the last trains now departing at midnight instead of 1.30 a.m. Train frequency has also been reduced as the metro is only carrying around 10% of its normal traffic. According to press reports, train builder CAF has temporarily suspended manufacturing at its factories in Spain.
  • In Saudi Arabia, all public transport services have shut down in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus. The government-ordered shutdown affects all passenger trains, buses, taxis and domestic air services. As far as rail is concerned, all trains services will stop running between Riyadh and Damman, on the North-South Railway linking Riyadh with Qassim, Hail and Al-Jauf near the Jordanian border, and the Haramain high-speed line linking Medina, Jeddah and Mecca. However, freight trains will continue to operate.
  • The International Railway Congress in Vienna, organized by Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) and Russian Railways (RZD), originally scheduled for March 26–27, has been postponed until Autumn 2020. The organizers say registration to the event will remain open and all fees for the event will remain in place for the new congress date. 
  • The 7th Biennial International Railway Forum & Conference (IRFC) in Prague has been postponed from March 26–27 to November 30-December 2.
  • The Rail Industry Meetings event in Valenciennes, France, has also been rescheduled from March 25-26 to June 3-4.
  • The International Association of Public Transport (UITP) has published a detailed set of guidelines for public transport operators in its Management of Covid-19 fact sheet, which is available to view on the UITP website.
  • The UITP/Mena transport congress and exhibition, due to take place in Dubai from April 13-15, has been rescheduled to October 5-7.
  • The EU Agency for Railways Rail Safety Days event, planned for May 26-28 in Valenciennes, has been cancelled, although the Agency intends to hold the event at a later date.
  • Terrapinn and Spain’s railway industry association Mafex have postponed the Rail Live conference and exhibition in Madrid on March 31-April 2. Postponement of Rail Live followed postponement of IT Trans in Germany on March 3-5, the Rail Forum Europe conference on the EU’s Green Deal on March 18, and the International Union of Railways’ (UIC) World Congress on High-Speed Rail in Beijing, which was due to take place June 30 to July 3.
  • InnoTrans 2020 (Sept. 22-25, Berlin) organizers have not announced postponement plans, instead choosing to ramp-up marketing efforts related to exhibitors from the cleaning industry: “Cleanliness and hygiene on buses, at stations, bus stops and on trains are becoming an increasingly important aspect for users of public transport and rail networks. This is also reflected in the growing size of the cleaning industry segment at InnoTrans 2020. In Hall 6.2 a variety of leading international companies will be exhibiting their innovative products for optimum cleanliness at InnoTrans. The focus this year is on efficient cleaning systems and those manufactured to customers’ specifications. The displays also include toilet waste disposal systems, washing units as well as cleaning agents, care products and disinfectants.”

RAILWAY AGE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF COMMENTARY

By William C. Vantuono. These opinions are his, solely.

KUDOS TO UNION PACIFIC: As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its onslaught, it has been discussed on various credible, reliable news media outlets (CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC, etc.) whether climate change—global warming, which is real—had a role in the outbreak. Given the effects of climate change—an increase in severe weather globally, flooding, population shifts, natural habitats destroyed and the effect on wildlife—it is likely a contributing factor. Disease does not exist in a vacuum.

We in this industry know that railways, freight and passenger, are the most environmentally friendly and safest transportation mode—bar none. There are numerous examples of what the industry is doing to be “greener” and, in effect, address climate change. Here’s one whose timing and intent is particularly encouraging:

Union Pacific on March 10 declared its intention “to set science-based targets to determine how much and how quickly the company will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to support global climate change goals. A commitment letter was submitted to the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), which independently assesses corporate emissions reduction targets in line with what climate scientists say is needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals—limiting global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The company’s target will use the SBTi’s Sectoral Decarbonization Approach Transport tool, which models targets for direct and indirect transportation emissions. Union Pacific anticipates finalizing its target and submitting it for approval to the SBTi within a year.”

It is encouraging that Union Pacific is in step with the Paris Agreement, an initiative the Trump Administration rejected and withdrew from soon after Trump took office in January 2016.

HUMOROUS BUT DISTURBING NONETHELESS: “Nobody ever lost a dime underestimating the intelligence of the American public,” comments one industry observer, who shared this obviously doctored photo with Railway Age:

Source: Snopes.com

In the U.S., railroad freight cars bear reporting marks assigned by the Association of American Railroads that consist of two to four letters followed by a number of up to six digits and indicate ownership of the car. COVID-19 is not a designation that conforms to any legitimate reporting mark, nor to any other standard form of marking or identification one would find on a railroad tank car. If some entity were actually engaged in a conspiratorial, furtive spreading of a disease-causing virus, they’d be storing it in special containers packed in unmarked crates and loaded onto ordinary boxcars or containers, not transporting it via plainly labeled tank cars. A tank car labeled COVID-19 makes no sense, as COVID-19 is not a term that identifies a virus or any other physical material that can be transported by rail or other means. COVID-19 is the name of the coronavirus disease caused by a particular virus, so a tank car marked to display that it is carrying COVID-19 would be akin to a package bearing a label indicating that it contained DIABETES. In furtherance of an alleged conspiracy to spread the COVID-19 illness, the tank car would be carrying not COVID-19 but the virus known as “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2,” or SARS-CoV-2 for short. This image is nothing more than a mildly amusing digital manipulation.

Reporting and analysis by David Briginshaw (IRJ), David Burroughs (IRJ), Andrew Corselli (Railway Age), Kevin Smith (IRJ), David Lester (RT&S), William C. Vantuono (Railway Age) and Bill Wilson (RT&S); plus Railway Age Contributing Editors Frank N. Wilner, Jim Blaze, Bruce Kelly and David Peter Alan.

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