Happening Now

Hotline #1,165

May 1, 2020

Rail news for the week ending May 1st

D.C. Office Closed, Rail Passengers Staff To Telework.

Click here for more information on how this affects your membership.


The May Passengers Voice Newsletter is now available.

Click here to read the digital version.

Impact of COVID On Your Association

Association staff has been following recommended guidelines and working from home since early March. As you can see from the following, we've been busy.

  • Staying engaged and connected with key congressional offices, we were able to ensure the CARES Act included funding for passenger rail - $1 billion for Amtrak and $16 billion for urban transit systems, with another $4 billion dedicated to rural transit.

  • Conducted a Virtual Day on The Hill on March 31st delivering our message to 132 House offices and 53 Senate offices.

  • Members of Congress asked for our help in identifying the top priorities in rail transit if additional funding should become available.

  • Yesterday, Jim Mathews testified in front of the Federal Railroad Administration to share the Association's thoughts on the Metrics and Minimum Standards for Intercity Passenger Rail Service.

With all of the successes, like many businesses and nonprofits, your Association has been financially hurt by COVID-19. Memberships are down and donors have restrained their giving decisions. We're making adjustments as we can and planning contingencies to minimize any damage to our small staff and to our policy effectiveness. This has forced us to make some tough, but temporary cost-cutting decisions.

Effective May 1, 2020:

  • The Amtrak Guest Rewards points benefit will temporarily be suspended. We know this is a popular benefit, but we have to purchase those points, so it's not a benefit we can responsibly continue to provide while revenues are down.

  • Production and mailing of the printed version of the Passengers Voice newsletter will temporarily cease. The Passengers Voice will still be available digitally online and as a downloadable PDF. You can find current and past editions here. For those of you who have paid extra to receive a mailed copy of the newsletter, we will extend your subscription by the number of months we are interrupted.

These were not easy decisions, but ones that had to be made. Other cost-cutting measures have also been implemented; we are a small organization with very little "fat" in our budget, so any cuts will be painful ones. When the business environment recovers, we look forward to reinstating these benefits.

We sincerely appreciate your support and understanding. Your advocacy efforts and financial support have made us bigger, stronger and louder in legislative offices at the local, state, and federal levels. With your continued support, we will come out of the pandemic stronger than ever.

Upcoming Webinar Series and 2020 RailNation:DC Registration Update

On March 9th, when the initial postponement was announced, we sincerely hoped three months’ time would be enough to be able to bring everyone together in June. Unfortunately the persistence of the coronavirus threat across our country has led us to rescheduling all in-person meetings until 2021.

The Spring Summit and Day On The Hill activities puts us front and center with decision makers on Capitol Hill and it gives all of us a chance to share our successes -- and there have been so many in the past few months! But we have to embrace a new way of conducting business, at least temporarily.

Outlined below are the Association’s exciting plans to keep the energy going, to keep our message in front of the people who will decide rail’s future, and to do an even better job of supporting YOU in your efforts to focus on projects in your community that are most important to you, alongside your help fighting for national passenger rail priorities.

Spring Meeting, Hotel Planning And Options

We are working with our hotel partner for new dates in the Spring of 2021. Much will depend on the hotel’s book of business, the degree to which we and other groups may incur financial penalties, how many other groups have cancelled, along with other factors which frankly are out of our control such as local or state restrictions. Even so, we’re doing our best to secure new 2021 dates that are closer to our traditional dates -- April 4 through April 7. As soon as additional information is available we’ll share it with you.

Meanwhile, because we are postponing until 2021, the options below are offered for your consideration.

  • Apply your 2020 registration fee to RailNation:DC 2021. If you choose this option, you will be locked in at the 2020 rate no matter what. So, if event registration fees were to be higher in 2021, you would still owe nothing further to the Association.

  • Consider donating your RailNation:DC 2020 registration fees to the Association. Like many other non-profit organizations, we are seeing real financial impacts from the COVID-19 crisis, and we would appreciate your generosity. You will receive a tax receipt for your records showing your donation. If you register for RailNation:DC 2021 you will be paying the 2021 event registration rate.

  • Request a refund. If you register for RailNation:DC 2021 you will be paying the 2021 event registration rate, which could be higher.

The above options only relate to fees paid to the Rail Passengers Association. You will need to contact the Embassy Suites by Hilton in Old Town Alexandria to cancel your hotel reservations. Remember to also reach out to your travel provider to better understand the options available to you. Please make sure you mention that the event you were traveling to attend was postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus.

Please send an email to Jonsie Stone, [email protected], with your preference. Include in the subject line RailNation:DC Registration Option. This way we can be sure we don’t overlook anyone’s responses.

Staying In Front Of Policymakers While Also Staying At Home

While the virus risk and new health and safety restrictions have indefinitely delayed our ability to gather in place, the work our Association is doing still needs to continue. In fact, our work will become even more important in the coming months. That’s because any new infrastructure bill, or even a rescue bill with an infrastructure component, will give us opportunities to implement meaningful change in the travel choices available to Americans. But there’s also a real risk that, if we aren’t in the room -- or, now, “on the screen,” -- Congress could continue to further subsidize our overbuilt highway system. Now is not the time for us to go silent.

Knowing the challenges facing us, Sean Jeans-Gail and the policy team came up with a series of meaty and meaningful online briefings and interactive training sessions that all of you can take part in, both Council and our general membership.

Starting May 27th, and continuing every month afterwards, we’ll be organizing a series of online events for anyone who wants to keep informed, stay involved, and upgrade their personal organizing and advocacy skills. The idea is to give you the knowledge, the background, and the practical tips you’ll need to help us carry on this work from wherever you are. We’ve already started developing programs to cover the following:

  • National Briefing (May 27): Beginning with a dive into policy, we will review the first four phases of coronavirus legislation and what it means to current service levels for Amtrak and transit; future needs for transit and rail in any upcoming packages; updates on transportation legislation that is currently in play; and strategies for ensuring passenger rail projects are included in any upcoming infrastructure packages.

  • Online Advocacy 101: Focusing on communications and messaging, our team will provide a walkthrough of best practices for engaging an audience using the new digital tools and social media, gaining the attention of policy makers through online channels, free online platforms for hosting regional meetings and conferences, and more.

  • Corridor Spotlights: Our field team will coordinate with our Council Members and local groups to provide regional updates on corridor development initiatives, speakers from state rail groups to help provide vital local context, and opportunities to get personally involved at the local level.

  • Transportation Stakes in the 2020 Elections: The policy staff will walk you through potential outcomes in the 2020 general elections and their projected impact on transportation policy at the federal level, key national- and state-level races to watch, and any state and local transit initiatives on the ballot [Rail Passengers is a 501(c)(3) and is prohibited by law from endorsing any political candidates].

Our team wants to hear from you about any additional topics you’d like us to cover:

  • Is there a specific corridor or region you’d like us to focus on?

  • Have an idea for a campaign, but need to see how the policy team would go about creating a communications strategy and ground game?

  • Do you have questions about how a federal grant program works?

Help us understand what you need to be a more effective voice for passengers in your region! Please reach out to Joe Aiello ([email protected], Subject: Webinar Topics) with topics and questions you’d like addressed in any upcoming Rail Passengers briefings.

Please consider applying your 2020 RailNation:DC registration fee to next year’s event or simply making it a donation. And please also plan to take part in as many of our new online events as you can.

We look forward to working together to represent the interests of America’s passengers over the coming months!

McConnell Says Infrastructure Won’t be Part of Coronavirus Legislation

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) again dismissed suggestions that future rounds of coronavirus legislation will include massive infrastructure investment in conversations with reporters this week.

“We have an equal interest in doing an infrastructure bill. We don’t have an equal interest in borrowing money from future generations to pay for it. In other words, it’s unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic,” McConnell told reporters. “I’ll be clearer, that infrastructure is unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic that we’re all experiencing and trying to figure out how to go forward,” he said. “We need to make sure that whatever additional legislation we do is directly related to this pandemic.”

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) immediately hit back, saying addressing the infrastructure crisis facing our country is a necessary component of addressing an economic recession that could turn into the next Great Depression without decisive action.

“[The] best way to re-start our economy and put workers first is with a massive investment in the kind of infrastructure that will help future generations succeed—from better bridges and roads, to robust transit and passenger rail service, to fully-functioning ports and harbors, to modernized waste and drinking water systems, and widely available broadband internet,” said DeFazio. “Rebuilding communities across the country with resilient, innovative infrastructure is how we put millions of people to work in jobs that cannot be exported, while supporting U.S. manufacturing with the strongest Buy America requirements in the entire Federal government, and making our infrastructure smarter, safer, and made to last.”

McConnell is also contradicting President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly made public statements about his desire for a big increase in infrastructure spending—though the White House hasn’t put forth any specifics.

Since it appears that House Democrats won’t reconvene the House until late May, with older lawmakers expressing concern over the health risks of travel and gathering in large numbers, Senate GOP leadership will likely dictate the scope of the next round of funding.

CARES Act Funding Will Only Last Months For Largest Transit Regions

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which passed last month, was a welcome sign for passenger rail and mass transit agencies that are seeing daily ridership drop down to single digit percentages. We know that the $25 billion set aside was never going to be a “cure-all” and more measures were going to be needed in the coming months. Unfortunately, we are starting to see just how bad the financial shortfalls really are.

According to analysis done by the New York-based TransitCenter, that federal funding making its way to agencies around the country will only cover the next five to eight months for the ten largest areas. These regions include New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Atlanta among others. It is expected that both Seattle and New York City, two areas that were hit early by the pandemic, will exhaust their funding within three or four months - while smaller, and less impacted, agencies could stretch the federal help for the next 12 to 18 months though that is not guaranteed.

Rail Passengers Joins Coalition in Support of MARC Cornerstone Plan

Rail Passengers joined the Greater Washington Partnership and a half dozen other transportation and business groups to ask Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to add his support and signature to HB 1236, a bipartisan bill passed by the General Assembly that will help to speed Maryland’s economic recovery by implementing the Hogan Administration’s MARC Cornerstone Plan.

“HB 1236 will not require an increase in state revenues, and yet the bill’s passage will enhance the economic competitiveness of the State of Maryland, deepen access to labor pools and housing options, and reduce congestion on our clogged roadway network,” wrote our coalition in a letter to Gov. Hogan.

HB 1236 will assist in the MARC Cornerstone Plan through three initiatives of statewide importance, including a plan to pilot an extension of MARC trains beyond Union Station south to L’Enfant Plaza, Crystal City and Alexandria; a plan to close the gap between Perryville, Maryland and Newark, Delaware—opening job opportunities for residents in Cecil and Harford counties in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania; and a concept plan to connect the Penn Line and the Camden Line to enhance these lines’ resiliency and improve operations and maintenance.

“We fully appreciate Maryland’s current fiscal challenges, but we strongly believe the pilots and studies in HB 1236 will generate returns on investments that far exceed the relatively small upfront investment and will position us to emerge from the COVID downturn, and future economic recessions, even stronger,” concluded our coalition. “Therefore, we urge your favorable support of this important piece of legislation.”

In addition to the Greater Washington Partnership, Rail Passengers joined with the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, and the Coalition for the Northeast Corridor to sign on to the letter.

Freights On New Passenger-Rail Customer Standards: Being On Time Is Too Hard

by Jim Mathews / President & CEO

So now the host railroads’ strategy is clear: after the Supreme Court ended a decade of nonsense by saying, “Enough!” the railroads have now decided to claim that Amtrak schedules are just too hard to meet.

Too hard.

It's too hard to go even more slowly than we did in 1960.

As many of our older members will know, there are trains today that run hours later than they did decades ago, despite advances in technology. Take the City of New Orleans…that storied train of poems and songs is scheduled to show up five hours later than it did back in the day. But according to the freight railroads, it’s just too hard today to be on time.

I testified Thursday before the Federal Railroad Administration in support of the proposed new rules for operating quality and on-time passenger rail service (more formally the Metrics and Minimum Standards for Intercity Passenger Rail Service). I hope you were able to listen in.

During my oral testimony, I noted that tens of millions of people in hundreds of American communities have been waiting for more than a decade to see this moment. Passengers have a right to be on time, and the proposed rule – while not perfect – gets us all that much closer to getting there.

The session began with Ian Jefferies, CEO of the Association of American Railroads, sending a clear signal that despite the most recent string of defeats in the courts, freight railroads are lawyering up again. This time, their strategy is to declare that Amtrak’s schedules are unrealistic nearly across the board and that the FRA is making a legal mistake in building its rule around them. Then they put up a parade of freight executives to talk about just how hard it is to run an on-time railroad.

The freights’ strategy is clear: get FRA to require Amtrak to lengthen schedules even more, making passenger rail so trip-time uncompetitive that passenger rail dies in the United States.

I replied during the hearing by saying that it’s not a recipe for degrading service to insist that trains run at least close to on time. The freights’ assertion that schedules have not been changed in decades is misleading, because while some schedules need another look, many others have been changed repeatedly.

And the suggestion that many current schedules are just too hard to maintain is belied by reality. On time performance was much better before 2013 when Federal court action suspended performance metrics, leaving the freights with no consequences for running late trains. And it improved again when certain railroads had a bright public light put on them last year.

Our experience in the past five years shows that when it comes to whether a train can really run on time, the Class I railroads’ consequences matter more than the schedule.

We know that late trains are the single most significant cause of passenger dissatisfaction. But Rail Passengers would also like to state for the record that the customer OTP standard benefits everyone, not just Amtrak passengers. Our Association recognizes that late trains stem from a complex mix of causes. However, another crucial piece of the puzzle is the lack of capacity, along with the industry’s increasing adoption of ‘precision railroading.’ Shippers have already testified at length before the Surface Transportation Board about the degree to which ‘precision’ railroading has turned out to be anything but.

Rail Passengers believes that the proposed rule will encourage more disciplined operation for host railroads, promoting fluidity, speed and reliability for all users. We all want a fluid and reliable railroad – commuters, shippers and end-use customers deserve nothing less. While we are sympathetic to the host railroads’ challenges, the fact remains that our members rely on, and pay for, timely and regular service on those routes, whether riding as an Amtrak passenger or as a daily commuter on systems all across the country like Metra or MARC.

To underscore a point we made in our written comments, the proposed rule provides a mechanism for adjusting schedules, but no requirement that all sides approach that task in a spirit of goodwill. As written, Amtrak and Class I hosts could well file perfunctory requests and responses to one another and then head straight to the STB or even Federal court.

After more than a decade of litigation, we at Rail Passengers want to say strongly that we hope everyone will negotiate in good faith and work to adjust recovery time without simply extending schedules so that trains run even less competitively than they do today. Going straight into yet another round of litigation can’t be the answer.

Working together using the principles that FRA outlined in its preamble to the proposed rule is the right way forward. And if FRA has to take the step of requiring, in regulation, that the parties must make good faith efforts, then so be it.

The docket will stay open until June 1st. I’m still encouraging all of you to file comments on this rule, so long as they are constructive, fact-based and relate to your experience as a passenger.

Happy Birthday, Amtrak

News Release: CAHSRA Releases First Draft Environmental Document

The California High-Speed Rail Authority is releasing the first project-level Draft Environmental Document for a project section in Northern California. The document, which covers the 90-mile extent of the 145-mile San Jose to Merced Project Section from Scott Boulevard in Santa Clara to Carlucci Road in Merced County, will be open for public comment starting on Friday, April 24.

“The release of the draft environmental document for this project section marks an important milestone for the high-speed rail program. With the release of this first environmental document in Northern California, we are continuing to show progress on every mile of the statewide system,” said Authority CEO Brian Kelly. “We look forward to hearing from the communities along the route to ensure our project provides a clean, next-generation travel option while improving local quality of life.”

To read the entire press release and to learn about both the public comment period and the scheduled open houses, please click here

Lawmakers Urge Requiring Masks on All Flights

In what may be a preview of things to come for intercity rail, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers urged airlines to require masks for passengers and crew members on all flights.

The group or House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee members, led by Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and ranking member Sam Graves (R-MO), wrote to the trade group Airlines for America asking the industry to provide clear national guidelines for personal protective equipment and more flexible cancellation policies.

“We strongly urge that, during this public health emergency, your airline members ensure strict adherence to public health guidance regarding physical distancing as passengers board and when they are seated in the airplane, regardless of their fare class,” wrote the Representatives. “Additionally, we would note that foreign airlines, including Air Canada, are requiring passengers to wear masks as a condition of travel. We would also urge your airline members to adopt clear, enforceable policies, accompanied by clear guidance to frontline workers, such as crewmembers and airport customer service agents, that require flight attendants and passengers to wear masks or other face coverings for the entirety of their air travel during this public health emergency.”

A4A responded immediately, announcing that its members—which include Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines—will join JetBlue in requiring passengers wear face coverings to board flights.

Amtrak to extend existing elite status for all elite members

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, frequent travelers have had a little angst about their travel program status. Many hotel chains and major airlines have already extended elite status through 2021 and now Amtrak has done the same for Amtrak Guest Reward elite members.

Amtrak has announced a long-awaited extension for AGR elite members. This announcement comes just a few weeks after Amtrak announced that it’s pausing the expiration of points, companion passes and upgrade certificates through the summer. Amtrak will also offer free lounge access to lower-tier Amtrak elite members through June 30. Amtrak is extending elite status for all Select, Select Plus and Select Executive members through February 28, 2022. If you are currently an AGR member holding elite status, the extension applies to you, so you don’t need to contact Amtrak to take advantage of the extension.

This status match is such a win-win for Amtrak travelers especially since there has been reduced and suspended service on a number of system routes. All elite status benefits will be extended through to February 28, 2022 including companion and lounge passes as well as annual upgrade certificates. You will also be eligible to receive your status tier’s annual allotment in 2021, regardless of how many tier-qualifying points you earn in 2020.

Amtrak has also announced that those with Amtrak Select status can now access all of Amtrak’s clubs and lounges through June 30, 2020. Lounge access is usually reserved for Select Plus and Select Executive members. If you must travel during COVID-19, this benefit upgrade not only gives Selects a comfortable place to relax prior to boarding but most importantly decreases congestion in the station allowing for better social distancing.

Remember, all AGR points, upgrade certificates and companion pass expiration dates are paused until September 25, 2020 regardless of how points were earned. If you have points or a certificate set to expire before this date, you must use them by September 25, 2020. As an option, you can extend your points another 24 months by earning at least one Amtrak point and the easiest way to do this is by simply making a purchase through the AGR shopping portal.

The bottom line is that you don’t have to worry about traveling enough to maintain your elite status through 2021. You have options securing your status and making travel easier once you decide to get back on the rails.

Stay healthy!


#GivingTuesdayNow, May 5th, is a global day of action to help the world recover from COVID-19. How can you be involved?

Make a donation and have double the impact. Make a donation to help Rail Passengers continue the work of protecting the National Network, long-distance routes and the rural efficiency of travel. Between today and Tuesday, a generous Rail Passengers Board Member will be matching all donations up to $5,000 so that your git can go twice as far. Additionally, see here for new tax incentives for giving.

Tell us how you plan to utilize passenger rail one the pandemic has passed. It is important that we stay connected as a community, and here at the Rail Passengers Association we want to hear from you! Where do you hope to travel by rail once the travel restrictions are lifted? Do you want to explore a new community? Visit a friend or family members? Head back to the office? Let us know and you might be featured on Rail Passengers’ channels.

Member & Donor News and Notices

  • In addition to including funding for passenger trains and transit agencies, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act also included new tax incentives for charitable giving. We’ve provided a quick overview here and I encourage each of you to seek advice from a financial planner.

  • While the Rail Passengers staff is working remotely, we cannot print permanent membership cards or membership/benefits information. Luckily, you can find information about your Rail Passengers membership (like your member number and membership level), update your personal information, and print a temporary membership card by creating an account at www.railpassengers.org and selecting “My Account” on the homepage. Additional member benefits information can be found on our website.

  • While the Rail Passengers staff is working outside of the office, without access to stationery, mailed copies of ‘thank you’ letters are a challenge. We are currently working with our Neon membership database to use email distribution as an alternative; let us know at [email protected] if you would like us to add your email address to your account. Even though the thank you letters are delayed, please know that your membership and donations are immensely appreciated. Thank You!

  • If you renew your membership by mail, please be sure to send a membership renewal form in with your payment! We will update your membership status only if you return a form to RENEW your membership. Forms asking you to DONATE are processed as general donations, not membership dues. Membership dues renewal forms typically read, “Yes, I deserve better: I’m renewing to make sure passengers’ voices are heard!”

  • If you are renewing or donating by credit card, before you seal your envelope, PLEASE double check to make sure you’ve included the cards expiration date and CVV number. Without those numbers your payment/donation can not be processed.


#ICYMI - In Case You Missed It: This Week’s Social Media Highlights

As we wrap up another week at home, our social media has been buzzing! Join us as we discuss rail news of all sorts during this uncertain time. Follow along and join the conversation via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and our blog posts on RailPassengers.org


Tell Us What’s Happening Where You Live!

When you see rail-related news stories, op-eds, editorials, or letters to the editor in your communities, send them along to us! We will include them in our social media efforts, along with the weekly Hotline. Send your news items to Joe Aiello at jaiello[at]narprail.org, and we will share it with members. Are you holding a rally, a community meeting, or another kind of rail-advocacy event? We can help spread the word if you send them to us. We can put them on the website here. Please follow Rail Passengers on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date on all things passenger rail.

Rail Passengers Track Update

Where are we and what are we working on? This section will update you on what Rail Passengers HQ is up to...even when we’re all working online or from home!

  • Jim Mathews, President & CEO, split his time this week working on financial measures to support the Association and preparing and delivering his testimony to the Federal Railroad Administration on the new passenger rail standards for customer service and on-time performance.

  • Sean Jeans Gail, Vice President of Policy, is working with the policy team to launch a series of online interactive briefings following the decision by our association to cancel in-person meetings, where we’ll provide national briefings on coronavirus response legislation, regional corridor spotlights, online advocacy 101s, and more (if you have a request for a topic to cover, email Joe Aiello at [email protected], subject “Webinar Topic”]. Jeans-Gail also took part in a virtual briefing for transportation professionals on the efforts to restore transit systems across the US and how coronavirus will reshape the nation’s freight and transportation networks, an FRA hearing on new metrics and standards for Amtrak on-time performance.

  • Carolyn Cokley, Director of Customer Programs, is continuing designing and testing the logistic tools that will be used for the Focus Group Project. In addition, Carolyn has been in talks with Amtrak managers on the Station Volunteer Program and how it moves beyond COVID-19. Stay healthy!

  • Joseph Aiello, Field Coordinator, this week reached out to members to assist in research for our updated list of shovel-ready infrastructure projects. If you have an interest in helping out, please email Joe at [email protected]. He also has been working with the rest of the policy/field team on introducing our upcoming advocacy webinar series.

  • Madi Butler, Grassroots Organizer, spent the week working on upcoming webinar plans, as well as creating graphics, video, and assisting with the newsletter.

  • Jonsie Stone, Director, Resource Development, spent the week finalizing the Association’s #GivingTuesdayNow campaign, follow-up email related to Jim’s testimony, drafting future outreach messages and tending to Association administrative activities.

  • Kim Williams, Membership Manager, is processing payments, making website updates, sending out May renewal letters, and answering any questions you may have about our changes in your benefits. We truly appreciate your understanding!

Stuck at Home for Awhile? Grab a Copy of Lonely Planet's ‘Amazing Train Journeys’ and Support Your Association at the Same Time

If you’re spending more time than you used to at home waiting for the “All Clear” to start hitting the rails again, why not order yourself a copy of Lonely Planet’s ‘Amazing Train Journeys’ guidebook to pass the time? It’s not only a gorgeous and fun book, but with every purchase Lonely Planet will donate 15% of the proceeds to your Association, to help us keep working for More Trains, Better Trains and a commitment to better infrastructure! You win and we win!

Through this beautiful book, you’ll experience 60 of the world’s greatest and most unforgettable train journeys, from classic long-distance trips like Western Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer and Darwin to Adelaide’s The Ghan, to little-known gems on regular commuting lines. It’s the culmination of asking more than 200 travel writers for their absolute favorites.

Some are epic international adventures, others are short suburban routes along stunning coastline. There are incredible feats of engineering, trains that snake their way through mountain peaks, and even those which have achieved Unesco World Heritage status.

More than just a collection, each profile will give you the practical information you need to experience one or more of these epic journeys yourself -- including ticket options, timetables and stops, plus inspiring photos and illustrated maps. It’s all here!

Amazing Train Journeys is available as a book, e-Book or in both formats at a low combination price. And your purchase helps supports your Association’s mission too! Remember, Lonely Planet is contributing 15% of all Amazing Train Journeys sales to Rail Passengers! You can order copies by clicking here!

Get Your Own ‘Rail Passengers’ Signature Federal Credit Union VISA Card!


We are excited to announce our recent partnership with Signature Federal Credit Union. Rail Passengers members now have access to a full service, nationwide federal credit union with extensive product and service offerings. Signature FCU also becomes the exclusive provider of the Rail Passengers Association-branded Visa credit card with our logo, which supports our work by giving back to our organization, and gives you 1 point for every $1 you spend to redeem for travel and merchandise. The card has no annual fee, no balance transfer fees, no foreign transaction fees, and has a very low interest rate.

Gifts from Donor Advised Funds


If you have a donor advised fund, please consider recommending a grant from your fund to be the Rail Passengers Association. It is a great way to maintain flexibility with your support throughout the year. For more information, go to http://myimpact.railpassengers.org/daf. As always, please feel free to contact Jonsie Stone if you have any questions.

The Rail Passengers Association would like to thank our Annual Partners for their support!


Upcoming Events

go to railpassengers.org/events for more events and information

Due to the current situation with the COVID-19 outbreak, many meetings around the country are being postponed and rescheduled for later dates. Please check our events page for updates and information.

Please contact Joe Aiello ([email protected]) to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the Rail Passengers calendar (print and on-line) of upcoming events!

Amtrak Passenger Service Notices

Amtrak Thruway Buses Temporarily Replace Hiawatha Trains

Between Milwaukee and Chicago

Effective Friday, April 24, 2020

In response to lower ridership demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Amtrak, in partnership with the Wisconsin and Illinois state transportation departments, will temporarily substitute daily Amtrak Thruway Buses for Amtrak Hiawatha Service trains between Milwaukee and Chicago.

Effective Friday, April 24, Bus 3332 will operate in place of Hiawatha Service Trains 330 and 332. The bus will originate at the downtown Milwaukee Intermodal Station at 7:55 a.m. and arrive at Chicago Union Station at 9:54 a.m. Also effective that day, Bus 3339 will operate in place of Hiawatha Service Train 339, originating in Chicago at 5:00 p.m. and arriving at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station at 6:59 p.m. All times local.

These buses will serve all Amtrak stations on the Hiawatha Service corridor except Glenview, Ill. The Amtrak Empire Builder serves Glenview and will continue to also temporarily provide daily service at all other Hiawatha stations. Full schedules are on the Amtrak Passenger Service Notice.

Reservations will be required in order to maintain social distancing for seating on Buses 3332 & 3339. Amtrak customers traveling with current monthly and 10-ride tickets are welcome without reservations.

Customers are strongly encouraged now to wear masks while using all Amtrak services. The bus operator will wear a facial covering while interacting with customers and the buses will be thoroughly cleaned between trips. More information about safe essential travel is at Amtrak.com.

The Thruway Bus service substitution will be in effect through Monday, May 25. Hiawatha train service is expected to resume on Tuesday, May 26. These ADA-accessible motor coaches offer passengers many of the same features as our trains including Wi-Fi service, reclining seats, ample legroom, tables, cupholders and lavatories.

Station Elevator Out of Service Downtown Riverside, CA, Station

Effective Immediately

The elevator located inside the Riverside, CA, station is out of service for approximately 6 weeks.

Trains 3 and 4 arrive and depart from the East platform which can be accessed at ground level via Commerce Street, address below:

3801 Commerce Street Riverside, CA 92507

The pedestrian bridge is still available from the normal access point of 4066 Vine Street. The nearest station with an accessible elevator is San Bernardino, approximately 10 miles away.

Allow Extra Time – Don’t Miss Your Train Customers using the pedestrian bridge may need to allow extra time to get to the boarding platform.

Warrensburg, MO, Station Waiting Room Temporarily Closed

Effective Immediately

Effective immediately, the Warrensburg, MO, station waiting room is temporarily closed, until further notice. Trains will continue to stop at the station and passengers will have access to platforms.

Passengers will not have access to the inside of the station or restrooms during this time.

Rather than waiting for trains outdoors, please use the Amtrak app or other means to check train status while waiting in a personal vehicle.

Centralia, IL, Station Waiting Room Temporarily Closed

Effective Immediately

Effective immediately, the Centralia, IL, station waiting room is temporarily closed, until further notice. Trains will continue to stop at the station and passengers will have access to platforms.

Passengers will not have access to the inside of the station or restrooms during this time.

Rather than waiting for trains outdoors, please use the Amtrak app or other means to check train status while waiting in a personal vehicle.

Wolverine Trains 351 and 352 Blue Water Trains 364 and 365

Effective April 27, 2020

Due to track work being performed by Amtrak, and Norfolk Southern, Wolverine and Blue Water Service will be affected, as follows:

Blue Water Trains 364 and 365

  • Train 364 will arrive at Port Huron 28 minutes later at 11:59 pm.

  • Train 365 will depart Port Huron 28 minutes earlier, at 5:52 am, arriving at Chicago 17 minutes later at 12:02 pm.

Wolverine Service

  • Train 351 will depart Pontiac 38 minutes earlier at 5:12 am, arriving in Chicago at the scheduled time of 10:32 am.

  • Train 352 will depart Chicago 30 minutes earlier at 12:55 pm, arriving at Pontiac 7 minutes later at 8:39 pm.

Thruway Service Changes Sunset Empire Bus Terminal in Astoria Temporarily Closed

Effective April 27 through May 31, 2020

Attention Amtrak Passengers: Amtrak Thruway Service between Portland and Astoria will be reduced, effective April 27 through May 31. The Sunset Empire Bus Terminal in Astoria is temporarily closed.

Thruway Schedules Reduced

  • Buses 5500 and 5565 are suspended

  • Buses 5563 and 5564 will continue to run, offering two round trips daily from Portland to Astoria.

Illini Train 393 Departs 30 Minutes Earlier

Effective Fridays, April 24 - May 22, 2020

Due to track work being performed by Canadian National Railway, Train 393 will operate 30 minutes earlier Fridays, April 24 through May 22.

Train 393 will operate on its normal schedule Saturday through Thursday, as shown.

Illini Train 393 Temporary Schedule

April 24 through May 22, 2020



Sat - Thur

Chicago, IL




Homewood, IL



Kankakee, IL



Gilman, IL



Rantoul, IL



Champaign Urbana, IL



Mattoon, IL



Effingham, IL



Centralia, IL



Du Quoin, IL



Carbondale, IL




William H Gray III, 30th Street Station Temporary Changes

Effective Immediately

Effective immediately, Philadelphia’s William H Gray, III 30th Street station will reduce the number of entrances and modify station hours, until further notice.

Station entrances will be reduced to a single entrance in the 30th Street Portico, the SEPTA concourse from 30th street and through the parking garage.

The station will be closed between 1:00 am and 5:00 am, to all non-Amtrak personnel, in order to clean and disinfect for our riders and employees.

City of New Orleans Trains 58 and 59 Suspended between McComb and New Orleans

Until Further Notice

Please be advised that Canadian National Railway is prohibiting passenger trains over the Bonnet Carre Spillway due to planned emergency flood control, affecting the City of New Orleans service as outlined below:

Train 59, which normally operates between Chicago and New Orleans, will terminate at McComb, MS. Bus 3259 will operate between McComb and New Orleans, serving intermediate station stop of Hammond.

Train 58, which normally operates between New Orleans and Chicago, will originate at McComb, MS. Bus 3258 will operate between New Orleans and McComb, serving intermediate station stop of Hammond. Bus 3258 will depart New Orleans at 1:00 pm, 45 minutes earlier than Train 59’s scheduled departure time.

Please note: Trains 58 and 59 will not stop at Brookhaven and Hazlehurst and no alternate transportation will be provided.

Piedmont Services Schedule Changes

Effective March 23, 2020

Piedmont Service schedules are adjusted effective March 23, until further notice, as outlined below:

Train Service Changes

  • Piedmont Trains 73, 74, 77 and 78 are cancelled.

  • Piedmont Trains 75 and 76 will operate daily on their current schedule.

Vermonter and Ethan Allen Schedule Changes

Effective March 26, 2020

Effective March 26, schedule changes and station closures will impact Vermonter and Ethan Allen trains, until further notice, as outlined below:

Vermonter Trains and Stations:

  • Trains 54, 55, 56 and 57 will not operate between New Haven, CT and St. Albans, VT.

  • Vermonter trains will continue to operate between Washington, D.C. and New Haven, Monday through Saturday.

  • All Amtrak stations in Vermont are temporarily closed.

Ethan Allen Trains:

  • Ethan Allen trains will not operate between Rutland and Albany.

Coaster Commuter Trains

Effective March 23, 2020

The North County Transit District has announced it will temporarily reduce service for its Coaster commuter trains starting Monday.

  • Weekday train service will be reduced by about 50%, particularly around the noon hour, when several northbound and southbound trains will be suspended. Likewise, just one evening train in either direction will continue to run, 5:41 p.m. southbound and 7:13 p.m. northbound.

  • Southbound commuters will have to be on the 7:40 a.m. train or wait until 2:42 p.m. Northbound commuters can leave as late as 9:18 a.m.

  • Weekend Coaster service will be suspended entirely beginning March 28. The Breeze bus service has been temporarily eliminated.

  • In addition to the Coaster trips which will remain active, riders with a valid Coaster Regional day or monthly pass will still be able to ride the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner. Amtrak will also be implementing service reductions.

Capitol Corridor Service Schedule Changes

Effective March 21, 2020

Please be advised that the Capitol Corridor service will operate on limited schedules beginning March 21.

In addition to schedule changes, some station facilities will be adjusting hours of operation.

For the most up to date information and changes, please visit www.capitolcorridor.org or call 1-877974-3322.

Travel Tip of the Week

Here is the latest from Amtrak regarding traveling safely onboard Amtrak trains:

  • Service Reductions: While Amtrak continues to operate as an essential service for those who must travel during this difficult time, we have temporarily suspended the following services due to reduced demand.

  • Protect Everyone: To protect our customers and employees, we strongly recommend customers follow CDC guidelines and wear facial coverings in public, including in our stations and on trains. If you don’t have a face covering, click here for instructions on how to make your own.

  • Arriving Out of State: At this time, various states are undertaking specific safety precautions for customers arriving from out of state. Some states are also requiring that customers wear masks in waiting room areas. Please check with each state for specific guidance.

  • Station Staffing: Due to service reductions, some stations may not be staffed. If the station is closed, please use the Amtrak app or call 1-800-USA-Rail to check train status while waiting in a personal vehicle.

Amtrak’s Commitment to Customers and Employees During the COVID-19 Crisis

Amtrak wants to express its heartfelt appreciation for our frontline team members who work tirelessly to provide our service to those who need it most.

The safety of Amtrak’s customers and employees is our top priority. To protect both our employees and customers, Amtrak is strongly recommending customers wear facial coverings and follow guidelines around physical distancing, consistent with CDC guidelines. If you need to travel with us, know that we are taking extra steps to sanitize our stations and trains, including taking the following measures:

  • Enhancing Cleaning Protocols: We have increased the frequency of cleaning services onboard trains and at our stations and have increased the quantity of sanitizers and disinfectant wipes available for customers and employees.

  • Reinforcing Good Hygiene Practices: We are regularly sharing best practices with employees and customers on ways to protect against communicable diseases.

  • Limiting Bookings: To help maintain CDC recommendations for physical distancing onboard our trains, we are temporarily reducing coach class and business class sales to 50% capacity.

  • Going Cashless: As an added measure to ensure the health and safety of our customers and employees, we will temporarily be accepting cashless payments only in stations and on trains.

  • Posting Physical Distancing Posters and Floor Stickers: Signage will be displayed at a number of our busiest staffed stations six feet apart to indicate safe distances in high customer traffic areas such as waiting rooms, in front ticket offices, at the base/top of escalators, lounge entrances, etc. In addition, clear protective barriers are being retrofitted at staffed stations where there are no current glass barriers and where they can logistically fit.

  • Updating Food and Beverage Service for Customers: Effective mid-April, the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle will offer flexible dining service in the Dining Car or via room service; Coach customers will be offered Café service in the Sightseeing Lounge. Traditional dining service will remain on the Auto Train as an exclusive amenity for Sleeping Car customers. This temporary change in service offers additional opportunities for onboard physical distancing and will be effective through May 31, 2020

To protect against all communicable diseases:

  • Wash your hands: Wash hands frequently with soap and water – and for at least 20 seconds. If you can’t wash your hands, use hand sanitizer.

  • Cover your mouth: When sneezing or coughing, use tissues and promptly dispose of them or cover your mouth with your sleeve or elbow.

  • Take care of yourself and keep others safe: If you are feeling ill, please stay home until you are well.

Service will be restored on select trains and routes once circumstances improve and demand returns. We will continue to monitor and make changes to our procedures, policies and operations as necessary and are updating this page regularly with any changes. For more information about the coronavirus, visit the CDC.

Ticket Changes and/or Cancellations

  • Amtrak is waiving change fees: For reservations made before May 31, 2020. This includes reservations booked with points. To modify a reservation, log in to your account, go to ‘Modify Trip’ on Amtrak.com, or find your reservation from your account on the home screen in the Amtrak app. A fare difference may apply to your new itinerary. If you want to cancel your reservation with no fee, you must call 1-800-USA-RAIL and speak with an agent (not available via Amtrak.com or the app).

  • Multiride Tickets: Multi-ride train and city pair restrictions are removed on the Northeast Corridor through May 31, 2020

Stay healthy.

TravelReview Feedback Card

As you travel, please help us promote the Travel Review with other rail passengers. As you encounter passengers who want to make their positive and negative opinions known, please direct them to www.railpassengers.org/Travel Review. All participants will remain anonymous. If you encounter any problems with the Travel Review, or have any questions, please send an email to [email protected]

Do You Need More TravelReview Feedback Cards?

Please help us to spread the word. We need your help in engaging other passengers when you travel and let them know that their feedback is welcomed by RailPax. To facilitate this sharing of information the TravelReview Feedback Card is now available for you to download and print for regular usage. The card can be given to fellow passengers to introduce the work that RailPax is doing as well as our desire to have their feedback. The cards can also be left behind in stations as you pass through.

The template is in a .pdf format and will open in Adobe document cloud. First download the file and save it to your desktop for easy access. Then print as needed. The original template is formatted for Avery 5871 or 5371 cardstock which are both 2” x 3½” business card formats. Any brand cardstock should function as long as the dimensions match.

If you experience any problems in accessing the file, please send an email to [email protected]

Looking Beyond Pandemic: The Work Continues

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, 2020 was shaping up as a critical year for the future of American passenger rail. With Amtrak ridership down more than 90% and rescue packages taking shape for intercity passenger rail, private operators, mass transit and airlines, there is a risk that when the crisis is over critically needed investment capital will be cut off -- and the legislative gains we have spent five years setting in motion could be squandered.

Amtrak is quasi-public corporation, with the federal government providing a significant portion of the railroad’s annual operations and capital budget. The current funding authorization expires at the end of FY2020, and in 2020 the Rail Passengers Association will be leading efforts in the courts and on Capitol Hill to ensure that America’s passenger rail service continues to thrive. We will fight to sustain our vision of “A Connected America” where all of us, rich or poor, rural or urban, are linked together.

We’re committed to this work and ready to take action, but we can’t do it alone. As we gear up to fight for passenger rail’s present and future, please consider donating to support this critical work.