Fall travel woes continue
- At this writing, enough major rail unions have disapproved proposed settlements to keep the danger of a nationwide strike of freight railways in early December alive. That would completely shut down most of Amtrak and any local services operated under contract by major freight railroads. Almost everyone expects Congressional action to prevent or delay a strike, but that has not happened yet.
- Amtrak still warns about delays and closings due to personnel and equipment shortages and maintenance backlogs.
- Rail operators worldwide still face staffing shortages and work stoppages.
- US rail services at all levels are subject to adjustments, temporary delays, and cancellations as operators scramble to put new infrastructure investment money to work on maintenance and improvement projects.
Expect some delays and cancellations just about everywhere.
Headlines: Reopenings, New Services and Sales
It is actually open—finally: Washington’s METRA Silver Line extension to Dulles. This major link will be a big improvement for air travelers.
METRA to Dulles is the first of the “Big Three” US urban rail projects due to open this year. The other two are still planned for December, but do not be surprised if either drags on until 2023.
- East Side Access in New York, bringing the Long Island Rail Road into Grand Central.
- The Central Subway in San Francisco, extending the Muni Metro light rail system into Chinatown, still listed for this year. Muni already opened one station, but for shopping only—no trains yet.
Normally unreserved Keystone and Pacific Surfliner trains will require reservations during the Thanksgiving period.
Amtrak has finally announced a date to resume the Adirondack between New York and Montreal: “sometime between April 1 and June 30.”
Now open: the new nine-mile Arrow Metrolink line from San Bernardino to Redlands.
Amtrak’s BoGo sale on the entire capitol corridor in northern California remains available through Jan. 31. On the Amtrak website, enter two adult tickets and code V429.
Amtrak still is not publishing full timetables online. If you enjoy using a traditional full-route timetable, the independent Rail Passengers Association is showing its own unofficial timetables for most Amtrak trains at railpassengers.org/resources/Amtrak-timetables/.
Amtrak has suspended one of two daily Chicago-Quincy Carl Sandberg-Illinois Zephyr roundtrips through Jan. 16. It also continues to suspend operations on one daily round-trip of Lincoln Service and Missouri River Runner service due to “equipment shortages” through mid-November.
The Times of San Diego reports that rail service along the bluffs in the San Clemente area will likely be stabilized sometime between mid-December and mid-January. Until then, Pacific Sunliner and Los Angeles Metrolink trains will not operate through the area, with some bus substitution.
Ongoing Amtrak Deals: General Conditions
Except where noted, all Amtrak promotions apply to coach travel only; discounts apply to full-fare tickets and cannot be combined with other discounts; most deals entail blackout dates; seats are limited; some promotions do not apply to all trains; most promotions make provisions for one or two children accompanying each adult traveler. Companion and most children’s deals require all travelers to travel together. Amtrak also offers other minor deals and promotions. In most cases, the Amtrak website automatically computes and displays eligible discounts for any trip you enter. Check amtrak.com/deals for details and booking.
Standard Ongoing Discounts
Amtrak routinely offers modest discounts to certain travelers. For the most part, these discounts apply only to coach travel and are generally not combinable. Most routine discounts do not apply to weekday Acela Express trains, and many do not apply to some Thruway bus travel. When you enter itineraries and personal details, the Amtrak website automatically computes discounted fares. Discounts are subject to capacity control.
- Senior: 10% discount for travelers aged 65 or over except on cross-border travel with VIA Rail, where the minimum age is 60. Senior discount is not valid on business class (except limited Acela options), Auto Train, Saver fares or sleeper accommodations. 50% senior discount on Downeaster 15% discount for seniors aged 62 or over on Capitol Corridor, Pacific Sunliner and San Joaquins; any-age advance purchase fares may be lower.
- Disability: 10% discount for travelers with disabilities and traveling companions, with appropriate ID. 50% discount on Downeaster
- Children: One child aged 2-12 travels for 50% off with an adult age 18 or over.
- Military: 10% discount for travelers on active duty and their spouses/dependents, including travel on Auto Train, excluding Canadian portion of transborder trains.
- NARP: 10% discount for members of the National Association of Railroad Passengers with three-day advance purchase.
- “Share Fares:” Average 35% discount for groups of up to six traveling together with three-day advance purchase. Works best for groups of 3 or more; ends soon.
- Veterans: 10% discounts for veterans are no longer tagged as “ending soon,” presumably, it is on indefinitely again. The deal applies to all coach seats and business class on Acela. Also, 15 Percent discounts for Veterans on Capitol Corridor, Pacific Surfliner and San Joaquins. Check “Military Veteran” in the booking window. Proof of veteran status can be required.
Amtrak routinely offers Saver Fares discounts of 15% to 25% on most trains with 14-day advance purchase. These discounts are limited to coach class and to Saturday and select off-peak Acela business class trips.
- Northeast Sale: Discounts up to 50% on travel in the Northeast, with a 14-day advance purchase on Keystone and Pennsylvanian trips and 21-day on Northeast Regional. Does not apply Friday and Sunday plus numerous blackout days, coach only, no upgrades. Amtrak posts no expiration date.
- Saturday BoGo: Buy one full fare ticket at least three days before travel, get two for Saturday travel on almost all Northeast Corridor trips, including Acela. Couple must travel together. No cutoff date specified.
- California Deal: Up to 5 companions: 50% discounts on most dates in Capitol Corridor; buy through Dec. 31, travel through Jan. 1, 2023.
- Short-Term “low fare” promotions: Amtrak regularly selects individual routes and areas to cut normal fares by as much as 50%. Discounts require 7- 14-day advance purchase.
- Acela promotion: Buy 14 days in advance, with no cutoff date specified; not available for travel on Fridays and Sundays. Sample one-way fares include $79 Boston-Washington, $69 New York-Washington, and $59 Boston-New York.
Other US Rail
- Brightline is running a lack Friday” sale through Nov. 28, with discounts of 10% on annual passes and 25-35 Percent on group travel.
- New Mexico has extended the reduced fare program on the Rail Runner through the end of the year.
- South Shore (Chicago-South Bend) trains are not operating between Dune Park and Carroll Avenue now through “spring” to permit double-track and off-street construction. Bus replacement is filling in the gaps.
- Communities around the country are using the low pandemic traffic levels or new infrastructure funding as opportunities to maintain and upgrade their light rail, metro and heavy suburban rail systems. This means temporary shutdowns of various lines at various times, typically with substitute bus service. I will try to highlight major changes, but I cannot keep up with every local transit system. Check any city you plan to visit. Ditto major tourist lines, many of which are just reopening.
Ed Perkins, editor
See our report on rail news outside the U.S.
For more travel tips from Ed Perkins, see our companion site Ed on Travel