This is a developing story. For up-to-date information on traveling during the coronavirus outbreak, visit the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
Now that all major U.S. airlines are requiring passengers to wear face masks, Amtrak is following suit and establishing a mandatory facial covering policy for all customers starting May 11. Amtrak had previously asked its employees and staff to wear face masks while working.
“The safety of Amtrak’s customers and employees is our top priority and requiring a facial covering is one more way we can protect everyone,” said Bill Flynn, Amtrak president and CEO, in a statement.
The new facial covering policy requires all customers to wear a mask that covers their mouth and nose while they are in train stations, on trains, and on Amtrak Thruway buses. (Greyhound is requiring its bus passengers to wear face masks starting May 13.)
“Facial coverings can be removed when customers are eating in designated areas, in their private rooms, or seated alone or with a travel companion in their own pair of seats,” according to Amtrak’s new policy. “Small children who are not able to maintain a facial covering are exempt from this requirement.”
The policy update follows the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) new recommendations announced in April for people to wear “cloth face coverings” in public settings where social distancing is harder to practice in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 from asymptomatic carriers. (Previously, the CDC only advised people who were knowingly sick to wear a facial covering to protect others.)
Unlike the airlines that will make masks available to customers who don’t have their own, Amtrak says its passengers must supply their own face masks and will not provide any in stations or on trains or buses.
Other safety measures Amtrak is instituting
Since face masks are only meant to provide a last line of defense when social-distancing measures can’t be followed, Amtrak is taking additional measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Those include limiting bookings by cutting back coach and business-class ticket sales to 50 percent capacity and temporarily going cashless and only accepting credit card payments in stations and on trains.
In addition to limiting seating in dining and café cars, Amtrak will temporarily offer its “flexible” dining service (think prepackaged entrées instead of meals cooked on board) on all long-distance routes. Amtrak is also recommending that all passengers with Sleeping Car tickets opt for room service and refrain from going to the dining car.
In high-traffic areas in stations, signage promoting proper social distancing has also been added in waiting rooms, ticket offices, and at the base and top of escalators. Clear protective barriers have been installed in stations to add protection for employees.
Amtrak trains have continued to operate during the coronavirus pandemic, although service on some lines has been reduced or suspended entirely due to a 95 percent drop in ridership after lockdowns went into effect in March. But as stay-at-home orders begin to be lifted, Amtrak will start restoring service. On June 1, Amtrak is restoring Acela service along the Northeast Corridor with three weekday round trips, while Northeast regional frequencies will also be increased from 8 to 10 round trips per day on the same date. Amtrak will monitor demand on other lines and restore service accordingly.