With so much news on the aviation industry, train travelers and commuters have largely taken a back seat in the discussion of what is happening with vaccination and mask mandates throughout the country. For the bulk of the ongoing pandemic, Amtrak has done what it could to keep things socially distanced and sanitized. But in April, the railway quietly ditched its mask mandate, following the lead of the TSA. As was to be expected, some riders couldn’t be happier, while others remain not so cheery about it; but should you choose to travel by train this summer, here are the facts on Amtrak’s latest updates.
When the world went into lockdown in the spring of 2020, Amtrak made a series of fast adjustments to ensure its passengers would be safe using the rail service. Some of these protocols included service cutbacks, with rides from Toronto to New York finally resuming after a two-year hiatus on June 27. In total, Amtrak cut back over eight percent of the service on its Northeast Regional line, which includes popular routes from Boston to Virginia and New York to Miami. Without enough staff and increasing COVID-related call-outs, such cutbacks were simply a reality the ride-sharing rail service faced.
In advance of the resumed connections, Amtrak dropped its mask mandate, which had previously restricted passengers from riding its trains without masks unless in a private berth on a long-distance route. While many still believe masks are the most effective way to keep health-related issues under control on public transportation—let alone multi-state routes—Amtrak ultimately decided to ditch the protocol altogether. This was a move that followed suit to those made by the aviation industry after Tampa U.S. District Court Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled the mask mandate (pdf) exceeded the CDC’s statutory authority and was a violation of rule-making. Following the Biden administration’s concession that the TSA would no longer institute mask mandates, Amtrak officially got rid of its own facial covering mandate, as well.
While wearing a mask to use the rail service is no longer a mandate, with a continued surge in COVID variants, it is still highly recommended, along with other forms of precautionary and protective measures. At the onset of the pandemic, Amtrak installed sanitizing stations onboard its train cars and limited bookings to allow for social distancing and encourage physical distancing. In October 2020, it amtrak-pacific-surfliner-hygiene-protocols/#:~:text=October%207%2C%202020%20Partnership%20With,Amtrak%20Pacific%20Surfliner%20Hygiene%20Protocols&text=ORANGE%2C%20Calif.,new%20standard%20of%20safe%20travel.”>partnered with Lysol to install filtration systems designed to emit fresh air every few minutes, in an effort to clean the air and increase airflow in each car. Amtrak also switched to a cashless onboard payment system and contactless boarding system by way of kiosks and the newly updated Amtrak app, to lessen the amount of physical touching between passengers and employees.
On top of these investments and despite dropping the mask mandate, Amtrak does still require its employees to be vaccinated or take weekly COVID tests to assure workplace health. However, if the rail service’s stance on masks affects your travel plans, act fast: Amtrak is currently committed to waiving all change fees until July 31, 2022.
Noel Cymone Walker is an NYC-based writer specializing in beauty, fashion, music, travel, and cultural anthropology. She has written and produced visuals for several notable publications such as The Recording Academy/The Grammys, The Fader, Billboard, OkayPlayer, Marie Claire, Glamour, Allure, Essence, Ebony, and more.
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