Just as it has touched nearly every facet of American life, railroads large and small across the United States are feeling the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
Freight traffic on U.S. carriers was down more than 9 percent last week when compared to the same time period in 2019, according to the Association of American Railroads, and as more and more of the country hunkers down for the long haul it’s unlikely that decline will stop anytime soon. Class One railroad officials have said that they are doing everything they can to move traffic and keep their employees safe in the process. In 2006, Union Pacific established a “pandemic planning team” to prepare for an extreme influenza outbreak and officials have said the same plan is being implemented during the coronavirus outbreak.
Passenger railroads and transit agencies were also starting to reduce service in areas as more people are being asked to work from home, or in the case of the Bay Area, told to shelter in place. In San Francisco, MUNI was operating a normal rail schedule although the iconic cable cars and streetcars have been replaced with buses for the time being. Amtrak was reducing service on a number of routes, including the Northeast Corridor, Keystone, Cascades, Downeaster, Hartford Line, and New York State services. The Winter Park Express, a weekend ski train between Denver and Winter Park, Colo., made its last run on Sunday after most ski areas in Colorado closed.
A number of tourist railroads are reducing services or closing until further notice, including the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, and the Strasburg Rail Road. Most railroads were offering ticket holders refunds or the opportunity to rebook on a future excursion.
The outbreak is also impacting a number of popular railfan events in the coming weeks. Winterail, the popular multimedia slide show in Corvallis, Ore., was set to take place this coming Saturday but has been postponed until further notice (along with the Railfan & Railroad Pizza Party and Slide Show the night before). On Monday, the Center for Railroad Photography & Art announced it was canceling its annual conference at Lake Forest College near Chicago that had been set to take place next month.
While the coronavirus situation is changing hour-by-hour, railroad museums and other organizations are already preparing to resume regular operations as soon as conditions allow.
—Railfan & Railroad Magazine