Trains News Wire Digest for Thursday, March 26 (updated)

Brightline shuts down; Senate aid bill includes $25 billion for transit, $1 billion for Amtrak; and more
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A Brightline train departs West Palm Beach, Fla., in 2019. The Florida passenger service has shut down indefinitely because of the COVID-19 virus.
TRAINS: David Lassen

Thursday morning rail news:

— Florida passenger service Brightline shut down operations Wednesday and laid off 250 of its 300 employees because of the coronavirus pandemic. In an email to customers, company president Patrick Goddard said Brightline had decided to “suspend service until this situation subsides, and it becomes feasible for us to service the community again.” Goddard wrote that “Three short weeks ago, Brightline was on its way to its best month ever and on a clear path for a record 2020. Today, we recognize that our responsibility is to ‘flatten the curve’ and understand it will take several months for normal business to be restored.” Information on refunds is available at Brightline’s website. The Miami Herald reports that the company hopes to rehire most of the workers when service resumes, and that the cuts were widespread: one of those laid off was Bob O’Malley, vice president of corporate development.

— The $2 trillion economic aid package passed Wednesday night by the Senate includes $25 billion for transit agencies and $1 billion for Amtrak, USA Today reports. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives; majority leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) says the House will convene at 9 a.m. Friday to vote on the bill and he expects it to pass on a voice vote. It will then go to President Donald Trump for his signature. According to a bulletin to its members from the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association, funding details include:

 -- $1.018 billion in grants for Amtrak, with $526 million for the National Network, $492 million for the Northeast Corridor, and $239 million for state-supported routes.

 -- $25 billion to transit agencies for operating expenses, with elimination of the requirement that transit agencies use their own funds to receive federal assistance.
 -- $25 billion in transit infrastructure grants, awarded under a formula based on fiscal 2020 allocations in four areas: Urbanized Area Formula Grants; Nonurbanized Area Formula Grants; State of Good Repair; and High Density and Growing States.

— Amtrak will reduce Missouri River Runner service as of Monday, March 30, and has further reduced service on two routes in the Northeast. The service between St. Louis and Kansas City will cut from two round trips to one, with an 8:15 a.m. departure from Kansas City and a 4 p.m. departure from St. Louis. The Vermonter is ending service north of New Haven, Conn., Monday through Saturday and will not operate on Sundays. The Ethan Allen Express, which normally serves Rutland, Vt., will not operate north of Albany, N.Y. The latest information on Amtrak cuts is available here.

— The Reading & Northern has postponed the April 18 excursion that was to be the first public opportunity to ride behind the F units recently acquired from Norfolk Southern. The planned 230-mile excursion will now be held on two dates, Aug. 1 and Sept. 5. Those holding tickets can contact the railroad at (610) 562-2102 to exchange tickets, or request a refund if there is a problem with the new dates. The railroad describes the trip as one for hard-cord railfans [see “Reading & Northern to roll out F units on April 18 excursion,” Trains News Wire, Jan. 7, 2020].

— Updated at 12:30 p.m. CDT with additional details on Senate aid bill.


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