Durango & Silverton pushes back opening, mulls challenge of distancing requirements

News Wire Digest for May 11: Caltrain says complete shutdown a possibility; New York MTA houses homeless in buses during subway shutdown
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A Durango & Silverton train crosses the Animas River on its return from Silverton in October 2018. The D&S has pushed its planned opening back from May into June, and is facing questions on how to operate under social distancing requirements.
TRAINS: David Lassen

Monday morning rail news:

— The Durango & Silverton has extended its shutdown to an undetermined June date while trying to figure out how to succeed financially while operating under social-distancing requirement. American Heritage Railways General Manager John Harper told the Durango Herald that while the railroad is considering operating at 50%, 60% and 75% of ridership capacity, “the difficult perspective for us is that we can’t cover our costs operating a train below 75% of capacity.” The railroad may initially operate shorter trips — from Durango to Cascade Canyon or Rockwood to Cascade Canyon — it aims to operate to Silverton later in the season. Another hurdle, though, is that San Juan County, which has had only one confirmed case of COVID-19, is wary of allowing visitors into Silverton.

— Caltrain, the San Francisco-San Jose commuter rail service, could shut down completely if it cannot find new revenue sources, even after the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order ends. “The status quo is not acceptable,” Caltrain General Manager Jim Hartnett said at a board meeting last week, the San Mateo Daily Journal reports. “The search for external funds in addition to other adjustments is going to be a very serious effort.” Harnett was one of 15 chief executives of major transit systems who signed Friday’s letter to Congress asking for $32 billion in emergency aid for those systems [see “Transit agencies seek $32 billion in additional federal aid,” News Wire Digest, May 9, 2020]. Caltrain revenue has been particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic because 75% of its operating revenue comes from tickets and parking — and ridership is down 98%.

— New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority allowed homeless people to shelter in out-of-service buses during Saturday’s overnight closure of the subway system, but said the measure — taken when unseasonably cold weather drove wind chills into the 20s and brought a trace of snow — would not be repeated. ““We are providing these buses only during this cold snap and expect the city to continue to step up and take responsibility for providing safe shelter for those individuals experiencing homelessness,” interim New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg said, as reported by amNewYork.com. “As we have stated many times, we are transportation providers, not a social services agency.” Some 384 homeless individuals were engaged in the subway system on Saturday night, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio, with 198 accepting help from city agencies.


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