VIA Rail Canada, Phoenix's Valley Metro add mask requirements for passengers

News Wire Digest for June 21: Montana passenger rail authority moves ahead; Metra increases estimate for COVID-19 losses
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Sunday rail news in brief:

VIA Rail Canada to require masks starting Tuesday

Two months after Transport Canada asked passenger rail operators to require riders to wear face masks, VIA Rail Canada has decided to do so. As of Tuesday, June 23, passengers will be required to wear a mask at all times during their trip, except when eating or drinking, and whenever appropriate distancing cannot be maintained in stations and when boarding. VIA says the move is necessary “as the economy is gradually reopening and VIA Rail sees an increase in ridership and as the safety and well-being of both our employees and our passengers remains our top priority.”  Canada’s Minister of Transport had recommended masks back in April [see “Amtrak to require masks for employees,” News Wire Digest, April 20].

Masks now required on Phoenix's Valley Metro
Valley Metro, the Phoenix-area transit system, now requires face coverings on light rail and all other public transit. The agency’s board voted at its June 18 meeting to make the requirement effective July 1, but after the mayors of Phoenix and Mesa imposed mask requirements, the rule became effective on Saturday. The new rules came after Wednesday’s decision by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to give local governments the authority to mandate face coverings.

Second county votes to join Montana passenger agency
The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority — which would be charged with restoring Amtrak service to the former route of the North Coast Hiawatha — is a big step closer to reality after Dawson County, Mont., voted to join Missoula County as part of the organization. Under Montana state law, just two counties are needed to form the agency. Dawson County, with its county seat in Glendive, voted to join the organization on June 16, the Missoula Current reports. Efforts to get other counties to join will continue, according to Missoula County commissioner Dave Strohmaier, who has led the effort to form the agency and restore passenger service on Montana’s southern tier.

Metra now estimates coronavirus losses at $605 million
Metra estimates its financial losses tied to the coronavirus pandemic will reach $605 million this year and next, $70 million more than a previous estimate. The Chicago Tribune reports the loss, in both ticket revenue and reduced sales taxes, reflects the fact riders have not returned as quickly as was expected. Ridership is slowly increasing after falling to 3% of normal levels, but the commuter railroad continues to run on reduced schedules. Chief financial officer Thomas Farmer told the Metra board of directors at its meeting last week that, without increased revenue or reduced expenses, the agency will run out of its $480 million in coronavirus relief funds by mid-2021.

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