Amtrak cutting frequency of 'Silver Star,' 'Silver Meteor' as of July 6

Passenger news roundup: VIA Rail Canada releases new timetable; Amtrak refreshes website, offers Auto Train roomette sale
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Silver_Service_Johnston
Passengers line up to board the northbound Silver Star at Tampa, Fla., on Jan. 13, 2018. Beginning July 6, it will provide cross-Florida service Thursday through Saturday northbound and Friday through Sunday southbound.
Bob Johnston

Passenger rail news and analysis:

‘Silver Star,’ ‘Meteor’ changes coming July 6
Amtrak will alternate service on its two New York-Miami trains running on different routes through the Carolinas as of July 6, a move it attributes to COVID-19 pandemic ridership drops and a preview of the company’s still mostly undefined plans to cut virtually every long-distance route to triweekly service this fall [see “Amtrak plans triweekly service for almost all long-distance trains as of Oct. 1,” Trains News Wire, June 15, 2020]

The Silver Meteor will leave New York Monday through Thursday, and Miami Sunday through Wednesday, while the Silver Star will operate Friday through Sunday southbound and Thursday through Saturday northbound. The new arrangement means connections to and from the west on the Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited, and Cardinal won’t be possible every day. For now, the daytime New York-Savannah, Ga., Palmetto running on the Meteor’s route remains daily.

Cross-Florida travel and service to South Carolina’s state capital, Columbia, will occur on different days around weekends. Trains News Wire discovered that southbound coach seats on the Meteor were sold out departing Washington, D.C., on both June 18 and 19, while the Star was also sold out on June 19. Sporadic sellouts occurred on both trains in May as Amtrak enforced 50% coach capacity protocols.

In May, combined ridership on the Silver Star and Silver Meteor rose from April even though each train didn’t operate every day owing to CSX trackwork south of Richmond, Va. Together, the two trains racked up 7.2 million passenger miles generating $1.4 million of revenue, compared with 5.2 million passenger miles and $2.4 million in revenue for all Northeast Corridor trains between Boston and Washington.     

VIA Rail Canada issues new timetable
When discontinuances or reductions of all but long-distance trains began in mid-March, Amtrak withdrew all printable and downloadable timetables from its website. VIA Rail Canada, meanwhile, kept its pre-COVID schedules online, but travelers seeking to book trips either encountered extremely limited options or would have their ticketed journeys cancelled three weeks in advance [see “Canada’s disrupted service,” “Passenger,” August Trains]. VIA has now issued a timetable showing all services currently operating, available here

Although there are comparatively few choices, the issuance appears to signal VIA’s intention to maintain the skeletal schedule for the foreseeable future, while still offering patrons the ability to see what days remote-service trains operate and how routes connect with each other on the Quebec-Windsor corridor.

For passengers traveling in the U.S., the only way to plan a trip is to type in origin, destination, and travel dates. This assumes anyone who wants to take an Amtrak trip knows what to ask for, but the upcoming Silver Service adjustments illustrate the difficulty in that approach: without a timetable for those routes, picking the right day will require trial-and-error inquiries.

Amtrak updates website, offers Auto Train sale
Amtrak made significant and long-overdue improvements to its website as of April 1 which help describe and sell sleeping-car space and other premium-fare service. When booked on a computer, photos showing day or night interior accommodations are displayed if a customer selects the room option; on mobile devices they appear as a separate picture.

Given time-consuming screening and community-spread concerns expressed by would-be air travelers, promoting unique privacy attributes of sleeping car travel affords Amtrak an obvious opportunity to grow this high value-per-passenger business as people search for travel alternatives.     

Amtrak marketing strategists apparently recognize this, as evidenced by a 20%-off roomette sale good through this Wednesday, June 24, for Auto Train travel through August 31.

“Roomettes offer physical distancing in your own clean, private room with comfortable seats by day and sleeping accommodations at night,” advised the email to Amtrak Guest Rewards members announcing the sale.

The sale only applies to Auto Train — suggesting management has no interest in promoting the accommodations on the overnight trains it plans to cut back.

Amtrak_SIte
A screen shot shows the enhanced depiction of roomette accommodations on Amtrak's website.
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