Riding Amtrak During COVID-19 — What It’s Really Like

Published on October 7, 2020

A train ride can feel much safer than an airplane during the pandemic. Amtrak is keeping guests at an acceptable distance apart and assigning seats to every passenger. On top of that, trains are much less crowded these days, which is why train tickets are a bit cheaper than usual. Taking a long-distance train ride isn’t without its dangers during the pandemic, but it’s less worrisome than a packed American Airlines flight.

For starters, if one must travel by train, it’s best to leave during the week when traveling is less busy. Amtrak lets customers know how full exactly a train is at the time of booking. These days, not too many people are taking trains. Most train rides we found available were between 10-20% full. We ended up on a train that was about 15%. There weren’t many people around to make a traveler nervous, especially with masks enforced fairly strictly — but maybe not strictly enough.

“All customers and employees must wear a face covering or mask while on trains or thruway buses. Face masks can be removed when customers are in their private rooms,” Amtrak’s rules read. Whenever a passenger dared to step on the train without a mask, an employee would quickly and sternly tell them to wear a mask. Nobody getting on and off the train did so without a mask on. 

However, nighttime traveling is a slightly different story. Aboard my train, which went from Los Angeles to Portland, two customers got away without wearing a mask for far too long. During the dark of the night, the couple often had their masks off. It went largely unnoticed by most passengers and quite possibly Amtrak’s employees. Another passenger and I were nervous and infuriated about the oversight.

After reaching out to Amtrak about the oversight and expressing concern, we did not hearback. If there was one area Amtrak was lacking, it was keeping an eye out for masks during the night. It was a noticeable problem, despite how diligent the staff was about masks during the day. In the dark, however, perhaps employees couldn’t see the customers without masks — but nonetheless, it’s their job. Now, if Amtrak does find a customer without a mask or refuses to wear a mask, which one or two did, the travel company can remove them or ban them for life. 

Amtrak keeps their trains cleaner than usual these days. Public areas of the train were monitored and cleaned in a timely fashion. “As part of the new Amtrak-RB alliance, germ-kill experts and microbiologists from RB will help Amtrak strengthen and reinforce our comprehensive disinfection protocols for Amtrak trains, stations and Metropolitan Lounges,” Amtrak’s site reads. “In addition, RB will supply Amtrak with Lysol Disinfectant Sprays and Wipes, which are proven to be effective against the SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The products are for use across high-touch and high-traffic areas, where germs are most prevalent. The partnership is expected to launch in stations served by Northeast Corridor and Pacific Surfliner trains, before expanding across the Amtrak network.”

In addition to the consistent cleaning of the train, hand sanitizer was seemingly available in every kart and compartment. The bottles of sanitizer were always full and easily available to customers and made passengers feel safer. It is surreal riding on Amtrak during the pandemic, but the company isn’t slacking when it comes to maintaining a clean and safe train with social distancing enforced. Nighttime requires more due diligence when it comes to enforcing masks, but otherwise, Amtrak is handling COVID-19 far better than most airlines.

Jack Giroux is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Los Angeles, he is an entertainment journalist who's previously written for Thrillist, Slash Film, Film School Rejects, and The Film Stage.

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