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Rail News: Security

FTA increases funding flexibility to help transit agencies respond to coronavirus

Transit providers in states where the governor has declared an emergency related to COVID-19 may use federal formula funds for emergency-related expenses.
Photo – CDC


The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) last week announced expanded eligibility of federal assistance available under the FTA’s Emergency Relief Program to help transit agencies respond to the coronavirus.

The announcement allows transit providers in states where the governor has declared an emergency related to COVID-19 to use federal formula funds for emergency-related operating and capital expenses, FTA officials said in a press release. The declaration also raises the cap on the federal government’s share of those expenses to 80 percent from 50 percent. 

Meanwhile, several U.S. and Canadian passengers-rail agencies announced updates on their efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Following is a summary by railroad or agency:

  • Amtrak today reduced weekday service on the Northeast Corridor, Keystone Service, Hartford Line and Valley Flyer routes. Trains will operate on Saturday schedules. Keystone will not serve the Ardmore, Paoli, Downingtown, Parkesburg, Cornwells Heights, Coatesville and Exton stations in Pennsylvania. Amtrak’s Maple Leaf service is now operating only between New York Penn Station and Niagara Falls, New York. Also, the Adirondack service is  now operating only between New York Penn Station and Albany, New York. 
  • VIA Rail Canada has suspended its Canadian, Ocean and long distance Eastern and Western routes until March 27. 
  • Caltrain tomorrow will implement a reduced weekday service schedule in response to declining ridership. One-way and day pass ticket sales have declined by 75 percent from their levels two weeks ago, agency officials said. Caltrain relies primarily on fares to cover the system’s operating costs, and agency leaders are assessing the impact that reduced ridership will have on Caltrain's ability to maintain operations in the coming months. 
  • Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) last week entered Phase 3 of its Pandemic Flu Plan, the agency’s highest level of response to a pandemic. Under the plan, WMATA reduced rail service starting today to allow for additional disinfection its 1,200 rail cars. The process includes weekly electrostatic fogging to clean inaccessible surfaces on the rail cars, officials said. WMATA also implemented mandatory telework for administrative employees, and banned nonessential personnel from the rail operations control center, headquarters and other administrative sites. 
  • An MTA Long Island Rail Road sheet metal worker has tested positive for coronavirus in New York City, Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Patrick Foye said in a published statement. The employee does not work on-board trains or interact directly with riders.
  • Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has formed an internal task force to guide its response to the virus and strengthened its station sanitization operations by focusing on high-touch areas.
  • Brightline, soon to be Virgin Trains USA, in Florida has postponed all leisure related events and special trains; increased the frequency of disinfection in private and public spaces; added additional hand sanitizers at stations and on trains; and introduced open seating within ticket classes to allow social distancing, Brightline President Patrick Goddard said in a letter to riders.
  • Metra in Chicago has waived its $5 handling fee for monthly pass refunds due to the number of riders forced to work from home.
  • Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) has suspended its “school tripper” service following the closure of public schools in Santa Clara County, California, for three weeks. VTA also has reduced light-rail capacity from two- and three-car trains to one-car trains. 
  • Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority last week implemented paid 14-day sick leave for agency employees who become quarantined due to the coronavirus, and began disinfecting touchable surfaces at rail stations, transit centers and its main office.