Amtrak: Lancaster, Harrisburg rail travel remains low as Thanksgiving approaches; offers safety tips

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Rail travel at Midstate stations remains down, in line with nationwide trends as the Thanksgiving travel period begins, an Amtrak spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday.

In the days surrounding Thanksgiving 2019 — specifically, Nov. 21 through Dec. 5 of that year — 27,601 passengers boarded or stepped off Amtrak trains in Lancaster, and 25,321 did so in Harrisburg, according to Beth Toll, Amtrak’s public relations manager. It’s too early to know precisely how many people will travel this year, but Toll said local ridership has been down in line with nationwide declines of roughly 75 percent from pre-pandemic levels.

With the CDC and state health officials advising against travel, Toll said high ridership isn’t the goal this year.

“We’re not looking to pack the trains,” she said. “We want to make sure people have plenty of space. We know some folks are going to travel. They may need to travel. And so we just want to give them a safe way to do that.

Amtrak blocks about half its seats. (Among the four largest U.S. airlines — American, Delta, United and Southwest — only Delta will continue blocking middle seats after Dec. 1, after Southwest joins the other two in ending the practice.)

For people who do choose to travel by train, Toll had three recommendations:

  • Book as soon as you know you want to travel. (With so many seats blocked, some trains can sell out despite so few people traveling overall.)
  • Download the Amtrak app for a contact-free travel experience. (You can just walk aboard a train and show your boarding pass, on your phone, to a conductor.)
  • Wear your mask and maintain social distance from others on board trains and in stations.

On Monday, Amtrak, which the U.S. government owns, disclosed an operating loss of $801 million for the fiscal year that ran from Oct. 1, 2019, through Sept. 30. Repeating earlier statements, it said it had finally been on track to break even at the operating level prior to the pandemic. Generally, Amtrak’s “northeast corridor” routes, such as between Washington, D.C., and New York, are profitable. But it loses a similar amount of money on long-distance routes. Other routes, such as both routes serving Midstate stations (the Keystone to/from Philadelphia and the Pennsylvanian to/from Pittsburgh), are subsidized by state governments.

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