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CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8 | cbs8.com

All Aboard: Amtrak makes train travel safer with new COVID-19 protocols

News 8 takes a train ride to see the safety and health improvements.

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Amtrak is making it safer for passengers to ride the rails by enhancing its COVID-19 protocols. In this Zevely Zone I went to Oceanside to hear the words "All Aboard."

I traveled by train on the Pacific Surfliner from Oceanside to Irvine and back. My trip started with a no-contact e-ticket that was scanned by the conductor. 

"There's no contact, there is no touch, we scan the ticket and basically we are collecting the ticket electronically so there's no contact at all," said the conductor Alex. 

A number of other safety and cleaning measures have also been implemented since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to social distancing, families are encouraged to sit in a cluster but if you are traveling it's okay to stretch out and take a whole row to yourself.  The nearest passenger is several rows away. I spoke to several people who travel by train almost daily.  

"I have not come down with the virus and yeah I appreciate that Amtrak is enforcing the mask policy," said Brian Gross who lives in Washington D.C. but was vacationing in California.

Credit: KFMB TV

Raj Dua, a traveler from England, noticed the staff keeping surfaces clean. 

I asked him, "How does this train compare to trains in London when it comes to cleanliness?" 

Raj told me, "I think a lot more attention has been giving here. I think oftentimes in London trains are not cleaned as often."

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I traveled with Jay Ellis from the Rail Corridor Agency called LOSSAN which stands for Los Angeles – San Diego – San Luis Obispo. Jay showed me how Amtrak installed Hand Hygiene Stations in every car.  

"We have the hand sanitizing gel for your hands and we also installed these disinfecting wipes that you can take with you to your seat that you can use to wipe down your seats or the tables," said Jay.

At key locations onboard, passengers can now access a variety of cleaning products including alcohol-based hand sanitizer and antibacterial surface wipes.

Credit: KFMB TV

Jay told me I was welcome to walk around on the train and that I didn't have to stay in my seat.  As I walked from car to car, I used my foot instead of my hands to open doors using a 'No touch' door pad. I went to the train's Market Cafe to see another feature which was a plexiglass barricade that separates the customer from the attendant.  

Above my head, there was air coming out of a vent. I was told that air comes from outside the train. It's not recycled. The air goes through a filter and then leaves the train, and those filters are replaced every five days.

Credit: KFMB TV

According to a news release, The LOSSAN Agency worked with Amtrak's public health and safety team, which has a full-time medical director, on the following procedures and guidelines for Pacific Surfliner trains:

  • Enhanced cleaning protocols: Amtrak has increased the frequency of cleaning service, including the use of disinfectants to wipe down seats, handrails, doorknobs, and other high-touch surfaces.
  • Physical distancing: Signage has been displayed at stations and onboard trains to indicate safe distances in high-traffic areas.
  • Facial coverings: In accordance with State guidelines, passengers and crews must wear face masks while inside the stations, on the platforms, and aboard the trains and Thruway buses.

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, local train travel dipped from 8,000 passengers a day to 200. 

"Losing ridership and revenue has been a real challenge," said Donna DeMartino, the LOSSAN Agency Managing Director. Donna said whether you're looking for a relaxing ride to Disneyland or Santa Barbara please consider riding a train. 

"We are here when you are ready to travel, we are here we are clean we are ready for you eager to welcome you back," said Donna. "All aboard, definitely all aboard."

Amtrak is waiving all change and cancellation fees for reservations made by September 30, 2020. This includes reservations booked with points. Passengers can save Unreserved Coach tickets and ride any Pacific Surfliner train up to a year from the date of their ticket without making changes to their reservation, making it easy for them to postpone a trip if needed.

Visit the Pacific Surfliner website for additional health and safety information and details to plan a trip.