ME: Amtrak's heat-delay altered schedules won't impact Maine, rail authority says

June 6, 2024
Downeaster trains are — at times — expected to run slower in Maine this summer. Heat-delay orders are regularly issued in Maine and Amtrak will inform passengers about delays as far in advance as it can.

May 30—Amtrak spurred confusion Tuesday when it announced that it would temporarily change schedules this summer to account for expected heat-delay orders issued when the metal rails expand on hot days and trains are required to reduce their speed.

However, the rail authority overseeing the Downeaster said the schedule changes won't impact the passenger service connecting Boston and Brunswick.

"We won't alter our schedule as a result of this (heat-delay order in Virginia) because the impacts are not predictable and regular enough," said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.

Even so, Downeaster trains are — at times — expected to run slower in Maine this summer. Heat-delay orders are regularly issued in Maine, Quinn said, and Amtrak will inform passengers about delays as far in advance as it can.

"On an ad hoc basis, we will let passengers know if there's a restriction in place, if there might be delays and what they could be," Quinn said.

HOT RAILS

Amtrak announced on X (formerly Twitter) that anticipating high heat this summer, it will be adjusting departure times along its Northeast Corridor that spans from Virginia to Maine. This altered schedule will be in place until Sept. 2.

Railroads like CSX own a significant portion of the tracks that Amtrak trains travel on and it issues the heat-delay orders.

CSX determines whether to issue an order when the tracks reach a certain temperature, and makes that evaluation once forecasted temperatures surpass 80 degrees.

CSX purchased 531 miles of track in Maine in 2022. It's in charge of issuing heat-delay orders on 106 miles of tracks that the Downeaster runs on. CSX could not provide any data on the frequency of heat delays in the last two years. CSX spokesperson Sheriee Bowman said the freight rail company does not track those orders. Quinn similarly said NNEPRA is not in charge of tracking the orders and suggested to ask CSX for the data.

Hours after announcing the schedule changes, Amtrak deleted the post.

Patricia Quinn said the delays are standard each summer, not something new.

"I'm puzzled why Amtrak sent something out," Quinn said.

And Maine's passenger service won't see long-term schedule changes because the Downeaster operates on its own line and designated trains that depart directly from Boston.

But delays caused by hot tracks could become more frequent as scientists say climate change will lead to hotter summers. The average temperature in July 2023 was Maine's hottest on record, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.

Bowman believes that connecting delays — and any potential increased frequency of them — to warming weather caused by climate change is "conflating" two separate matters.

___

(c)2024 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine)

Visit the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine) at www.pressherald.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.