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Amtrak's heat-related schedule changes have no impact on Maine, rail authority says

A southbound Downeaster arrives at the Portland Transportation Center station in April. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Amtrak caused confusion on Tuesday when the airline announced it would temporarily change its schedules this summer to accommodate expected heat-related delays. On hot days, metal rails expand and trains must reduce their speed.

However, the Downeaster railroad company said the schedule changes would not affect passenger service between Boston and Brunswick.

“We will not change our schedule due to this order to delay train travel due to the heat in Virginia because the impacts are not predictable and frequent enough,” said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.

Still, Downeaster trains are expected to run slower — at times — in Maine this summer. Heat-related slowdown orders are issued regularly in Maine, Quinn said, and Amtrak will notify passengers of delays as early as possible.

“We inform passengers ad hoc if there are restrictions, whether and in what form delays might occur,” said Quinn.

HOT RAILS

Amtrak announced on X (formerly Twitter) that it would be adjusting train times on the Northeast Corridor, which stretches from Virginia to Maine, in anticipation of extreme heat this summer. This revised schedule will be in effect through September 2.

Railroad companies like CSX own a significant portion of the tracks that Amtrak trains run on, and they issue orders to delay travel due to heat.

CSX determines whether to issue an order when a certain temperature is reached on the tracks and makes this assessment once forecast temperatures exceed 80 degrees.

CSX has purchased 531 miles of track in Maine in 2022. The company is responsible for issuing heat delay orders for 106 miles of track the Downeaster runs on. CSX could not provide data on the frequency of heat delays over the past two years. CSX spokeswoman Sheriee Bowman said the freight railroad does not track those orders. Quinn also said NNEPRA is not responsible for tracking the orders and suggested asking CSX for the data.

A few hours after announcing the schedule changes, Amtrak deleted the post.

Patricia Quinn said such delays are normal every summer and nothing new.

“I’m confused why Amtrak shipped anything,” Quinn said.

And there will be no long-term schedule changes for passenger service in Maine, as the Downeaster operates on its own line and has certain trains that depart directly from Boston.

But delays caused by hot slopes could become more common as scientists say climate change will lead to hotter summers. According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, the average temperature in July 2023 was the highest in Maine on record.

Bowman believes that linking delays – and their potential increase – to warming weather caused by climate change is a “conflation” of two different things.


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