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Amtrak to resume daily train service through Flagstaff ahead of summer
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Amtrak to resume daily train service through Flagstaff ahead of summer

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Flagstaff Train Station

The Flagstaff train station in the heart of downrown.

Amtrak will be returning to daily long-distance service through Flagstaff as it plans to restore its iconic Southwest Chief route in May.

The announcement came after long-distance service had been reduced in October of last year at a spike in COVID-10 cases. At that time, the passenger trains that normally made daily stops in downtown Flagstaff at 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. were reduced to only three times a week.

That decision was made as Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn said ridership had dropped significantly due to the pandemic.

But with vaccination efforts ongoing and case numbers dropping, Amtrak is now changing course ahead of the 2021 summer travel season.

“Offering daily long-distance service represents a vital step in our road to recovery,” Flynn said in a statement to press. “Recognizing the immense value of our employees, we’d like to thank Congress for enabling service restoration and helping us recall furloughed employees.”

Amtrak will begin restarting long-distance service on 12 cross country routes in three phases throughout May and into early June.

The Southwest Chief route that runs between Chicago and Los Angeles, through Flagstaff is part of the second phase and daily service will resume on May 31.

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And that could be good news to a recovering northern Arizona tourist economy.

In 2019, the Southwest Chief carried just more than 338,000 passengers, about a 2% growth over the previous year, and in 2016, just more than 41,000 passengers got off or embarked at the downtown train station in Flagstaff.

On May 24 daily service will resume on the first phase of routes. Those routes are the California Zephyr, between Chicago, Salt Lake City and San Fransisco, Coast Starlight, between Seattle and Los Angeles, Empire Builder, between Chicago and Seattle, and the Texas Eagle, between Chicago, San Antonio and Los Angeles.

Along with the Southwest Chief, the second phase, which begins service on May 31, includes the routes Capital Limited, between Washington D.C., Pittsburgh and Chicago, Lake Shore Limited, between Boston, New York and Chicago, and the City of Orleans, between Chicago, Memphis and New Orleans.

Lastly, phase three route will resume daily service on June 7. Those routes include Crescent, Palmetto, Silver Meteor and Silver Star, all of which run up and down the east coasts and throughout the south.

Amtrak offices said one reason they are able to restore service is because of COVID relief funding from Congress.

Amtrak might also be recalling the more than 1,200 furloughed employees through the remainder of fiscal year 21 and into fiscal year 22.

A train derailment at 5 a.m. Saturday south of Uptown Normal, woke ISU students from their sleep and caused headaches for Amtrak travelers.

Adrian Skabelund can be reached by phone at (928) 556-2261, by email at askabelund@azdailysun.com or on Twitter at @AdrianSkabelund. 

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