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story.lead_photo.caption Passengers wear masks on an Amtrak train. (Amtrak handout photo)

As the country braces for an uptick in new coronavirus cases, Americans may be searching for alternative travel options. For the carless who feel wary of the return of crowded flights, train travel may be an attractive substitute.

Like the rest of the travel industry, Amtrak made adjustments to its operations as the pandemic erupted. In addition to increasing its cleaning procedures, America's railroad service is limiting passenger bookings on its trains to promote physical distancing.

There's no such thing as risk-free travel right now. Anytime you leave your house during the pandemic, you're opening yourself up to the potential of contracting or spreading the novel coronavirus.

Adrian Hyzler, chief medical officer for Healix International, a company that specializes in security, international medical and travel-assistance services, says that there are advantages and disadvantages to traveling by train.

Both options require passing through potentially crowded areas, whether that's a TSA checkpoint or a train terminal. A flight may get you to your destination faster than a train trip, but crowding on a plane may be harder to avoid.

"I do think that the pros and cons balance each other out," Hyzler said. "In the end it comes down to which is your preferred mode of transport."

If you decide to take the train during the pandemic, here are some tips to keep in mind for a health-conscious and happy journey.

 

If your budget allows,

book a private room

For long-haul train trips, book Amtrak's private room accommodations if you have the budget. Traveling by Roomette, Bedroom, Bedroom Suite, Family Bedroom or Accessible Bedroom will provide you with the most physical distance from other travelers.

"You close the door and you have the choice of never having to interact with someone, except when the conductor comes by once and lifts your ticket," said Roger Harris, executive vice president and revenue officer at Amtrak.

Harris says that while ticket sales across the board are down, sales of private accommodations are outpacing standard coach seats.

While booking a private space is more expensive, they may be more accessible than before the pandemic. Amtrak is marketing fare deals and special roomette promotions in response to the decrease in demand.

 

Follow standard

coronavirus precautions

Once you're on board, follow the same coronavirus safety measures you would in other parts of your life. That means practicing good hand hygiene, choosing a seat away from other passengers (if you don't have a seat assignment that has already enforced that option) and wearing a mask throughout the trip, which is mandatory.

In the beginning of the pandemic, Amtrak's mask policy was more flexible. Harris says that's changed to now being a "100 percent requirement" to address the public health issue.

"You must wear a mask in the station, on the boarding platform, you must wear it during boarding, you must when you're seated," Harris said.

Hyzler recommends packing disinfecting wipes to sanitize your personal space on the train at your discretion. You can also minimize touching common surfaces by downloading your ticket on your phone instead of printing it out at the station.

 

Pack your own food

During the pandemic or not, we recommend bringing your own food on board the train because the options are often dismal. Road trip snacks work well on trains, but for long-haul trips you'll likely need to pack more substantial food.

Harris says that while most trains have food service, dining options have changed in response to the coronavirus.

"On the Northeast Corridor, for instance, almost all the trains have cafe service again," he said. "But we are closing all the table seats from a health point of view, just because we don't want people standing and queuing with someone right next to them, and it's difficult to keep cleaning the tables as people get up and leave."

 

Bring the right

sleep essentials

Sleeping on an Amtrak train isn't going to be the most comfortable night of your life; this is not the company's strong suit.

If possible, your best option is to book a private accommodation with a bed that lies flat and comes with fresh towels and linens.

The other option is rough, but doable. Amtrak coach seats offer way more leg room than a seat on an economy flight would, and the seats recline more (without offending the person behind you as much).

Pack a pillow, blanket, eye mask and ear plugs to make the most out of your sleeping arrangement.

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